Mabel Long: A custodian of local political memories

Mabel Long and her late husband, Sen. Joseph J. Long Jr.

Friends have suggested that Mabel Long gather her memories and write a book.

The idea makes the Salisbury native, now in her 90s, laugh, but there’s merit to the idea, considering her  knowledge of historic Salisbury and marriage to the late state Sen. Joseph J. Long.

His widow has a wealth of recollections of Downtown Salisbury, including employment at Holtz 5 & 10, where she earned 10 cents an hour.

“I worked 12 hours, from 12 noon till.12 midnight, on Saturdays and made $1.20, less .02 for Social Security, leaving

$1.18. I can still remember what stores were on Main Street. I went to the Arcade Theater to see Gone With the Wind in 1939,” she posted on Facebook on Nov. 5.

“I have been around a long time and I can remember what Main St. looked like when I was very young. Down on West Main Street, there were a lot of stores and places of business. J.C. Penney was down there back then. Holtz 5 & 10 was on the corner of Lake Street and Main Street. Hayman’s Drug Store was on the other corner,” she wrote.

Among photos she posted are keepsake, black and white images of John F. Kennedy when he visited Salisbury in 1960.

He was a senator then, running for president.

In one photo, her husband is standing behind his young son, Jack, in little league at the time, and Kennedy is extending his hand and smiling the classic smile Americans knew so well.

Another snapshot is of Kennedy talking to Salisbury Mayor Boyd McLernon. Behind them are Delegate Jim Caldwell, Long when he was on the city council and Walter Jones of Avery Hall. “When Senator Kennedy came here he flew into the Salisbury Airport. You know, senators can do anything,” Mrs. Long said.

Mabel Long 3

“Boyd McLernon was the mayor then and Walter Jones worked for Avery Hall. He was a prominent Democrat in the city. Jack Kennedy met them all.

“There was a guy here who had a yellow Cadillac convertible and he drove them to Ocean City. They stopped at all the little towns between here and Ocean City and  met with the Democratic women in Ocean City. They came back to Johnny and Sammy’s where there was a whole group  of people who met him there,” Mrs. Long said, referring to the former Salisbury restaurant.

Mabel and Joe Long weren’t  yet married, but knew each other. That day, when Long accompanied Kennedy to Ocean City in a flashy car, she was busy working E.S. Adkins where she was employed 38 years, and didn’t get to meet the future president.

She retired in 1984 as corporate secretary.

Her husband enjoyed meeting Kennedy, who was elected 35th president and assassinated in 1963, but, she said, “he didn’t get too excited because he met a lot of people.”

This is Joe Sr on the left with Jack Long (in Little League) meeting with Senator Kennedy at Johnny's and Sammy's in 1960.

This is Joe Sr on the left with Jack Long (in Little League) meeting with Senator Kennedy at Johnny’s and Sammy’s in 1960.

Long, popular and well-respected, began his long political career on the Salisbury City Council, was a delegate 16 years, then senator for eight years.

 “Joe was one of the best. He was the best representative of this area there has ever been,” she said about her husband, a Delmar native who moved to Salisbury in 1936.

Pictures of Long with Kennedy caught the attention of her  Facebook friends, bringing dozens of “likes” and comments such as, “Wow! What an honor,” “What precious memories,” “I still miss seeing him (Long) and getting a hug” and “I was just at tot when that was taken.”

One friend recalled meeting Kennedy at Hess Apparel, when she was in high school, and shaking his hand.

“I was telling one of my Facebook people that I’m friends with, that knew Joe, that he met Senator Kennedy when he was here and he said, ‘Mabel, why don’t you put some pictures on your Facebook page so people can see them?’ I didn’t take the pictures. Somebody else took the pictures, but Senator Long is in the pictures,” Mrs. Long said.

Although Long was a “died in the wool” Democrat, he voted for the most qualified candidate, not by party, and “always considered his constituents first,” Mrs. Long said.

“His father was very politically minded, but he never ran for anything. But Joe, at the suggestion of some other people who were here, they wanted him to run for city council and he did and he won. In 28 years in public life, he never lost an election. He retired when he was 65 and never ran again,” she said.

He was succeeded by Senator Lewis R.  Riley.

“There were a lot of things Joe did that were very interesting. He was a real people person,” she said.

When he decided he wouldn’t seek re-election, he asked her to retire and spend his last two years in office in Annapolis with him, and she obliged.

He died in November 2008, after 43 years of marriage. They had four children, two of his and two of hers, but they always considered all of them  their family. They are Joseph Jr., Brenda Austin, Jack Long and Brian Austin. There are five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

“Joe was happiest when he was out with the people, his people,” Mrs. Long said.

“He rubbed elbows with the elite as well with the poor. He was at ease and anybody.  And anybody could be at ease with Joe.”

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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