A Collection Stories and Wishes to celebrate Sarah Belk Gambrell’s 101st Birthday

Aunt Sarah:

A woman of substance.

A woman of family.

A woman of business.

A woman of community.

A woman to be admired.

As the matriarch of the Belk Family, it is a privilege and an honor to watch her navigate any audience. I will never forget at her 100th birthday party, I asked her to sign her baby picture in the William Henry Belk – Merchant of the South book. She said, “We need to find out who that cute baby is. I just love cute babies.” I said, “That cute baby is YOU!”

And with the most beautiful smile on her face and the Belk twinkle in her eye, she said, “Oh, my heavens, that was a very, very, very long time ago.”

What an amazing life to live.

XOXO MC Belk Pilon, Niece


Sarah, extraordinarily gracious, with great patience outlasts the rest of us with her kindness and innate sense of finding something good to emerge. This certainly was the strength that showed in her and Charlie’s relationship. An enduring remembrance for my wife and me was, as young people, that they included us in their daily lives during a visit, as family, to NYC where we were included in conversation, meals at each of their clubs and to the Brick Presbyterian church; getting to know each of them more individually. Sarah and Charles Gambrell showed confidence and fortitude that each had and was mutual. Charlie’s illness came later and even as it overcome his abilities, Sarah was there keeping him included seemly not minding what was difficult for her as well. Sarah is famous for holding a steady knowing smile. And for sharing in her bright outlook lots of appreciation for the joys she has seen along a remarkable path.

Happy Amazing 101st Birthday! Paul and Cecelia Belk

My little church is probably going to close, but ….

Those were the first words Sarah spoke to me beyond the few warm but brief greetings we had exchanged at community events before then. It might have been heard as a passing thought as we were both walking to our car after an evening at a mutual friend’s house related to one of her other great loves, Princeton Theological Seminary. But it was anything but that.

To say one thing led to another after that is a vast understatement. Still, in her quiet, unassuming, stay-the-background kind of manner, I wonder if she and God has cooked this up all in advance – how Caldwell wouldn’t close but be resurrected in a most unusual way. Even more surprising – that I would be called as its pastor.

Sarah recommended I at least meet the extraordinarily wise and dedicated Rev. Dr. Charles MacDonald, who was on deck at Caldwell when the “new thing” began to take place. He told me of her deep love of her home church, the church of her childhood, which just about everyone else had given up on. Charlie explained that Sarah’s handyman came once or twice a week to repair cracks in the sanctuary plaster, holes in the roof and more. Together, with the handful of stalwart senior saints who had kept attending Caldwell, they kept the ship afloat.

Over time, as the “new thing” took shape, we kept Sarah abreast of what God was doing – how a rag-tag bunch of worshippers, black and white and Latino, affluent and just off the streets, gay and straight, unwavering believers and skeptics alike – had begun to make the church their home, joining the aging octogenarians in the pews. As always, Sarah listened intently, smiled that brilliant smile, twinkled those lovely, penetrating eyes and said softly, “That’s wonderful!” And I never doubted that she meant it.

I will personally always be devoted to this extraordinary LADY for the thought she had to introduce me to Caldwell. The people of Caldwell will always be indebted to Sarah, Sally and the family for how they are conspiring with Lord to bring about plans yet to be seen. Sarah, of course, would only deflect the praise, thinking in her heart that it is only what her parents would want for their church.

“My little church is probably going to close, but ….”

God has a way of finding the right partners to do unexpected things. Sarah and the Lord seem to be good conspirators. Moses lived to the age of 120. Here’s to that many more years for such a modest but remarkable lady who here and elsewhere is fulfilling the words God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah:

“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11

The photo is from summer 2018: Sarah with the first cohort of the Gambrell Scholars in Social Justice at Caldwell Presbyterian Church.

Rev. John Cleghorn
Caldwell Presbyterian Church

When I came to New York to be a dancer, I spent many wonderful times with Aunt Sarah in her N.Y. apartment and office.
It was so inspiring to hear her talk about her work and ideas. Aunt Sarah is a positive, brilliant, gracious and elegant person and I am thankful she is part of my life.
Love, Irene

Tribute to my Aunt Sarah Belk Gambrell on her 101st Birthday:

I think of Aunt Sarah as she reaches this milestone and am so proud to be part of her family! My first memories are of her visits to our home in Atlanta with Uncle Charlie and Cousin Sally in the early 1960’s…she was a beautiful, elegant, and thoughtful woman who made every effort to include our family in her travel, her correspondence and her holiday plans. She never let on that she was incredibly busy with other family or career…we felt very special and very in touch even though she lived hundreds of miles away and traveled only by car or by train for all visits…she did not fly!

As children my siblings and I and our mother and father visited the Gambrells (Sarah, Charlie, and Sally and Aunt Mary) in New York. Later, when I was living in the New York suburbs, Aunt Sarah saved the day by allowing my mother and me to stay in their apartment for a week, awaiting the birth of my first daughter Charlotte at Mt. Sinai hospital. I treasure the memory of that week.

Recently, I have been so proud of the way Aunt Sarah has been an advocate and supporter of the rights of women and of the LGBTQ community. Folks constantly ask if I am related to Sarah Gambrell, the philanthropist, and I am able to proudly claim her and Sally as family. The work that they are doing in Charlotte and throughout NC and the US is so badly needed, and is such an example and an encouragement to others.

Aunt Sarah, here’s to you on your birthday from me and all of the Gambrells. Your life has been an inspiration!

With love from Luck Gambrell Davidson, April 11, 2019

Fond memories of Thanksgiving at her house when we were younger. Beautiful table settings & then running around in the yard. The best way to describe Aunt Sarah is always kind, caring & a true southern belle. Happy 101 birthday!????

Mary Melton