“Miss Fay” Gardner was equally at home in the White House or the Governor’s Mansion in Raleigh or in the home of a neighbor in Shelby who was playing host to one of her many book clubs. One reason her manner was always gracious without a trace of affectation was that she had a genuine interest in people, and those who came in contact with her could quickly sense it. A country boy like me who was a University class-mate of her youngest son, O. Max, Jr., remembers vividly how her charm and warmth put him at ease and made him realize he as in the presence of a truly great human being.
Her personal qualities were significant factors in the success of her husband, as he gratefully acknowledged on numerous occasions. Public life is most difficult under the best of conditions, and it can be a disaster without an understanding and supportive family. “Miss Fay” seemed born to the role of “First Lady” of North Carolina and a superior personality in her on right. She was also the “First Lady” of Washington for more than thirty years. It was often suggested, not entirely in jest, and freely admitted by Governor Gardner himself, that she was his equal if not his superior as a politician. Certainly, her serene personality was a welcome refuge for a man entrusted with power, wearying responsibilities and frustrations.
She was a courageous woman with an incredible reserve of inner strength. She experienced the starkest kind of personal tragedies during her life involving those dearest to her, including her best friend and husband in 1947, and family members such as her beloved son Decker, her precious son, Max, Jr., and her adopted daughter and Max’s wife, Sara Mull Gardner. Yet, despite all of these tragic losses, she survived with her spirit unbroken and her faith fully intact.
Fay Gardner quite frankly never met a stranger. She shared her friendship abundantly and lived with vitality and grace that impressed those many years her junior. Indeed, it was a joy and a true delight to be in her company on any occasion.
Her enduring youthfulness could be ascribed to her habit of living in the present, of always looking ahead to new social, political, civic, and educational ventures. She always faced forward with the wind in her face and never at her back.
Those of us privileged to know Fay Lamar Webb Gardner count ourselves amount the fortunate North Carolinians. It is good that Grace Hamrick in her book, “Miss Fay,” introduces an unusual, talented and compassionate woman to those who do not share our good fortune to have known and to have loved her.
In another time and place, “Miss Fay” could have ascended to the highest levels of leadership in America and perhaps become our first woman President.
William C. Friday, President
The Consolidated University of North Carolina
May 1978, Chapel Hill