Local News

Mary Hanford, Elizabeth Dole's Mother, Dead At 102

Posted January 15, 2004

— Mary Hanford, a Salisbury civic leader for decades and mother of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, has died at the age of 102.

Hanford, who lived to see her daughter elected North Carolina's first female senator in November 2002, died Wednesday evening at Rowan Regional Medical Center.

"She's had an absolutely wonderful life," her son, John Hanford Jr., told the

Salisbury Post

. "It's not only been a long life, but its been a full life, too."

Dole often referred to her mother as "my best friend." In a statement released Thursday by her Senate office, Dole said Hanford provided her children "with an example of what it means to live every day of your life with grace, dignity, generosity, and spiritual strength, and what it means to love a community and to work tirelessly to make it a better place."

A spokesman for the hospital, Phil Whitesell, said Mary Hanford arrived at the hospital's emergency department by ambulance around 8:30 p.m. Wednesday evening and was pronounced dead of cardiac arrest a few minutes later.

John Hanford said his mother had been in good health, but began feeling discomfort earlier in the evening. A companion who lived with her performed CPR and called 911.

Hanford was an institution in her Rowan County hometown, where for decades she was active in volunteer causes, including historic preservation, the Red Cross and the local PTA.

On her 100th birthday in May 2001, her family threw Hanford a party at the Salisbury Civic Center, issuing a blanket invitation to the public in the pages of the

Salisbury Post

. Some 500 people came, including weatherman Willard Scott and Christian musicians Bill and Gloria Gaither, who serenaded Hanford.

After a century of looking after her hometown and her family, Scott asked Hanford what she planned to do with her next 100 years.

"I'm going to let them look after me," she joked.

When Dole returned to North Carolina in 2001 to run for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, she listed the Hanford family home on South Fulton Street -- still occupied by her mother -- as her residence.

Dole -- who married Kansas Sen. Bob Dole in the 1970s, then served as a cabinet secretary in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George Bush -- consulted with Hanford before getting into the Senate race and before her brief run for the Republican presidential nomination in 1999.

In September 2002, Hanford watched from a wheelchair next to the dais in Salisbury's restored train depot as her daughter won her first electoral victory in the Republican senatorial primary. Two months later, she watched on television from South Fulton Street as Dole was elected senator over Democrat Erskine Bowles.

Born Mary Cathey, Hanford was descended on her mother's side from Hezekiah Alexander, a prominent early Charlotte landowner.

She married John Hanford, a bandleader and owner of a local flower business, in 1917.

The couple had two children, John Jr. and Elizabeth, raising them in the brick Tudor home on South Fulton Street. While her husband ran his flower business, Mary Hanford threw herself into community service.

She served for 45 years on an antique show committee that raised money to found a museum for Rowan County, held a seat on the museum's board and started the Cathey-Hanford House, a center for senior citizens and Alzheimer's patients.

And she was a faithful supporter of her children. John Jr. helped his father build Hanford and Son into an international floral wholesaler and importer. Elizabeth was a Duke graduate and one of the first women to attend Harvard Law School.

Mary Hanford tracked both their achievements in two dozen scrapbooks that still filled shelves in her home in the late 1990s.

John Hanford Sr. died in 1981.

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