Purefoy stepping away after 21 years

Betty Sue Purefoy is an able bodied seaman by title, but some have called her an ambassador for the N.C. Ferry Division.

Purefoy is retiring at the end of July after 21 years.

“She’s the Cherry Branch welcoming committee. We’re losing our front face,” said Stacey Sparks, lead worker for the ferry division on the Neuse River route between Cherry Branch and Minnesott Beach.

Riders on the route, which is frequented by workers at Cherry Point, say Purefoy is always welcoming.

“She’s always smiling and pleasant. She’s like the ambassador,” said Lee Tillman, who rides the ferry every day going back and forth from work at Havelock city hall.

The trip is just 15 to 20 minutes to ride the two miles across the river, but in that short time, a lot of impressions are made.

“I think a smile between two people is kind of a precious thing,” said Purefoy, explaining her congenial attitude towards riders. “It shows friendship, love and compassion from one person to another, and it shows a warmth and caring spirit between those that are around you.”

Purefoy said the riders, especially visitors to the state, come on the ferry to enjoy a rare opportunity to be aboard a boat.

“Well, they come on here to enjoy the ride. A lot of the little children that come on here have never been on a boat, especially one of this size. They never had the opportunity,” said Purefoy. “They may live in Charlotte or Raleigh or somewhere where they might not have access to a boat, and this is a big deal for a lot of those kids and family members.

“They like to feed the seagulls and they like the look at the porpoises. They enjoy seeing nature and you can explain things to ‘em about the boat. They get all excited because it’s just something new to them, that they’re not used to seeing or being on every day. It’s like a little mini vacation for them, a little mini cruise. It’s not very long but they always look forward to coming across here, the campers as well as the vacationists.”

Sue Kinner has seen how Purefoy greets visitors.

“She really has been like a tourist agent,” Kinner said.

Purefoy doesn’t save her kindness for visitors. She’s been known to treat crew members to some of her homemade “spaghetti chili” or her pork with Fordhook Lima Beans and Ritz crackers, not to mention her fried chicken, shrimp salad, fried sea mullets along with desserts of figs and blueberries.

“She brings all kind of stuff in here for us,” said chief engineer Quint Collins.

She’s also known for having an appetite, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is her staple.

“That perks me up,” Purefoy said. “You’re going up and down these steps every 15 or 20 minutes.”

“She’s full of energy,” said Chief Engineer Elbert Jones, who has worked alongside Purefoy for years. “She’s eager to do anything and ready to do anything.”

”She’s a ball of energy. She will polish the brass, wash the decks, and carry supplies. She never stops,” said Kinner. “If you catch her just right, she’ll sing to you. She’s the instigator to all of the birthday parties, all the going away parties. She’s the best kind of employee, and I’d like to get a lot more like her.”

Engineer Ricky Graham and Mate Ray Golden III are retiring the same day. Golden said Purefoy is a very hard worker.

“She always keeps a rag in her pocket and she’s all the time wiping something down. She don’t know a stranger,” said Golden. “I’ve never heard a cuss word out of her in all these years. She’s got a good heart and tries to help people. I think that’s from her days at the radio station. She was a very popular disc jockey.”

Purefoy was known before she came to the ferry division, having served as a disc jockey on WMBL 740 AM and WRHT 96.3 FM and 103.7 FM out of Morehead City and Williamston. Her on-air name was “Sukie.”

“I would do news, weather, sports and sometimes have to do ballgames,” said Purefoy, who thinks communicating with people on the radio is a skill she brought with her to the ferry. “I like people and like to be around people. I guess just talking to ‘em and finding out what’s going on in their lives and seeing them each day and become friends.”

When she was hired in 1994 by the ferry division, it was to work on the Pamlico River route. She’s been on the Neuse River route for seven years.

She always wanted to work on a boat.

“My father was a charter boat fisherman and he also worked in the water years ago as a commercial fisherman and as a child growing up I was always on the boat with him. I enjoyed it,” said Purefoy. “I loved being on the water and I thought that would really be neat to be able to get a job working on a boat, but I figured me being a woman, there’s probably going to be nobody wanting to hire a woman on a boat, but as time went on I got a chance to get hired and work with the ferry service.

“It’s been fun. The guys are great to work with and like I say, they’re like my brothers. We all get along and try to help one another out and we’re sort of like one big extended family.”

Purefoy said she’ll miss her friends aboard the ferries, but will just relax during her upcoming retirement at the end of the month.

“I’d like to do a little traveling and also get in the boat and do some fishing and clamming. Go over to Cape Lookout, Shackleford Banks and just enjoy being on the outside, relaxing, and retiring and taking life easy,” said Purefoy. “I’m going to sit on my porch and I’m going to play my harmonica, my mandolin, and I might play my saxophone a little bit too.”

“Well I’m going to miss all the guys,” Purefoy said. “They’ve been like brothers, a lot of them, to me, like family, you know. I’ll be back and see ‘em.”