Mrs. Esther Powell Safford, 84, of Gainesville passed away on July 19, 2014, at her residence.
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Esther was born in Gainesville, Fla., on Sept. 8, 1929, to Josie Mae Powell and Caleb Allen Powell, she grew up in Gainesville and graduated from the P.K. Yonge Laboratory School, operated by the University of Florida, and attended Florida State College for Women, a forerunner of Florida State University. A part owner with her father and siblings of a Holiday Inn in Williston, Fla., she left FSU before graduating to help her father operate another motel in Thomasville, Ga. In 1963, Esther built, opened and operated yet another motel, a Holiday Inn in Thomasville.
Along the way Esther married Mikous Willard Wright in 1948, and gave birth to two daughters, Theresa Lee in 1949, and Deborah Elizabeth in 1954. She subsequently divorced and in 1976, married Carl Lewis Lowry. The Holiday Inn was sold in 1984, and they moved to Sky Valley, Ga., where in due course Esther was elected to the City Council and became president of Time Shares of Sky Valley, a post she retained until 2011.
While still living in Thomasville, Esther was one of the founders of The First National Bank of Thomasville that, through a series of mergers, was eventually absorbed into SunTrust Bank. A lifelong interest in flight led her to become a pilot in 1967, and shortly thereafter gained licensing as instrument rated commercial pilot and single-engine flight instructor. As a pilot, she was a founder of Air Race Classic, formed after the Powder Puff Derby suspended operations. She was appointed by President Nixon to the Women's Advisory Commission on Aviation and by President Carter to the Citizen's Advisory Committee on Aviation. As a pilot, Esther flew in more than 25 Air Race Classic cross-country air races and was a member of the 99s, an organization of women pilots.
Esther also was a member of the Board of Directors of the Georgia Hospitality and Travel Association as well as the International Association of Holiday Inns. After selling the Holiday Inn in Thomasville, she served with the International Executive Service Corps with stints in various places in the Caribbean and South America advising on hotel management and food service.
When Lanier Village opened in 2001, Esther and husband Carl became among the earliest residents. In August 2003, Esther married Bob Safford, a fellow resident, who had lost his wife shortly after Carl died in December 2001. Theirs was the first marriage to be celebrated in LVE. As an LVE resident, she was a founder of Retired Treasures, the Pottery Shop and the Glass Shop, Special Projects Fund and the Art Shop and served for a time as chair of the Culinary Committee. With a deep interest in travel, Esther, first with Carl and then with Bob, traveled extensively.
Esther is survived by her husband, Bob Safford of Gainesville; daughters and spouses, Debby Wright Wheeler (Mickey) of Thomasville, Theresa W. Bright (David) of Quitman, Ga.; stepdaughter, Sue L. Blalock (Ricky) of Thomasville, Ga.; stepsons, Bill Lowry (Dawn) of New Jersey, Craig R. Safford (Laura) of Finksburg, Md., Bruce E. Safford (Kathy) of New York City; brother, M.B. Maxey Powell of Thomasville, Ga.; as well as many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held on Thursday, July 24, 2014, at 11 a.m. at Lanier Village Estate Chapel.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be sent to Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, 556 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738 or to Air Race Classic, 5848 NE 150th Ave., Cheney, KS 67025
Those wishing to make online condolences may do so at www.littledavenport.com.
Little and Davenport Funeral Home, 355 Dawsonville Highway SW, Gainesville, GA 30501, is in charge of arrangements.
Little-Davenport Funeral Home
355 Dawsonville Highway Southwest
Gainesville, GA 30501
Published in gainesvilletimes.com on July 23, 2014