In 1955, Frances Lloyd Shetley's first impression of Carrboro was a town dominated by Carrboro Woolen Mills, a soon-to-be-defunct cotton mill.
Weaver Street Market was nowhere to be seen, nor were the bike lanes or bus routes that now crisscross the town.
Since she moved to Carrboro as a young woman, Shetley has played a leading role in transforming the old mill town into a bustling center of commerce and culture.
On Aug. 20, Carrboro Mayor Damon Seils joined N.C. Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Caswell, Orange in presenting Shetley, now 95, with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the highest award granted by the North Carolina governor for service to the state.
Seils said that Shetley's decades of service to the community is the reason she won the award.
In a Twitter thread announcing the event on Aug. 20, Seils commended Shetley for her many contributions to Carrboro, including serving for eight years on the Board of Aldermen, which is now the Carrboro Town Council.
She said she first ran for the board in 1987 because she wanted to improve the local government that she felt was unresponsive to the community.
“I went to the town manager with a question about Carrboro, and the town manager was standing there in the hall,” Shetley said. “I addressed him and he said, ‘I’m busy! Can’t you see I’m busy?’”
As a Carrboro taxpayer, Shetley said she believed she had a right to talk to him. After being brushed off, she decided to get involved in Town affairs.
While on the Board of Aldermen, she served as the chair of the Carrboro Transportation Advisory Board. According to Carrboro Mayor Pro Tempore Susan Romaine, Shetley was a consistent advocate for cyclist and pedestrian safety.
Seils said Shetley was able to make a real difference in the community at a time when women being involved in politics was still unusual.
In 1971, she and another woman convinced the all-male Board of Aldermen to create the Appearance Commission, which focused on improving the aesthetics of new development.
“They talked just as if we were not there, but we listened,” Shetley said. “After they talked for a while, one of them said, ‘Aw, let’s let the little women have some bushes'.”
Since she moved here with her family many years ago, Romaine said Shetley has dedicated her life to making Carrboro a better place to live.
She was a founding member of the Community Garden Club in 1975, which today has three locations around Carrboro.
One of her well-known accomplishments began in the same decade when the town’s cotton mill — abandoned since the 1960s — was slated to be demolished.
“She immediately worked with her neighbors to develop a campaign around saving the mill,” Seils said.
Because of that movement, the building was quickly redeveloped into Carr Mill Mall, which became the core of Carrboro’s modern economy and social life, Seils said.
However, Shetley has a different, more humble perspective of her involvement. According to her, someone else led the petition to convert the mill, and she only encouraged them.
Shetley continues to be involved with the Town, even now. Like many Carrboro politicians before their election campaigns, Seils and Romaine said they both spoke with her about the history and character of the town at her long-time home on Hillsborough Road.
Seils added Shetley is the person to talk to if anyone is interested in becoming involved in the local community or Town government.
Romaine said the award is a way to recognize a champion of many good causes.
“There’s nobody who could possibly be more deserving than Frances Shetley,” Romaine said.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.