May 6, 1924 - March 26, 2021
Julia Turpin Stokes Elsee died peacefully at her home on Friday morning, March 26, 2021, following a brief period of declining health. She left this Earth with a smile …
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May 6, 1924 - March 26, 2021
Julia Turpin Stokes Elsee died peacefully at her home on Friday morning, March 26, 2021, following a brief period of declining health. She left this Earth with a smile on her face, and the satisfaction of a long, happy life well-lived.
Julia was born in Winston-Salem to Henry Straughan Stokes and Julia Eloise Brown Stokes. She graduated from R.J. Reynolds High School and Hollins University. Thereafter, she earned her Master’s Degree of Social Work from the University of Denver. She put her education to use by going to work for what was then called the Wake County Welfare Department, handling adoptions.
In 1957, Julia married Walter Brand Elsee, who was employed by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and together they settled in Smithfield to raise their three children: Margaret, Allison, and Jeff. Motherhood extra-curriculars like being a PTA parent and leading Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops were all second nature for Julia, and she embraced her role as the “cool parent” among her children’s friends. She instilled in her kids a love of nature and a responsibility to preserve the environment — a true and lifelong conservationist. Julia and Walter enjoyed over 31 years of marriage until his death in 1989.
Although raised as a Baptist, Julia joined St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Smithfield following her marriage to Walter, and she remained an active member there for the rest of her life, teaching Sunday School, serving twice as President of the Episcopal Churchwomen, and serving as a Delegate to the Annual Diocesan Convention. Julia was the first woman ever elected to the Vestry at St. Paul’s. At the State level, she served on the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry Board, Christian Social Ministries, the Diocesan Council, and the N.C. Episcopal Churchwomen Board, as well as the Executive Board of the N.C. Council of Churches.
Julia lived out her Christian faith in her daily life and always treated everyone she met with dignity, as prescribed in the Golden Rule. Consequently, she vehemently opposed capital punishment and torture and she had no qualms about actively protesting those inhumane practices. Many times, Julia could be found at candlelight vigils outside Central Prison when an execution was taking place, remaining true to her core values of social justice, human rights, and peace.
After the Bosnian War broke out in 1992, Julia met a refugee named Edin Forto, who had escaped the siege of Sarajevo. With Julia’s help, among others, Edin graduated from UNC-CH and earned a graduate degree from Columbia University before returning to his native Bosnia to help rebuild his war-torn country. Still, Julia and Edin maintained their connection through phone calls and emails until her death.
Julia dedicated herself to bettering her community, and through her time and philanthropy, she championed causes including mental health, education, and the arts. She served as a member and officer of numerous boards, including the United Way of Johnston County, Mental Health Association of Johnston County (Past-President), N.C. Mental Health Association (Past-President), Contact Teleministry Board, and the Chowan College Advisory Committee. In 2003, the Johnston Community College Foundation Board named Julia its Distinguished Citizen of the Year. Julia traveled extensively with the N.C. Museum of Art and delighted in experiencing private collections and various cultures through her association with the museum’s Humber Society and Collector’s Cabinet. She was also a tremendous fan of the North Carolina Symphony, attending many concerts each season until the coronavirus pandemic curtailed such wonderful live performances.
In 2003, Gov. Mike Easley named Julia to The Order of the Long Leaf Pine, one of state’s highest civilian honors, bestowed on North Carolinians who have a proven record of extraordinary service to the state.
Julia loved a party, and it was said that she never declined an invitation. She adored her legion of friends in Smithfield and was an animated fixture on the social circuit there. Likewise, she hosted many a party at the home on Holts Lake that she and Walter built in 1970, and where she continued to reside until her death. Julia was a member of the Trial and Error Garden Club, and its subset, the Intrepid Travelers. An avid bridge player, Julia participated in many bridge clubs over the years.
In her later life, Julia benefited from exercise in the therapy pool at Healthquest as a participant in senior water aerobics classes. She cherished her friendships with her fellow swimmers and the instructors at Healthquest.
Julia was predeceased by her parents and her beloved husband Walter, as well as her brothers, Colin Stokes and his wife, Mary Louise Siewers Stokes, and Henry Brown Stokes and his wife Etta Violet Stokes.
Julia is survived by her children: Margaret Brand Elsee of Bear Creek, N.C., Allison Sedgwick Elsee of New Orleans, Louisiana, and Walter Jeffords Elsee of Isle of Palms, S.C. She is also survived by several nieces and nephews, as well as the children and grandchildren of those nieces and nephews.
Julia’s family is grateful for the loyal and loving care she received at the end of her life from Faye Caudill, Jane Pierce Evans, and the team from Johnston Health Home Care and Hospice.
A private family graveside service was held on Tuesday, March 30, 2021, officiated by The Rev. Jill Beimdiek. Attendees observed all social distancing guidelines, including mask wearing. And when the pandemic is less threatening, the family anticipates celebrating Julia’s life with a more robust gathering.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests contributing to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 218 South Second Street, Smithfield, N.C. 27577 or to Johnston Community College, P.O. Box 2350, Smithfield, N.C., 27577, or to a charity of the donor’s choice.