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Outgoing United Way director Elizabeth Mitchell was joined by her son Caleb and daughter Sarah at her retirement party. 

United in changes at United Way

ASHEBORO — Elizabeth Mitchell’s temporary job with United Way of Randolph County is ending after 21 years.


She retired June 30, leaving the executive director position to Samantha Baker. The two will work together during the transition.


“I’m excited about Samantha,” Mitchell said as she took a break from cleaning out her desk. “She’ll do a wonderful job. She reminds me of a young me. She has a good eye for the community and has volunteered at United Way.”


Born and raised in Scotland, Mitchell met and married an American, who took her to Connecticut. They had two children, Sarah and Caleb, both now adults.


After spending time in New Jersey, Mitchell moved to Chapel Hill, where she was involved with United Way of the Triangle. While there, the statewide United Way director approached her about helping out in Asheboro while the agency there found a new director. 


“I helped a few days a week and Mary Joan Pugh asked me, ‘Why not apply?’ ”


Leery at first, not knowing the community, Mitchell said, “The path was laid out for me to come to Asheboro and Randolph County. It was all good.”


At her retirement party on June 21, Mitchell recounted what long-time United Way supporter Reynolds Lisk said about this new girl from across the Pond: “We didn’t know what to think of her. Twenty years later, here we are. She lives out in the country and has a little bit of redneck in her.”


It was 2003 when she took the job. “All the big companies were still here” who could be counted on to financially support United Way. But when so many of them left or closed down, that support waned. 


“It hurt our campaign. We hung in there and found other avenues for support.”


Those other avenues include the Post Brands donation to United Way of 10,000 cereal bags each year to be sold at $1 each. Then there are Dan and Chris Lackey of Asheboro Auto Mall who have given away a car each year for 17 years to encourage people to pledge at least $100 to United Way.


Early on, Mitchell was having to meet people and learn the local culture. She said the late Talmadge Baker encouraged her, saying, “You just hang in there. After 17 years, you’ll be alright.”


Jamie Hill, marketing and office manager, came to United Way just a few weeks after Mitchell took the reins. “I couldn’t do this without her,” Mitchell said. “She helped me understand Southern (dialect). She’s been with me the entire time. Samantha will be in good hands.”


There were times when the United Way had to feel its way. “When COVID hit, we were asking, ‘What do we do?’ Everything was shut down and we were wondering how to do the campaign online,” Mitchell said. “But the companies and schools continued to give and gave even more.”


During the pandemic, she said, the City of Asheboro applied for a grant from the NC Department of Commerce with the United Way to administer more than $600,000 for families and companies that were adversely affected by COVID. Applicants had to show how the pandemic had caused them financial problems. The grant provided them with money for food, rent, mortgage payments and utilities. Some agencies were able to get equipment.


“People don’t know what United Way does until they need help from one of the agencies,” Mitchell said.


The decision to retire came after Mitchell’s oldest sister died on Christmas day of last year. Upon returning from the funeral in Scotland, Mitchell was diagnosed with COVID.


“I began to think, ‘Is it time to let someone else take over?’ I’m 67 this year. It’s time to enjoy my children and grandchildren.


“But I’ll volunteer — that’s a given. The prime job for Elizabeth would be part-time at the library. I love my books.” 


And there’s travel in the near future. She and Maxine Wright, her partner of 18 years, plan to go to Scotland to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of Mitchell’s sister come November. From there, they’ll go visit an old friend in Vienna, then back to Scotland before returning to Asheboro.


They have plenty to keep them busy on their farm, with 10 goats, four dogs, a donkey and a sheep. “We love our animals,” she said.


Both plan to continue to give back to the community that both have become an integral part of. Wright was the first female to be promoted to lieutenant in the Asheboro Police Department and helped pave the way for other women officers.


“Randolph County has been good to me and helped broaden my horizon,” Mitchell said. “I hope what I’ve done has helped.


“When my mom died, a woman with the Eastern Star (which Mitchell’s mother belonged to) said to me, ‘We’ll miss the generosity of her spirit.’ I hope at some point someone can say that about me.”