Fearrington Faces: Clairbeth Lehn

A smiling Clairbeth Lehn
Article by Nancy Johnston Hall; photo by Donald Lokuta

Clairbeth Lehn

Clairbeth Lehn, who lives on Weatherbend in the Historic District, has been a barrier breaker from the get-go. In 1977 Clairbeth was the only woman on a three-member staff of athletic trainers for the UNC Athletic Department. “They wanted a woman to work with women’s teams,” she explains. “But there weren’t many women’s sports back then, so I also worked with the men’s teams.”

Clairbeth had the perfect combination that UNC was looking for—experience as a physical therapist and athletic trainer. She attended games wherever UNC played in this country and around the globe. “If somebody got hurt, say, and they went down on the field or court, I ran out to attend to them,” she says. “Often no doctor was with us. So I decided whether they could continue to play or not.”

Clairbeth still lives in a sunlit, plant-filled house that she purchased nearly new in 1981, making her one of the earlier residents to still live in Fearrington Village. “When I moved here, there was no Gathering Place, no Fearrington Cares, no pool, no village center. The only thing that was here was the farmhouse. That was it.”

For many years Clairbeth has been The Gathering Place scheduler, “the voice” at the other end of the telephone line for the many Fearrington residents who need to schedule an event or club meeting. When she began this volunteer job, she took the existing paper calendar and put it online so it was available to everyone.

Today, Clairbeth’s lifestyle is definitely barrier breaking: she lives alone in her home in a wheelchair. Her symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS) began early in her career, gradually worsening over time. “By the late 90s, it was pretty apparent,” she says. “I was as independent as I could be, for as long as I could be. I was able to run for a pretty long time, even with MS. But I fell a lot.”

Clairbeth used a motorized scooter for 15 years, transferring to a power chair only recently. She manages on her own, with her very talkative parrot, Tizok, and a big gray cat, Gigi, to keep her company, and uses a service to help her twice a day. “I have my lifeline—a lanyard attached to my phone. It’s close to me all the time for safety. And I’ve been lucky to have friends who are very willing to help.”

Clairbeth is also thankful for the helpful services offered by Fearrington Cares, where she took a hearing test from an audiologist and learned she had a serious hearing loss. Now her hearing aids have made life easier.

You’ll find no self-pity in Clairbeth Lehn. “People say, ‘Are you sad that you don’t go anyplace?’ But I think, ‘You know what, I did a lot of traveling with my job. I didn’t have to pay for any of it. I went to a fair number of places in Europe, even Russia. I feel like I did as much or more than many people. So when I’m here, it’s okay. I’ve been really lucky.’”

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