Technically, Lynne Foster is a “come-here” on Hatteras Island, a term meant to distinguish the natives from the interlopers.
But between her genuine warmth and determined drive to help her adopted community, she has earned well-deserved “belongs-here” status.
Foster was awarded Outstanding Citizen of the Year at Dare County’s 38th annual Dare Day celebration this month for her extraordinary dedication to the county through numerous volunteer efforts.
The dint of her personality was evident in no time after she moved to Hatteras in 1997 with her husband Ernie Foster, the captain of the Albatross fleet and son of native waterman Ernal Foster.
“I was gone at school,” Dennis Robinson, the president of the Hatteras Village Civic Association, recalled about her arrival. “When I got back from school, she was pretty much involved in everything.
“She hit the ground running.”
The Fosters married in 1992 and lived for five years in Manteo, where Ernie Foster worked as a guidance counselor for Dare County Schools and chartered vessels out of Hatteras on the side. After Ernal Foster died, the couple decided to live full-time in Hatteras.
Since moving to Dare County, Lynne Foster has served on the boards of The Elizabethan Gardens, the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, the Dare County Library, and the Eastern Albemarle Regional Library. She was a member of advisory committees for the North Carolina Coastal Federation and North Carolina Sea Grant.
She also served as the president of the Dare County Master Gardeners, co-edited “A Hatteras Anthology: Voices of Hatteras Island Women,” and writes the food column for the Island Free Press.
But her most lasting achievement might be her role in helping to launch the Day at the Docks after Hurricane Isabel in 2003, and in May, the first Hatteras Storytelling Festival.
“She’s a phenomenal leader,” Robinson said. “She’s just organized and thorough. She’s awesome.”
On the surface, Lynne Foster, 65, is one of the most unlikely examples of a woman who would end up ensconced on a relatively isolated island, happily married to a fisherman.
Until 1990, she had lived in London for 10 years, operating a business designing town gardens, and later working for Calvin Klein Cosmetics marketing perfume in the United Kingdom. Before that, she worked as a flight attendant, traveling to every continent except Antarctica. For years, part of her job included living in and working flights that carried pilgrims to and from Mecca, out of Saudi Arabia, Libya, Ghana and Nigeria.
But towards the end of her years in London, the stress of the job and her then-failing marriage left her disillusioned about life in the fast lane, Foster said in an interview.
Hatteras would soon become a life-changing revelation.
On a trip back home in 1990 for her brother’s wedding, Foster recalled, friends invited her to their Richmond home, and once there, lured her to Hatteras for some respite.
“We got there –I was exhausted,” she said. “They woke me up in the middle of the night and said, ‘We’re going fishing.’”
She reluctantly agreed, and Ernie Foster was the captain. But even more than his charms, she recalled her wonder at the ocean and the Gulf Stream.
“I was never an outdoors girl,” she said, adding that she grew up in Pennsylvania. “There is something magical about this place.”
At one point, right whales were so close to the vessel, The Albatross III, that she could feel their breath and their spray on her feet. The mate pulled a bucket of water out of the crystal blue waters of the Gulf Stream, and it was teeming with sea life.
“I was stunned,” she said. “I was fascinated.”
Eventually, Foster, then separated from her husband, decided to return to the United States, and moved to Florida, where by then her family was living. Soon she took a trip to the Outer Banks, and she rented a house in Waves. Within a week, she ran into Ernie, who offered to show her around.
By 1992, they were married – to the amazement of everyone who knew her before.
“It was a complete turn around from everything I have known,” Foster said. “But everyone likes Ernie, and they knew how frustrated I was.”
Her outlook on life has changed dramatically.
“For someone who was kind of afraid of animals, living here has made me a lot closer to nature,” she said. “I’m much more aware of weather.”
With wavy, stylishly-coiffed hair, Foster carries herself with confident grace and dresses sharply, whether on a boat or at a board meeting. A feminist from a large family –she’s the oldest of six children — she likes to banter about politics. Witty and worldly, she is an excellent conversationalist and party host. At the same time, she babies her dog, loves cooking and is keenly devoted to her husband.
From the time she moved to Hatteras, Foster said, she always felt welcomed. Part of the reason, to be sure, was that she is married to Ernie. But she also thinks it helped that she had established friendships earlier during a summer job at now-closed Browning Artworks in Frisco.
Foster attributes her desire to be involved in the community to the example set by her parents, who volunteered at a soup kitchen for many years.
“Anytime someone would visit, we would all go in to help,” she said.
Of all her time serving on boards and advisory panels, she said she found her involvement with the Coastal Federation and Sea Grant most rewarding because of their importance to protection of the coastal heritage and environment.
She is also proud of her work organizing Day at the Docks, born of her realization that the fishing heritage of the island needed to be not only protected, but recognized and celebrated.
Robinson said the event, which will be celebrating its 10th anniversary this September, has become a huge success.
“She took it from a concept and made it happen,” he said. “It’s like a homecoming for Hatteras village. I think it’s local people’s favorite event.”
Foster said that health problems have forced her to pull back from all her community involvement, although she is still doing work behind the scenes.
And she said the only thing she misses about her old life is the access to theater and opera performances. Everything else is pretty much available via FedEx and UPS.
She said she is grateful for being named Citizen of the Year, but she said there are many others on the island just as worthy.
“I think the best thing for me is the people,” Foster said about her life on Hatteras Island. “You don’t have the same kind of support and connections . . . I’ve never had that anywhere else, other than with my immediate family. It’s a very, very tight community.”
This is the second consecutive year that the county’s outstanding citizen and been a woman and from Hatteras Island. Last year, the honors went to Mary Helen Goodloe-Murphy of Rodanthe, a journalist and indefatigable community volunteer.