A trip to town hall prompted Frances Shetley’s decadeslong career of public service to the Town of Carrboro
By Brooke Spach | Photography by John Michael Simpson
Long before Carr Mill Mall, before The ArtsCenter, before Weaver Street Market – Frances Shetley has lived on the same plot of land in Carrboro. She grew up down the road on a farm in Calvander and made the move to just off of Hillsborough Road with her husband, Thomas Shetley, in 1955. Since then, she has enjoyed a 54-year-long marriage, raised five children and welcomed nine grandchildren into the fold. But, perhaps her longest lasting legacy will be her impact on the town of Carrboro.
“There was always something to do,” Frances says. “There were always new things to tackle and new things to resolve.”
It was sometime during the ’60s, she recalls, that she was compelled to get involved with the local government. She had paid a visit to town hall to address an issue, now lost to time, and the way she was brushed off by the leadership at the time struck a nerve.
That encounter was the spark which led to Frances’ decadeslong career of public service to the town, punctuated by her hand in the creation of the town’s Appearance Commission and the Carrboro Community Garden Club, as well as local conservation efforts. In fact, Carr Mill Mall exists in large part thanks to Frances, who helped advocate against its demolition in 1975. She then successfully ran for office for the Board of Aldermen (now the Town Council) in 1987.
“I had one lady say, ‘You shouldn’t be running, you’re a woman; women don’t get in politics,’” she says. “And I didn’t pay attention to her. If I had a challenge, I’d take on a challenge.”
There’s also something to be said about Frances’ role in paving the way for Carrboro’s active cycling and pedestrian culture. She says that especially before Chapel Hill Transit was established, there were many UNC students who biked around town, but the infrastructure to keep them safe was not there. She was such a proponent of pedestrian and cyclist safety during her time as an alderman that in 1995, that on her last day in office, her colleagues surprised her with the news that the bikeway connecting Carrboro Elementary School to North Greensboro Street would be named the Frances Lloyd Shetley Bikeway.
When she wasn’t out in the community, working to make Carrboro a better place, Frances was a stay-at-home mom to her children, Gay Bonds, Sam Shetley, Emily Hollowell, Catherine Dean and Johanna Lucas. She says that above all, the greatest accomplishment of her 96 years was raising a happy and successful family. All five children still live in the area and visit regularly to care for her, hear stories from her life and go for nature walks at Anderson Community Park next door or down on the old Bynum Bridge.
Frances is confident that the town she’s dedicated her life to has a bright future ahead. “It takes young people [to create a thriving community], that’s what it takes,” she says. “It’s the young people of this country who are gonna save the world. They are vibrant, they’re knowledgeable, and they’ll fight. That’s what I was like when I was growing up, I would fight most anything.”
When asked what advice she’d give to someone now who’s interested in making a difference in their community, Frances says, “Be alert, and be talking with people all the time because that’s where you learn what’s going on, what the ideas are for the future and how people feel about it.
“Way back when I was active, I had my thumb on the pulse of the area. I knew everything that was going on. So, know what’s going on, and listen to people who have new ideas because they might be good. Maybe,” she adds with a laugh.