Williams seeks to inspire

Published 12:33 pm Wednesday, July 19, 2017

While most people during the summer sit beside pools with iced beverages or spend time vacationing, Ellen Williams Neal, 67, is getting to work.

She begins early, often working until the mid to late morning. She alternates between the “Welcome to Victoria” sign, the town park and different areas of Main Street, where she pulls weeds growing in the area.

For weeds that can’t be pulled by hand, Neal uses a lawn trimmer.

When Neal went to the “Welcome to Victoria” sign recently, certain weeds flourished in the summer weather, crowding the sign to the point where it read, “Welcome to Victori,” instead of “Victoria,” Neal said.

She said once she pulled up the overcrowding weeds, the sign became visible, and matched the welcoming message of the sign.

Neal said she has been dedicated to continuing a tradition started by her mother, who had been a past president of the Lunenburg Chamber of Commerce, who was passionate about the impact that appearance can have on the town and people in it, and often pulled weeds or planted flowers around the area.

“That’s what spurred me on — seeing my mother do it before she got sick,” Neal said.

Neal feels a responsibility to carry on her mother’s work of beautifying the town. She said like her mother, she also notices the impact of beautification on the area.

“(It’s) a better impression coming into town,” Neal said. “I’m the one who notices it, and I said, ‘I can do this.’”

Neal noted that the changes may be subtle at times, but they are important to her.

“Some may not even notice or care,” Neal said about the weeding and plants. “But that’s OK, we’re all different.”

Neal, who grew up in Victoria and moved to Richmond when she was in college, returned to Victoria in 1994 when her mother became ill.

She said her mother and father both died in the same year, and Neal took the helm of Dupriest & Williams Department Store to make sure none of the employees were out of a job.

Neal operated the store until 2006 when she retired.

She keeps the rail beds around the boxcar on display at the Victoria Town Park from becoming overgrown. She also pulls weeds around the post office.

She said she has received compliments from people who have taken note of her work.

“People comment and said they appreciate what I do,” Neal said.

The work has not been easy. Neal, who also tends a garden at her Victoria home, said she had to cut back on weeding by hand after she had to get a cortisone shot from hip issues stemming from bending to pull the weeds.

Neal said she was impressed with the potted plants that were recently installed along the Victoria’s Main Street by the Lunenburg Chamber of Commerce and donated by Pennington Seed Inc. and Twigs and Berries. of Kenbridge.

“I enjoyed seeing them,” Neal said of the plants, which included vibrant spikes, giant marigolds and portulaca. “And I think some others notice them too.”

Years before, Neal said she would haul water to keep plants around the town vibrant. Now that the potted plants have been commissioned by business owners on Main Street to be watered, Neal now focuses on weeding.

She hopes that her work in the community will inspire others who seek to keep the town looking beautiful.

“There’s lots to be done for weed eating, gardening to make things better,” Neal said.