By Sarah Nagem
As the promise of fall crept into the air, 103-year-old Evert Locklear had collards on his mind.
His health was declining, but Locklear was set on getting 300 collard plants into the ground at his Robeson County farm late this summer.
“He said, ‘Get someone here to till the land,’” said his daughter, Annette Bryant. “He said, ‘And if I have to, I’ll get my Cadillac’ – which was his wheelchair – ‘and I’ll go out there and plant them myself.’”
It was the last crop for Locklear, who died at his home in Maxton on Oct. 8.
In a life that spanned more than a century, Locklear had 12 children, served in the Navy, told everyone who would listen about his Christian faith, celebrated his Native American heritage and retired at the age of 97 – yes, 97.
The Lumbees flew their tribal flag at half staff on Thursday in honor of Locklear, who was the oldest living member of the tribe.
Born on March 24, 1919, Locklear grew up in the Prospect community. He was a young child when his father left the family, Bryant said, and he helped his mother on their farm.
Locklear was married to his first wife, Lessie, when he joined the U.S. Navy, where he worked as a cook and repaired military vehicles, according to Bryant. She said her father was sent to Pearl Harbor, the naval station attacked by Japan in 1941, toward the end of the war.
“He told stories about being on the Navy ship and it being bitterly cold,” Bryant said. “He thought he would freeze to death. (He) had never been away from home.”
After more than a year, Locklear returned to southeastern North Carolina, and he and his wife continued to grow their family. They had 10 children before she died.
As a younger man, Locklear served as pastor of Community Holiness Church of Rennert. He went on to serve as an evangelist, visiting churches throughout the county, according to his daughter.
“If you met my dad, he was going to tell you about the Lord, and he wanted to know if you were saved,” Bryant said. She continued with a laugh: “You couldn’t get away. If that was a conversation you didn’t want to have, you wouldn’t want to be around him.”
Locklear spent his career working on cars, which made him well-known throughout the county, Bryant said. He owned his own body shop for a while.
That’s how he met Helen, a woman 27 years his junior who went to the shop to pick up her sister’s car. But Locklear had been enamored with her since he spotted her a year earlier at a church service.
“He told me that the first time he ever seen me he fell in love with me,” Helen Locklear, 76, told the Border Belt Independent on Friday.
After dating for three decades and raising two children, including Bryant, the couple married in 2002. Locklear was in his early 80s.
Bryant described her father as a hard-working man – he often worked six days a week. But he liked to have fun, she said, and he would take his children camping and swimming in local rivers and lakes.
Many weekends, they went to the beach to catch bluefish and spot that Locklear took home and cleaned for meals. The seafood went well with the corn and peas and collards from the family garden.
Bryant said her family believes Locklear’s diet, driven by his dedication to living off the land, played a big role in his longevity.
“My dad was a very healthy person,” she said. “He wasn’t one to go to a lot of restaurants or eat fast food.”
Locklear continued to work for months after he broke his hip when he was 96, according to Bryant. In retirement, he liked to rake the yard and tend the garden.
But Locklear’s physical state went downhill after he broke his leg in August, his daughter said.
Bryant said he desperately wanted to hang on for the birth of his latest great-grandchild. And he did. Bryant’s daughter gave birth to a baby boy last week. Locklear got to see him on FaceTime.
As for the collards Locklear insisted on? The family planted 75 heads – not the 300 he wanted, but enough for a decent crop. Bryant said they should be ready to eat late next month.
They’ll make for a special meal.
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