When our boys were growing up, we would read a book to them on their birthday.
It was called “Today is Your Birthday” by P.K. Hallinan. It makes the child the star, repeating over and over again: “Today is your birthday. Today is your day!”
For Eleanor Castellaw, that day is tomorrow. She will be 84 on Saturday. It is her day. She is the queen.
She could get used to this. Eleven days ago, she had another special day with her name on it. Mayor Robert Reichert read a proclamation on July 15 at City Hall. He officially declared the appointed Tuesday as “Eleanor Castellaw Day” in Macon.
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Eleanor Castellaw isn’t a household name, except maybe in the house she shares with her sister, Betty Morris.
But she recently retired as the answer to a trivia question after serving 36 years on the Macon-Bibb County Board of Health. She was the first woman appointed to the board back in March 1978 and had been vice chair since 2001.
Yes, Eleanor has been a champion of community health for three decades and pieces of two others. She worked on both the front line and behind the scenes to promote cleanliness (it’s next to godliness, you know) and declare war on every germ that crossed the county line.
Macon has been her home since she was 11 years old. She worked as a local florist for more than 40 years and has been a faithful member of Mulberry Street United Methodist Church for 60 years.
Her daughter, Beth Castellaw, describes her mom as a lady with many gifts.
“She has an amazing entrepreneurial spirit,” Beth said. “She is extremely creative and has enduring strength. She is a true Southern lady ... very caring and loving. She has the ability to get her point across in a way that inspires you to take on the world, while maintaining a fun-loving sense of humor.”
Eleanor was born in Birmingham. Her father died of pneumonia when she was 3. Her mother took a job as a telephone operator. She moved to Montgomery and was later transferred to Macon with her two daughters.
Her mom remarried Tom Stripling, who ran a barber shop in downtown Macon with his brother. Eleanor attended Winship Elementary and graduated from Miller High in 1948. She worked for New York Life for five years and married Jack Castellaw in 1953.
She opened a flower shop called Artcraft Florist on Houston Avenue. She owned the Cherry Blossom Florist Shoppe on Forsyth Road before selling it in 1995.
As a florist, she often did double duty as a wedding director. She laughed about the time a groomsman showed up in a dark tuxedo -- with white socks. The wedding party was mortified.
She calmly went to soloist Hines Causey, who was seated in the choir loft, and asked to borrow his dark socks. His feet were not visible to the wedding guests, and it saved the day. Hines, who has sung at more weddings than anybody in Macon, was more than able to perform his solo sockless.
Eleanor’s husband was a member of the Southside Lions Club, where Eleanor became acquainted with commissioner Emory Greene. Greene recommended her to Mayor Buck Melton as an appointment to the board of health.
She knew little about the inner workings of the position, except that it was voluntary and played a vital role in safeguarding public health. She was certainly eager and willing to learn all she could.
She found herself chairing the environmental health division, which was staffed by registered sanitarians and enforced health regulations at facilities such as motel swimming pools. One of her first assignments was to tag along on a septic tank inspection.
As she was walking across the property, she recognized the homeowner.
“What are you doing here, Eleanor?” he asked.
“I’m here to inspect your septic tank,” she said.
She had to laugh. She had provided the flowers for his daughter’s wedding the previous Saturday.
Eleanor often went with health department employees on restaurant inspections, looking for sloppy floors and greasy spoons. She would make sure the food booths at the Georgia State Fair got the white-glove treatment every October. Any time there was an environmental complaint or concern, she rolled up her sleeves.
“I enjoyed every minute of it because it was about serving people,” she said.
She has always been a huge sports fan, too, especially the Atlanta Braves and Falcons and Georgia Bulldogs. A couple of years ago, a friend gave her an inlaid mahogany music box with a “G” on the top. When the box is opened, there is hand-painted football field with the UGA band playing “Glory, Glory to Old Georgia.” She cues it up every time the Dogs score.
On Saturday, her theme song will be “Happy Birthday.”
After all, it is her day. One of them.
Reach Gris at 744-4274 or firstname.lastname@example.org.