The Way We Were: Elizabeth “Libby” Lee

The Way We Were: Elizabeth “Libby” Lee
Libby’s good friend from Miami, Betty Picot, Libby, Barbara, and Betty’s friend board a cruise ship on a trip to Nassau in 1962, one of several cruises that Barbara was able to take while working for the Jacksonville Shipyards.

Her knees may prevent her from walking these days, and her memory isn’t what it used to be, but at nearly 100 years old, Elizabeth “Libby” Battle Lee still has an engaging personality and tells great stories. She is full of many good memories of living, worshiping and clubbing in San Marco. When all is said and done, however, memories of friendships and family are clearly what matter the most to Libby.

Barbara, Libby and Randy
Barbara, Libby and Randy

Born August 17, 1919, Libby grew up in Camilla, Georgia, from where all her family came. She went to business college in nearby Albany after high school. “Seven of us would ride the bus from Camilla to go to school,” she said. After finishing business college, her first job was secretary to the vice president and general manager of Greyhound bus company. 

“I made $7.50 a week and had to work on Saturday mornings,” Libby said. “But given that the Great Depression was happening then, I felt lucky to have a job.” The man who would become her husband, Randolph “Randy” Edward Lee, also worked for Greyhound. His family were all from Albany. 

They married in 1939 and lived in Chattanooga, Tenn. for eight years. Her daughter, Barbara Lee Myrick Jernigan, was born in 1941, and her son, Randolph “Randy” Edward Lee Jr., was born in 1943.

Libby wanted to live closer to her family who lived in Camilla, so the family moved to Jacksonville in 1947 when Greyhound transferred Randy. 

Libby, her mother, Mamie Battle, Randy and Barbara
Libby, her mother, Mamie Battle, Randy and Barbara

Their start in Jacksonville was rough, however. “Honey, nobody wanted to rent a house to anybody with children,” Libby said. “I had a first cousin who worked for Buckman, Ulmer & Mitchell real estate firm. She found a place way north of downtown on Laura Street that would take children. It was horrible,” Libby said. 

When her mother-in-law came to visit, she announced they were going to find Randy and Libby a better place to live or she would take her grandchildren back home with her to Albany. They found a place in San Marco at 1570 Alford Place and lived there for 20 years. “The children had lots of others to play with. We had three grocery stores – A&P, Lovett’s and Setzer’s near the theater in San Marco – and a wonderful bakery. We had everything we needed.” 

Barbara and her brother, Randy, went to Southside Grammar School. The school building, which was built in 1916, is now home to The Lofts of San Marco. They both then attended Landon Junior/Senior High School, which is now Julia Landon College Preparatory School.

Randy and Libby Lee, circa 1980
Randy and Libby Lee, circa 1980

“We had a movie theater we could walk to, a drug store with a soda fountain, a five-and-dime – Kress and then Peterson’s, Geisenhoff Gift Shop right next to the fire station and eventually Underwoods,” Barbara recalled. 

Nancy Scott’s Dress Shop sold capezio pants. “Barbara must have had 20 pairs; she loved them,” Libby said. She also remembers Reynold’s Piano Shop beside Kress.

Madeline Geisenhoff, one of Libby’s many “dear friends,” also lived in the neighborhood. Paul Geisenhoff ran the Little Theatre, home for Theatre Jacksonville. Their son, Jay, was the same age as Randy, and they played together at the River Oaks Park. 

Their house on Alford Place has been torn down. Libby remembers that there used to be a bank across the street from their house. Then the bank moved to Hendricks across from the vacant lot at Hendricks Avenue and Atlantic Boulevard. 

Barbara remembers there used to be a drive-in restaurant, but it was torn down in the early 1950s to build the bank. “It had smooth concrete painted green in the front. All the other sidewalks were rough,” she said. “We loved to skate on the smooth concrete.” 

Barbara also remembers that there were gas stations on all four corners at Alford and Hendricks – Harry’s Texaco service station, Pure Oil station that the Earlys owned, and two other gas stations of which she can’t recall the names.

“We walked to Southside Baptist Church and Landon School or rode our bikes everywhere,” she said.

Barbara and her friends played in Fletcher Park where Preservation Hall is now. “Back then it had beautiful rose bushes.” Libby remembers that she would “borrow” some roses to decorate her house when her friends were coming to play bridge.

“The park had sidewalks that led to a big circular sidewalk in the middle of it,” Barbara said. “Kids used the park a lot then. The park had a football field and every afternoon the boys played football there. And, of course, where the boys were, so were the girls.” 

The Landon football players used to practice in what is now called the FEC Park. There were houses built right behind Landon School so they had to go somewhere to practice. Libby’s son, Randy, played football. Libby would make a cake once in a while to serve the football players after practice, as they walked back to Landon.

Libby and her two sisters, Lois Middleton and Hazel Rogers. After their mother died in 1984, the sisters decided that they wanted their families to get together once a year to stay in touch. They spent long weekends together for many years at places such as Hilton Head, Savannah, Jacksonville Beach, Ponte Vedra, Sawgrass and St. Augustine.
Libby and her two sisters, Lois Middleton and Hazel Rogers. After their mother died in 1984, the sisters decided that they wanted their families to get together once a year to stay in touch. They spent long weekends together for many years at places such as Hilton Head, Savannah, Jacksonville Beach, Ponte Vedra, Sawgrass and St. Augustine.

Barbara went to Florida State College in 1959 to major in business. Having played more than studied, as she willingly confessed, she returned to Jacksonville. She worked for William Lovett, who owned the Jacksonville Shipyards, until she began having babies and then later became a paralegal for CSX for 30 years. “It was a wonderful place to work,” she said. She retired from CSX in 2005.

Randy graduated from high school in 1961 and then went to the University of Florida where he received a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering and a master’s degree in engineering on a Ford Foundation Scholarship. 

With both kids out of the house, after 20 years on Alford Place, Libby and Randy moved to 1902 San Marco Place in 1995. “We bought from a friend of mine, Nona Jones, who was the first person I met when we moved to Jacksonville,” Libby said. Randy and Libby lived together in the house until Randy died of lung cancer in 1995. Libby continued to live there until April 2018 when, after 50 years total in the house and at 98 years old, she moved in with Barbara and her husband, Virgil Jernigan.

Randy Jr., Libby and Randy Sr.
Randy Jr., Libby and Randy Sr.

Barbara has lived at 1455 Riverbirch Lane in Miramar since 1990, but has owned it since 1976, when following a divorce, she and her children moved in. Then she married Virgil in 1979, and they put two families together. With the need for more bedrooms, they moved to Gadsden Court and rented out the Riverbirch house. After all the kids left, they sold the Gadsden house and moved back to Riverbirch.

Barbara and Virgil have a total of five children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Two of their children live in Jacksonville. Paula Jeter lives in Fruit Cove and has two children; Myra Johnson lives in Beauclerc and has two children and two grandchildren. Betsy Bullard lives in Winter Park, Chuck Myrick lives in Lakeland and Mark Jernigan lives in Atlanta.

Randy and his wife, Sue, lived in Key Biscayne. He was a fighter pilot in the USAF during the Vietnam War. He was a partner with the Enrichment Group at Kathleen Day & Associates until his retirement in November 2008. Randy lost his fight with pancreatic cancer on Feb. 15, 2009. 

Randy and Libby board the bus for one of the senior trips she organized. This one was to Tallahassee. They ate in the cafeteria where the legislators ate. It was a bus full of 50 people from her church and the Methodist church downtown.
Randy and Libby board the bus for one of the senior trips she organized. This one was to Tallahassee. They ate in the cafeteria where the legislators ate. It was a bus full of 50 people from her church and the Methodist church downtown.

The next big phase of Libby’s life started when she was 40. She took on a temporary assignment to create a membership directory for Southside United Methodist Church. When the eight weeks were over, the pastor asked her to take the job of church secretary. “I was supposed to be there six to eight weeks but ended up working there for 51 years,” Libby said.

“I did a bit of everything at the church, except sweep the floors,” said Libby. She directed weddings almost every weekend for 47 years. She worked for the senior minister and ran the office. Including senior and associate pastors, she worked for 26 pastors.

Libby started a ministry with volunteers delivering the flowers after church services to people in the hospital or home sick and to shut-ins. She also took seniors to different places for lunch each month and to the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington.

Libby has been a member of San Jose Country Club since 1994. She loves the Sunday buffet and still goes to the club to see friends. She had hoped to have her 100th birthday party there in August 2019, but the club begins major renovations in June and won’t be available to host the party. 

Regardless of the location of the birthday party, Libby is looking forward to enjoying 100 years’ worth of memories and friends and family wishing her yet another happy year, 72 of them in San Marco, “the sweetest, safest neighborhood where you have everything you need,” as Libby says.

By Karen J. Rieley
Resident Community News

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