By SALLY SEXTON
Weatherford has many traditions and a lot of history.
One woman was instrumental in several of those traditions, which are still around to this day, was Helen Gatlin Brogdon Shipley, who passed away Jan. 31.
Born in Athens, Texas, Shipley and her family moved to Weatherford in 1964.
Before long, Shipley was involved in several businesses and organizations in Weatherford.
As one of the original directors, Shipley was instrumental in getting Weatherford National Bank organized in 1984 and later beginning what would become the Peach Festival.
“Helen was wonderful, one of the sweetest people ever,” said Jimmie Sue Lawson, who worked with Brogdon at Weatherford National, now First Financial Bank. “I just think of her and I think of her smile. She always smiled, and it made everyone else around her happy.”
As a member of the Weatherford National staff, Shipley also paved the way as the first woman ever to serve on the bank’s board of directors.
“When my husband chartered Weatherford National Bank, Helen was the very first woman to serve as a board member in our area,” Jo Worthington said of her close friend. “Before that they were all men.”
Shipley took her board duties seriously, asserting her faith and helping establish prayer within the meeting.
“At the very first board meeting, my husband said she was the one who spoke up to all the men and said ‘I think we should have a prayer before every meeting.’ And that’s what happened,” Worthington said.
Shipley’s other duties for the bank included drumming up business and finding ways to attract customers.
Worthington and Shipley became friends almost immediately, meeting through First United Methodist Church, where both of their families attended.
“[She and Dr. Brogdon] came into town when our boys and their boys were the same age. They started sports together and right on through graduation remained big buddies,” Worthington said. “Helen and I worked together, we were good friends, we raised our kids at the same time ... it’s really hard to find good relationships like that.”
Together, Shipley and Worthington created the Peaches Club, later known as the Parker County Peach Festival.
“I came up with the idea because we had just opened a brand new bank. There hadn’t been a new bank opened in awhile, and we knew we had to get something going to attract more business,” Worthington said. “We wanted to do something regarding what Weatherford stood for. At that time, it was between peaches and watermelons, two of our biggest crops, and watermelons aren’t easy to carry around; so we decided on peaches.”
In the festival’s first year, the event failed to attract a big number, but as word caught on year after year, the festival, which was held at the current College Park shopping center, flourished — so much so, in fact, that Worthington approached the Weatherford Chamber of Commerce a few years later to inquire on hosting the event.
“We just got so busy and it was hard for the two of us to organize and handle everything,” Worthington said.
“One of the things I remember about my childhood is always going to the peach festival as a kid,” granddaughter Heather Hilliard said. “She was extremely well-known in Weatherford. They would have a pot luck meal every Sunday after church and when we would visit and attend, we were always running into people that knew her.”
Shipley was also accomplished in her studies, obtaining a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin in home economics, as well as a master’s in nutrition sciences from Texas Woman’s University.
She used her education to teach nutrition at Tarrant County Community College and Weatherford College, and was a nutritionist at Campbell Memorial Hospital and Keenland Nursing Home.
“I always thought of her as very knowledgable and proper,” Hilliard said. “She received her master’s in nutrition and was very educated.”
Shipley also followed in her first husband’s footsteps, serving on the Weatherford College board of trustees from 1983 to 1987.
A memorial fund, the William Brogdon Scholarship Fund, was established in her husband’s name.
Following the passing of her first husband, Shipley found love again, marrying Fred Shipley in 1995.
Friends and family were a big part of Shipley’s life, and many relatives remembered the warmth they received from her.
“You taught me the meaning and importance of service to others,” daughter-in-law Anne Brogdon Ferguson wrote in a letter she submitted for a religious journey that Brogdon participated in. “I have watched you for 30 years serve your church, community and anything else dear to your heart.
“The letter sums up best what this wonderful woman was all about.”
A celebration of life service will be held for Shipley at 11 a.m. Saturday at First United Methodist Church in Weatherford.