HAMLET — The year of his 100th birthday, Lauron Earl Bradshaw lit the town Christmas tree. At 101, he served as grand marshal of the town’s holiday parade. Next August — when he would have turned 103 — he planned to renew his driver’s license, his ticket to everywhere he wanted to go.
But in January, Bradshaw suffered a stroke that slowed him down. On Wednesday, “he suddenly quit breathing,” said his daughter Pat Maloney, who was with Bradshaw when he died.
“The look on his face, he was so peaceful,” Maloney said Thursday, as friends and family gathered to remember her father. “I’m sure he had made that transition to heaven. He was certainly ready to take that step.”
Bradshaw was a man of deep faith who was a member at First United Methodist Church in Hamlet but attended Fellowship United Methodist Church and, sometimes, All Saints Episcopal Church, if the spirit moved him. As he said at the 2015 tree lighting, “The Lord has been really good to me, and I thank him for it.”
Her father was sure, Maloney said, that his secret to longevity was that he had honored his parents as the Commandments dictate. He also welcomed the stranger. And he treated others as he wanted to be treated.
“He lived what he believed,” Maloney said. “You can’t be anything but happy for someone who has lived a good life.”
As Bradshaw honored others, others also honored him. Anywhere he would go, Maloney said, people would stop to pass the time.
“Everyone was so good to him,” Maloney said, “and we are so appreciative of that.”
That was the thing about Earl Bradshaw. You didn’t have to be “somebody” to know him; everybody knew him, at least by sight.
And if there was someone who didn’t like him back, that person kept it a good secret.
“He was the sweetest man I’ve ever known,” said Valerie Canipe of Hamlet, who worked for Bradshaw’s famous sausage-dog eatery across from the old Hamlet High School in the years after he had retired. “Mr. Bradshaw, he didn’t know a stranger.”
Richmond County Commissioner Ben Moss remembers seeing Bradshaw out and about.
A contemporary of Bradshaw’s grandsons Brian and Brad Maloney, Moss remembers Bradshaw as “always smiling … and full of life. (The Maloney brothers) were very lucky that they got to spend a lot of time with their grandfather.”
If any of that time was spent in the car, the boys likely have vivid memories, like those Hamlet City Manager Jonathan Blanton related just after beginning his work in Hamlet in January 2017.
“Mr. Bradshaw, … he came by last Friday and wanted to give me a little tour of Hamlet,” Blanton said in a newspaper interview. “So I said, ‘Sure, we’ll go on a little tour.’ I didn’t realize he wanted to drive me around Hamlet.
“We pulled out of the parking lot, and he gunned it, and all through the city we went.
“I lived to tell the tale there, and he’s been by to see me (since). He’s an amazing individual …”
On Thursday, Blanton recalled the jaunt with a chuckle.
“He was one of the first people who came to see me” in City Hall, Blanton said. “Over the years, he’s come in many times (and) always made me feel welcome.”
Bradshaw was born at home, on Spring Street in Hamlet, on Aug. 8, 1915. Sunday church bells heralded his birth on the dirt street.
The timing of Bradshaw’s birth and subsequent life, he said in an interview marking his 100th birthday, meant “I watched Hamlet bud, grow and eventually die” with the departure of railroad jobs.
As a child, Bradshaw ranged freely across Hamlet, especially if high jinks were involved. And Hamlet was a big enough place to find plenty of those.
“It had one or two of everything,” he said of the town in August 2017. “You could walk anywhere, (but you) couldn’t go barefoot because the place was full of sand spurs.”
Bradshaw and his friends would drop down the coal chute into the old opera house, filthy but admitted for free. Or they’d roller-skate at the rink housed in what used to be a tobacco warehouse.
They played baseball against west Hamlet’s “Croakers,” then battled them with fists off the diamond because “the Croakers, they was tough” and didn’t like to lose.
When he was old enough for his first car, Bradshaw chose a black Model-T. His last car, too, was a black Ford sedan he never stopped driving until the stroke struck.
During World War II, Bradshaw worked for the railroad. He was called up in 1944, toward the end of the war.
But the Army released him. His work with the railroads helped move men and materiel, and he was of service to his country in Hamlet.
By that time, Bradshaw had opened his first business — a fish market — and turned it over to his brother when he thought the Army would take him.
When he came home from his abbreviated Army training, Bradshaw built and managed a grocery store on King Street, across from the old Hamlet High School.
Students would come over for lunch, or after school for snow cones. And when they sneaked out of school to visit his shop, Bradshaw would feed them, then let them slip out his back door so the principal wouldn’t catch them. Bradshaw’s business was supposed to be a grocery store, but its stock was more Cokes and candy than bread and milk.
Later, the business became a Tastee Freez and, after that, “the home of the sausage dog.”
“Until this day,” Bradshaw said in an interview for his 102nd birthday, “I have a lot of people” relishing the idea of a sausage dog — deep fried; slathered with mustard, onions and chili; and accompanied by a 5-cent Coke.
That was his own secret to good health, Bradshaw would sometimes joke.
At 102-plus, Bradshaw outlived his wife, two sons-in-law and many friends. Those who remember him tend to be decades younger.
Nancy Rivers of Main Street Central, who’s preparing to retire herself, has a few mementos of Bradshaw, including a 1920s bun warmer from Boyd’s Lake retreat that he sold to her. All it needs is new wiring, and it’ll work again.
She also has a photo of Bradshaw’s grocery business because her father worked there. Wearing roller skates or riding a bicycle, Bill Hicks would deliver groceries to Bradshaw’s customers. His daughter Lynn later did the same.
“I tried to get the door (frame) of the old store because that’s where he measured my daddy” to see how tall he’d grown, Rivers said Thursday. But — “I hate it” — the building burned, and she never did.
“He was a world of knowledge,” Rivers said. When he visited her shop, Bradshaw would remember how the building had been used when it was a boarding house: where the food was prepared and where the men gathered to smoke.
“He would come and tell me all kinds of wonderful things about Hamlet,” she said. “He was precious.”
Hamlet Mayor Bill Bayless knew Bradshaw from church and from around town.
“He was a good friend,” Bayless said. “He was really up on the history of Hamlet (and) was a wealth of knowledge.”
One place Bradshaw knew a lot about, Bayless said, was the town’s Mary Love Cemetery.
That’s where he will be buried Saturday, next to his wife, Betsy.
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]