Ethel Florence (Pendleton) Highsmith

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Ethel Florence (Pendleton) Highsmith

May 8, 1931 ~ July 2, 2023 (age 92)


Ethel Pendleton Highsmith passed away on July 2, 2023, at the age of 92. Ethel was born in Richmond, VA, on May 8, 1931. She grew up in Wilmington, NC, the youngest of 6 children. Her closest sibling was 9 years older and her eldest was 19 years older. While a student at Women’s College (now UNC-G), young Ethel (5 feet tall and barely 100 pounds) met 6’1” Charlie Highsmith. They married after she graduated (June 6, 1953) and were happily married for 70 years. Their mutual devotion was both charming and extraordinary. Their first son, Charles Jr. (Chip), was born 15 months after they were married, and their second son, Newell, was born 14 months after that.

Ethel was passionate about tennis, playing 4-5 times a week in her 30’s, and in later years reveling in defeating players 20-30 years her junior. She loved animals, hiking in the NC mountains, and travel to the National Parks and Europe (as well as a trip to Kenya and Tanzania in 1987). In her 50’s, she fell in love with whitewater rafting, of all things. She had two other great passions in life: dogs and reading. She had seven dogs over the years, mostly chihuahuas. All of her dogs adored her and Charlie; most of them viewed the rest of humanity with disdain and hostility. She was a voracious reader, sometimes reading at a book-a-day pace. Not many “easy reads” either: lots of literary fiction and even more science, nature, psychology, and biography.

Ethel was a loving and inspiring parent, sharing her many passions with her two boys. She passed on to them her insatiable curiosity – always learning, always trying to look at life from a variety of angles, always asking “how” and “why.” Family dinners and get-togethers involved lengthy discussions on every topic under the sun – politics, international affairs, psychology, books, movies, friends, family – punctuated by plenty of laughter, often at her own expense (“teasing mom” was a favorite pastime for her two sons). She suffered greatly from her son Chip’s death in 2018 from complications after kidney transplant surgery. But she summoned the courage to continue enjoying life with the husband she loved so dearly.

Ethel was preceded in death by 4 of her siblings (John Pendleton, Jiggs Pendleton, Alice Bien, and Newell Smith), but is survived by her sister Jane Lewis (age 101) of Norfolk, VA. She is also survived by her husband Charlie; her son Newell and daughter-in-law Diane Heim of Arlington, VA; grandchildren Theresa Highsmith (Denver, CO) and Mark Highsmith (San Diego, CA); and numerous nieces and nephews. 

A Celebration of Ethel’s Life will take place on August 1, 2023, at 2:00 PM, at Friends Home West, 6100 W. Friendly Avenue, Greensboro, North Carolina. The family would like to thank the many caring professionals at Friends Home West and Authoracare Hospice for helping Ethel through her final days. Donations can be made in her memory to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the Lupus Foundation of America, or the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

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