Irene Morphew, who served as Postmaster of Jefferson for 38 years, celebrated her 102nd birthday this week at Ashe Assisted Living.
Morphew was born in Ashe County Sept. 8, 1911, three months after George V was crowned King of the United Kingdom, and three months before Roald Amundsen’s expedition reached the South Pole.
She and her four brothers, Glen, Howard, John and Paul, grew up in Brownwood at Riverside, their family home. According to her sister-in-law, Iris Morphew, the house had no road access, and “Irene and her brothers had to cross the river to get the mail or anything.”
Stilting was the accepted method for crossing the river. Once, Irene and her older brother Howard fell off their stilts, and had to swim to the opposite bank, where they sat until their clothes dried so they wouldn’t get in trouble for falling into the river.
The only girl in the family, Irene sometimes fell under her brothers’ influence. Howard once gave her a pinch of chewing tobacco; “It made me deathly sick,” she said.
At 14, Irene joined the Jefferson United Methodist Church. Now, 88 years later, she is the church’s oldest and longest-serving member.
The church’s Morphew House is dedicated in her honor.
She graduated from Jefferson High School in 1929, taking part in a senior class tradition of the day: climbing to the top of Mount Jefferson with her friends.
She did not attend college. Her father, James McDonald Morphew, was a staunch Roosevelt Democrat, and insisted that his only daughter take the test for Postmaster.
Feeling unequal to the challenge, she cried when she was offered the job, but in 1934 was hired as Postmaster of Jefferson at age 23.
She retired in 1972, and has now been retired for longer than she worked.
Irene was engaged twice, but never married and had no children. She lived with her mother until her death in 1959.
“She drove until she was 92, until they insisted her eyes were too bad,” Iris said.
Irene has resided at Ashe Assisted Living for the past two years.