Walter and Lois Blair are laid to rest in Wantage

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:56

    WANTAGE-Less than two miles from the road that bears their family name and the simple house they were born in, Walter and Lois Blair were laid to rest on Monday morning at Deckertown Union Cemetery on Route 23 in Wantage. More than 50 family members, friends and neighbors gathered at the graveside to pay their final respects to the beloved brother and sister who tragically both died of hypothermia on Jan. 31. Over the years, the Blairs touched many lives with their gentleness and simplicity. "We are all going to miss their smiling faces on Blair Road" said Don Brossman, funeral director for Ferguson Funeral Home in Sussex who presided over the short graveside ceremony. Family members included niece, Hildagarde Joy Swinson and nephew Herbert Blair. "It's very sad for us, but my aunt and uncle were so close that I don't think that one of them could have done without the other. Maybe it is best that they both went together," said Blair. Among the gathered friends and neighbors, there were many who had known the Blair's for more than half a century. "I've known Walter for nearly 60 years," said John Lateer of Vernon. "He was my mason's helper for many years and a nicer guy you couldn't meet. He was very big into the boxing, and you would always see him running out on Route 23," he added. Ike Rome, who lives in Wantage, first met the Blairs as a school boy. "I went to the Wantage school in 1939 with Walter and his brother Herbert," he said. "I stayed friends with Walter over the years. Sometimes I would take him grocery shopping, and he was always happy and content." Lois, 71, and Walter Blair, 82, lived their whole lives in a tiny house with no plumbing and only an old stove which they used to heat their house. They drew water from a well and trekked some 30 yards in all weather conditions to the outhouse. In spite of what many would consider primitive living conditions, the brother and sister appeared to be more than content with their lot. Walter Blair was known at "The Hub-Cap Man" because of the wheel covers that he sold from his front yard. He also made wood carvings that he sometimes sold. A boxer in his youth, he made his way through life doing odd jobs. He and Lois survived in retirement on Social Security. Family lore has it that the family arrived in Sussex County on the Underground Railroad that helped escaped slaves find their way to the North during the Civil War. Old-timers in the county say that there were at least two "safe houses" in the area, one in Augusta and one at the old Bailey Farm in Vernon that burned down in 1985. "I talked to my uncle Walter many times about different things that he could do to make things better, and he really didn't want to discuss it," said Herbert Blair. "I know that he really didn't like change, so I just left it alone because he really was very happy and content." Next door neighbor Carol Payne had tears in her eyes and a lump in her throat when she spoke about her friends of more than 20 years. "They had a contented, rich life," she said. "I am going to miss them. I can't go to my mail box without thinking of them because I always used to wave to them even if they weren't outside. They were such precious sweet darlings." Among those gathered to say their final goodbyes was a Vernon woman, Millie Hope, who really didn't know the Blair's at all but who had been deeply touched by them after she read an article about them in The Adververtiser-News. "Well, I came to the funeral today because though I really didn't know them, after I read about them in the paper and about the simple lifestyle that they led I was really touched," said Hope. "I did get to meet them because on Christmas Day I decided to bring them dinner and a little gift and thought they didn't know me they opened up their home to me and were so gracious and sweet," she added. The Blairs were buried next to their brother, Herbert, who had moved in with them a number of years ago and also died of hypothermia after falling outside and not being able to get up. According to the Sussex County Prosecutor's Office, there have been other deaths in the area due to the recent extreme cold weather, including an 88-year-old man and his 80-year-old wife whose bodies were discovered by police in their Dover home two weeks ago. The prosecutors office recommends citizens who feel at risk to hypothermia in their homes should call 911 in an emergency, Sussex County Adult Protective Services' 24-hour hot line at 973-209-4357, or the Sussex County Office on Aging at 973-579-0555.