Local residents show courage in new book about pandemic

March 15, 2023

“Pluck” is at the core of what local-area residents displayed during the pandemic, according to author Michelle Fishburne, whose book, “Who We Are Now: Stories of What Americans Lost and Found During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” was recently published by UNC Press. Featured in the book are Perdue Farms President Jim Perdue and Rehoboth Realtor Sharon Palmer, and Fishburne’s online collection of stories also includes Dewey Beach restaurant owner Jimmy O’Conor and former Dewey Beach Mayor Dale Cooke.

“Jim, Sharon, Jimmy and Dale all seem like such different people,” said Fishburne, “but their response to the pandemic was the same – they used pluck, which means ‘spirited and determined courage,’ to figure out how to move forward for their communities.”

The Lewes Public Library and Browsewabout Books in Rehoboth Beach will present a free online event at 5 p.m., Thursday, March 16, featuring the author and New Castle resident Elizabeth Gossens.

Fishburne’s book contains 100 first-person stories about people’s lives during the pandemic, which she gathered as she motor-homed 12,000 miles all over the United States between September 2020 and September 2021.

Perdue’s story in the book conveys how much he and his company had to learn, relearn and keep learning in order to keep employees and the community safe.  “Personally, the times of my highest anxiety throughout the pandemic were in the beginning and height of it,” Perdue said. “We were doing all we could to try to protect the health of our people, but it was still scary. A lot of it, especially in the beginning, was almost surreal.”

Palmer recalled bluntly, “We were scared to death.” There were immediate layoffs in anticipation of a depressed rental market, but everything turned around quickly, and she and her team were working nonstop. Palmer said she was so busy that her husband would often ask her, “’Are you going to take a shower today?’” Her response sometimes was, “’I don’t know; we’ll see.’”

“The bottom fell out,” is how Woody’s Dewey Beach owner Jimmy O’Conor explained the jarring effect of lockdown. He kept his kitchen running for takeout, and the community kept them going. “When we went to takeout, people were literally just walking in and getting a beer and leaving $100 for the staff,” O’Conor said.

Being mayor of Dewey Beach during the pandemic was challenging, as is clear from Cooke’s story. “We were initially worried that we were going to be short anywhere from $750,000 to a million and a half,” Cooke said. “When you only have a little over a $3 million budget, you're thinking, Oh my god, what are we going to do?”

Register for the free online event at

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