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Kirby, Leona

November 16, 1906 - September 30, 1998

Leona Kirby’s full name was Millie Leona Kirby, but the family seldom used her first name and those closest to her shortened Leona to “Nomee.” She was born on November 16, 1906, to Ransom Pitts Kirby and Zilphia Stancil Kirby. Shortly thereafter, Zilphia died in 1908, and Ransom married her sister, Melinda Stancil Kirby, who had previously been married to Ransom’s brother, William Henry Kirby, until he died in 1903. All three marriages produced children; a total of eleven survived into adulthood.

Leona grew up in a large family with wide age differences, but a very close family. Ransom had a large two-story house with dormers and a wide porch on two sides. It is now long gone, but it stood in Wilson County on Highway 581 just east of its intersections with the present US Highway 301 Business and, at that time, the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad. He owned considerable farmland and raised tobacco and cotton. All of his children learned early the value of work.

Leona never married and as the other children married and moved away, she stayed on to take care of Ransom. Ransom died in 1949, leaving her alone in the house. In 1952-3, she built a house in Kenly on the corner of S. Alford Avenue and E. Yukon Street, where she lived the rest of her life.

Leona owned a tobacco farm. She leased it to her brother Paul Kirby, but she helped barn tobacco for both her farm and her brother’s farm every summer. At other times, she supplemented her income by doing sewing and tailoring for people in Kenly, working in her home. She was self-taught, but she was well known for her dressmaking abilities, and she made clothes for many people in the area. Her sewing machine was set up in her dining room, and her dining room table was usually covered with cloth and Simplicity patterns.

Leona was creative, resourceful, frugal. For example, she made a number of small area rugs using used tobacco twine left over when cured tobacco was taken off the sticks to be graded and tied. She washed some of this used twine and cut it into thousands of short pieces which she made into tufts and sewed, very close together, onto a cotton backing. The rugs formed a thick mat, not unlike an early version of shag carpet. One of these rugs is in the museum’s collection. She was an active cook and gardener throughout her life, and she won many blue ribbons for entries in the Wilson County Fair. Her apple jacks, made from apples she cut and dried in the sun, were a specialty.

Leona outlived all of her siblings. She died in 1998, having led a long, unassuming life of hard work, honesty, and grace. She was a longtime member of the Upper Black Creek Primitive Baptist Church, and she is buried in Kenly Cemetery. The following line from a favorite hymn is on her tombstone: “And grace will lead me home.”

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