|Transcript of Dr. James C. Pleasant and Louise D. Pleasant Interview|
|Interviewees:||Dr. James C. Pleasant and Louise D. Pleasant|
|Date of Interview:||April 27, 2008|
|Location of Interview:||Greenville, NC|
|Length:||One mp3 file, approximately 100 minutes|
This is Joyce Newman, and I'm in Pitt County on County Home Road, at the temporary home of Dr. James Pleasant and his wife--
--Louise, who are both first generation college graduates of ECU. And we're going to do an interview. This is Sunday, April the 27th, and it's late in the afternoon, and it's raining a little bit. So I guess we should start maybe with you Dr. Pleasant, if you could just give a little bit of history about your family and where you grew up. You grew up here in Pitt County, I understand?
Yes, I grew up in Greenville. My father was a pharmacist. He ran a drugstore in downtown Greenville. But when I was one year old he was held up and shot in the head and left for dead. He survived but he was totally blind for the rest of his life. So he changed his drugstore to a drug sundries store and he moved it from one location on Fifth Street in Greenville one block closer toward the police station, if you know what direction that would be, and he had Pleasant's Drug Sundries during World
War II. He did pretty well because there were marines stationed here in Greenville and on Saturday night particularly there were lots of marines, so he did a pretty good business. He lived for ten years after he was shot, totally blind, still ran his store, still was the breadwinner for our family, provided for us, and then when he died, the family tried to run his drug sundries store but we were not as successful as he. My brother was sixteen at the time. He tried to run it. So my brother had to give it up.
So he was a pharmacist, but you said in your email that he trained by apprenticeship.
Right. He trained as an apprentice. I believe it was Hollowell's drugstore here in Greenville where he trained as an apprentice. At that time you didn't have to have a college degree to be a pharmacist. He called himself a druggist, but it's the same thing. He sold and filled prescriptions until after he was shot. He couldn't do it after that so he changed it to a drug sundries store which just sold patent medicine, over the counter medicine, and had a thriving soda fountain business.
Was the attack on him for--? Was it related to--? [Electronic sound, sound of whispering] We're just going to pause for a second here. [00:03:02 Break in recording]
The first year after we came down [to Greenville] for him to teach here [at ECU], which was in the fall of '74 , I said, "Why don't you go and find out something about your daddy, and about his being shot?" And we went to the police station and the public library and we found information about the guys who shot him and newspaper accounts of the event, and there was quite a little bit about it. We copied all of that and made a little book for him and for our grandchildren.
Were they trying to rob him, or--?
Yes. They did rob him. They robbed him, I think, of nine dollars and shot him with a pistol they had stolen earlier in the day. He said it clicked several times. It wouldn't fire, and finally it fired one time, right here [just above his eye], and of course they thought he was dead, and he played dead. And he heard them drive off. Now we're not recording now right? Or are we?
Well I am, if you don't mind.
That's okay. That's fine. And so anyway he was taken to a hospital and they tried to--. They thought they might be able to save one eye, but they could not. He went to Johns Hopkins to try to save one eye, but they couldn't save his eye. The perpetrators were apprehended by my grandfather, who was chief of police in Greenville, and they were sent to prison for forty years, but they served about twelve years, I think. Governor Cherry let them out.
And how old were you when he was shot?
I was one year old when he was shot.
So that must have had a real--. That must have made a big change in your life, to have that happen to him.
I'm sure it did. Of course I remember my father with his seeing eye dog when I was maybe four or five years old. He had a seeing eye dog for just a couple of years and then the dog died and after that my dad decided he could get along okay. So he would walk the streets of Greenville with his cane, cross the streets and so forth. He was very independent, you know.
That's very courageous considering what had happened to him too.
Oh yes. He was very independent. People would come into the drugstore and he would make Cokes and milk shakes and banana splits, and they couldn't believe he was totally blind, but he was.
How about the dents in his head?
Yeah, he had dents in his head because not only did they shoot him but they beat him in the head with a hammer, so he had dents in his head for the rest of his life.
How old were they?
The perpetrators, I think, were nineteen and twenty-two, along about that age category. One was from Jessup, Georgia and one was from this area. I don't know if I should give their names at this point.
No, we don't have to do that.
Such violence for such young people.
Yes, it was. So, as I say, my grandfather, being chief of police, got a tip that one of the fugitives was coming back to Pitt County so he got a tip where he would be coming to the family farm. So he took my uncle, who was then about eighteen years old, with him and they went out to see if they could find the perpetrator, and my grandfather figured he was in the farm house, but he thought he could be in the barn. So my uncle, eighteen years old, went to the barn to try to see if he was there and he found out he was there, so he apprehended him with a shotgun. He said, "Come out or I'm going to blow your head off."
How old was your father when he was attacked?
He was thirty-eight.
So did that contribute to his death later?
Well we don't know. He died of a heart attack when he was forty-nine years old and we don't know for sure. Actually the Pleasant men, the word I have is, the Pleasant men usually didn't live very long lives. I'm well past the time, according to history.
And I know you're glad about that. [Laughter]
Yeah, and you ask about the effect of all this on him, from what I've observed, the effect was on his brother really, because he was old enough to know what was going on, and later on because of his father not being able to continue to support them and died, he went into service.
So he was like five or six when your father was shot.
Yes. He was about six. He was five years older than me. His name was Lemuel, George Lemuel. Most people called him Lem, but some people called him George Pleasant. And so he went into the army for four years and he was our support because we got an allotment from his being in the service. But he tried his best to run that drugstore, and he was doing pretty well, but the person who owned the property--my father did not own the building, he owned all the equipment--they raised the rent to double and my brother couldn't make a go of it. He tried valiantly, I'll have to say, to do it.
And he was sixteen--.
He was sixteen, yeah.
He was a very bright man and clever at anything he went to do. A very kind-hearted person, and as Jim said, from what I've been told, he went in service to help
support them and didn't get to finish high school. So years later, after he was able to retire from the National Guard, where he eventually wound up working, he went back and got his GED and then enrolled in Pitt Community College to work in the emergency room. And just at the end--
--when he was ready to graduate from all that, he had a massive heart attack and died. He never got to carry out his dream. But he was really ingenious and creative and I just have thought so many times, "If that man could have lived, what he could have done."
And he, like you, might have gone on to college or whatever if it hadn't been for what happened to your father.
Very, very good chance. Yeah, he tried to run the drugstore while he was in the eleventh grade--he finished the eleventh grade--and he wasn't making a go of it, so he decided to go in the army.
So you grew up living in Greenville, in town--
Yes, I did.
--and went to school, elementary school--.
I went to elementary school at Third Street School--.
Does that exist anymore?
I'm not sure it's in operation now. The building is still there on West Third Street. I'm not sure it's still in operation. And then I went to high school, well beginning with the eighth grade, at Greenville High School which is in the downtown area right close to ECU. So I went there and I worked at a grocery store, Garris Grocery Store, to
support myself and my mother while I was-- [in high school and the first three years of college]. I'd say from the time I was about sixteen, I began to be the support. My brother had married so I began to be the support for my mother and myself. And I was fortunate enough to get a full scholarship to ECU through the Daily Reflector. That's the reason I was able to go to school. I may have found a way, but to me it was like changing from going to high school to going to college was just walking one more block to go to ECU, and I had a full scholarship from the Daily Reflector.
Was that a competitive scholarship that you could apply for, or was it--?
It's interesting you ask. It was a competitive scholarship, but I did not apply for it. And I-- [regretted not applying for it, but at the awards ceremony, the scholarship was awarded to me much to my surprise.]. [Break in recording]
Let me see. Okay. So where was your grandmother's house?
It was 1006 West Fourth Street.
So that was up closer to the campus.
No, that's in the other direction. That would be West Fourth, so it's about ten blocks from the downtown area.
Near where the new hospital was built.
So did you walk to campus or ride a bike?
I walked most of the time. Yeah, I walked most of the time. Sometimes I would ride my bike to work, which was at Garris Grocery, but it was such a short distance to college, I just walked.
And where was the grocery store?
It was on the corner of Fifth Street and Cotanche Street. There is a business there now, I believe it's Red Rooster or something like that. It's a red building on the corner of Cotanche and Fifth.
So you entered ECU in--?
Okay. And you were there for about three years. How did you choose math as your major?
I was very, very-- [interested in science]. I chose science to start with. I was a general science major and a math minor because I thought-- [each of those subjects would support the other]. I really was intrigued by science, physics particularly, and I decided I wanted to go into science. So I took--. For the first three years I was a general science major and math minor, but then I decided I liked mathematics better. I think I was not the very best lab type person. I was more of a theoretical type person. So in my senior year I changed--junior year I guess--I changed to a mathematics major and general science minor.
Do you remember whether--? They told us to ask things like, "Who took you to school on the first day of school?" but if you lived that close--. Did your mother go with you the first day, or did they have orientation or anything like that?
The first day of--?
I think the question was, they're thinking of people whose families brought them to college, or something.
Oh. No, I just, instead of going to high school that first day, I just walked one block further and went to college. It was no different. Nobody went with me or anything.
It probably didn't seem like a big deal to you because you had played in the East Carolina orchestra. You were familiar with the University.
I played in the East Carolina symphony orchestra when I was in high school.
What instrument did you play?
I took lessons under Dr. Karl Gilbert of the music department when I was in the tenth grade, and he was a wonderful violinist and choir director. He came over to observe our little orchestra in the high school one day and he talked to me afterwards. He said, "If you could come to ECU--. I know you're in high school, but I'd be glad to give you lessons if you'll just come over during the registration period and sign up for instruction." So at that time I was delivering newspapers so I had enough money to pay the-- [lessons]. I think it was nineteen dollars I had to pay for a quarter to take lessons under Dr. Gilbert, which was an absolute steal, you know. He taught me for that year and then he found me a scholarship to go to Transylvania Music Camp after the tenth grade. And his son went too, David Gilbert. And I heard later that--. You know David was just a wonderful musician. In fact he became associate conductor of the New York Philharmonic, so that's how good he was. [Laughter] I was completely outclassed by my friend there. But he and I went to the-- [music camp together]. I think Dr. Gilbert
wanted David to have a friend to go to summer camp with so he arranged for me to get a scholarship. So I went and had a wonderful summer at Transylvania Music Camp.
So you had worked in the drugstore when you were younger?
Yes, I did.
So you knew a lot of people in town? Did you have a wide acquaintance?
Yes. I had a pretty wide acquaintance with people in town, pretty much.
Then you had been part of the orchestra at ECU--. I'm trying to think. So you sort of had a mental image of what it was like to be at the college.
Yes, I did. I don't believe I really spent much time when I was in high school thinking exactly what I was going to do when I graduated. I think I figured something would happen, and something did happen. So I was able to go to college.
So you hadn't made any plans about what you would do.
I had not. I had not. I think I probably felt this way: I probably felt, "Well, I will continue my work at the grocery store and maybe save some money and go to college." That's probably what was in my head.
So you sort of had an image and a desire to go to college?
Yes. I really did want to go. In fact I remember in studying the sciences I wanted to study science and I know things like nuclear engineering were in my mind. Any kind of science, you know. So I figured I would go to college, but I hadn't made any definite plans as to how to do it.
We were married when he changed from science to mathematics, and I cried because I thought it was the end of our discussions about science. [Laughter] And I knew I wouldn't be able to talk to him about mathematics. But then even after we were
married and he had his PhD in mathematics, he wanted to go back to school and study to be an MD. But at that time--. This was part of being so interested in science. But at the time, they wouldn't let you got to medical school beyond a certain age and he was beyond that age, so he couldn't go.
What was the age then?
At that time the cutoff was about thirty, and I had just reached thirty. I got my PhD at age twenty-nine, I believe, and I thought, "I still would like to go to medical school." So I wrote several medical schools and the word I got back is, "Thirty, that's a little bit old to begin medical school," but these days, not so.
My brother went back and did an MD, and I think he was about thirty, but he said it was really hard because of losing sleep, you know. Physically, it was really hard. Well, what about your mother? Did she encourage you, or did it ever come up?
Encourage me as far as college?
To go to college.
She really was always interested in education. I'll have to say that. She thought education was very important. She was not one who was able to help in any way much. She was just not one who found a way to provide for the family. She really had some mental problem and so she had to be pretty much supported for her life.
Was your brother--the fact that you got to go and he didn't--was that ever a problem for him or for you?
No, I don't think so. He went into the army and then he got out and he had a television repair business for a number of years, and then he became the master sergeant for the National Guard unit here. I think he enjoyed his work with the military, but he did
want to get a-- [high school diploma]. He always said he wished he had finished high school, and as Louise said, he got his GED when he was about forty-eight or forty-nine.
So you went, and did you have trouble adjusting to the-- [college work]? Were you prepared by your high school for the work that you would be expected to do--
Yes, I was well prepared. I had some very good high school teachers. I had Miss Green as a math teacher. I took math every single year at Greenville High School and I took science every single year. So I was well prepared in math. And then the first teacher I had at East Carolina was Miss Louise Williams, and she has to be one of the best teachers that ever stood before a class. I took her course in algebra and then analytic geometry. It was a beautiful course in analytic geometry. And she was such an inspiring teacher. Years later I started writing a book on analytic geometry and never did get it published, but I could just see her up there teaching that. She was great. And then I had--so Miss Louise Williams and Dr. John Reynolds in mathematics and then later Dr. David R. Davis, who was chair of the math department. He became chair when I was a senior and he had come from Montclair State as chair of the mathematics department there. Had his PhD from the University of Chicago, and he was a wonderful mathematician and a great inspiration. And in fact he is the one that got me a scholarship to go for my PhD at the University of South Carolina. So he was my mentor and I had quite a few courses with him. And then he hired me, after I got my master's--.
Well after I got my master's my first job-- [was with the Naval Weapons Laboratory]. I had been teaching in high school for a couple of years. I taught at
[Grimesland] High School. And then I got a job with Naval Weapons Laboratory. That was in about 1960, I believe. And so we went there to Naval Weapons Lab for one summer. It was a wonderful job, but Louise didn't like the area at all. It was much too isolated. So one day I got home from work, and she said, "Jim, we're leaving. We're going back to Greenville." I said, "What do you mean?" She said, "Well, you're going to be teaching at East Carolina." I said, "What do you mean?" She said, "You got a letter from Dr. Davis today, and he offered you a position at East Carolina." Again, I hadn't applied for it, but he wrote a letter and he said, "James." He called me James. I remember this very well. He said, "James, I'm sure by now you're completely fed up with the government, and we need you back at East Carolina, so I want to offer you an assistant professorship at sixty-three hundred." And Louise said, "We're going," and I said, "You're right. We're going." So I told my boss the next day that I would be going back to be a professor. He said, "Well, you'll have to pay us back for the relocation money." I said, "That's fine." So we came back and I taught here for two years. At the end of that two years Dr. Davis had found me a scholarship to go to the University of South Carolina--the National Defense Education Act.
Was it two?
No, one year. You're right, just one year. In fact Dr. Davis said, "Why don't you stay two more years and you'll have tenure here?" And I knew the jobs were so plentiful in mathematics at that time, tenure was no problem. So I said, "No, I'd better go on now." So I went to South Carolina.
Also one of the reasons we went, we already had one child, and I didn't want just one child, and I figured if we stuck around another year, and then we spent all those years for him to get a PhD, our children would be so far apart they'd never know each other. So I said, "We're going to do it. Let's do it now."
So you did your BS--was it a BS at that time?
In math here, and you did your master's here?
Master's here [Master's in mathematics at ECU].
And that was, I guess here we should pick up, because that's while you were finishing your undergraduate, right? Was that part of the reason? Okay, so let's start with your family background. Now you had sort of a different childhood from living in Greenville.
Yeah. Well, I'm from Person County, which is Roxboro. I grew up on a tobacco farm.
Now Roxboro is up near the Virginia border?
Yeah. It's about fifteen miles from the Virginia border. I had five brothers. I was an only girl. My mother was the only girl of ten children. So when I look back at my lineage, I had a great- great-grandmother who was a doctor during the Civil War and rode horse back to take care of people. And they said that she took care of Confederates or Unions, didn't matter. But then my grandmother, my mother's mother, did not get an education like some of her siblings, and she had the ten children. Her husband was a carpenter, had a saw mill. He was on a tobacco farm. He was a store keeper. He had a lot of different things that he did. So my grandmother lived the life of a housewife,
taking care of a lot of children. Then my mother did the same thing. But my mother really wanted me to go on to school, and I wanted to, so they were willing for me to go away to school. Coming to Greenville was a very different life for me, and I was the most homesick little girl you ever saw in your life. And I was not going to stay. You asked him while ago who brought him.
First, what was your place in the family? Were you the youngest, or--?
Middle? Did your older brothers go to college?
My oldest one did, because he'd been in service before he ever went to school. The next brother went to electronics school. And then after me my next brother went part time, he got about two years in at Elon, and then he went to electronics school. And then the last two brothers, one of them graduated from Elon and the other one from Carolina.
So you set an example for your younger brothers.
Yeah. But it was very different for me, being a girl and not having that model--mother, grandmother, nowhere. And sometimes I just wanted to be home with my mother just canning some beans and doing anything, and she didn't think that was the life for me. [Laughter]
So how did you choose East Carolina? You went to high school in your county?
I did not get a background in sciences and mathematics, certainly not chemistry. I had wanted to go into home economics, which is what it was called then. But you had to take chemistry, and I said, "Never." And so I found out what courses you
had to have in your high school background to come to East Carolina and I said, "I can do all those." And it was a state school and the tuition was good, so that's how I decided on this. Nobody in my family had ever gone to East Carolina, far reaching as you went. I may have had--. I don't know where anybody, even like a distant cousin or anything, had gone, but nobody had ever come to this part of the country.
So did you get information by writing off to the schools, to different schools?
Right. And I asked my high school English teacher about things. My home economics teacher really wanted me to study home economics, and I said, "Um mm, you have to take chemistry and I'd never pass it." And so I wouldn't do it.
Were you prepared by your high school for the work that you had to do here?
No, no. Considering a lot of schools, it was better than a lot, but it was certainly not like his coming to Greenville. We've compared things about high school and so forth and it was a difference in night and day. So when I came, I did not feel prepared for college, that on top of being so homesick and wanting to go home all the time. And when I came--.
So who brought you?
Okay. My daddy and mother and my oldest brother came, and I had never been down here. I think maybe if I had come ahead of time, seen what it was like, and had a mental image of what I was coming back to, I may have been better prepared. But just all of a sudden coming down and moving into a dorm room. And I had been an only daughter, and therefore I had always had my space apart from the boys. I was not used to being around a lot of girls and it really was just totally different for me.
That's an interesting point. [Laughter] So, what about your father? Did he encourage you like your mother did, to go?
Yeah, even though his education, as he told us, if you had put everything that he had had in the way of education, it might be three years. My mother went through the ninth grade. Because she had so many siblings she had to help her mother so much that she finally just quit, because if she couldn't make straight A's, a hundred on everything, she didn't consider herself worthy of being there. She just couldn't stand that she wasn't perfect, and so she quit to help my grandmother at home with all the children. Then she married at seventeen.
So when you came, did they have rules about--? I know when I went you couldn't go home for the first month.
Right. That about killed me. I even considered going to Mars Hill because my best friend was going to Mars Hill. And I found out they couldn't go home until Thanksgiving and I said, "You can forget that! [Laughter] I'm going home!" They told us when we came that you couldn't ride in a car for the first three months. And I told my daddy that he might get a call, because I had ridden in a car all my life and I wasn't planning to stop. [Laughter] I never got caught at anything like that, but mainly there was no way, because most people didn't have a car or anything, so there wasn't much danger.
So did you make friends? What helped you get over being homesick?
I never did get over it. My first year I would call home every few weeks, and I went home at least once a month. And in between I would call and say, "I'm coming home." And my second older brother would get the phone and he would say, "We can't
come right now. If you will stay one more week it'll be easier for us to come and we'll come get you then." So I'd stay another week and he'd tell me the same thing. He was trying to make me stay in school. And then my second year I met Jim, and of course that's the end of the story! [Laughter]
How far was it to go home?
About a hundred and thirty miles.
Which at that time was a long way.
Yeah, and I was used to having to ride the bus to get home, back and forth. And I never got over being homesick. There was so much that I missed. The first time I got sick after I was here--I got the flu or something and I was so sick--and I was used to my mother pampering me and all the things that mothers do. I had to go to the--what did you call it?
The infirmary. I had to go stay in the infirmary, I was so sick, for about a week. And I missed my mother so bad I could not stand it. But then after we got married, I still wanted to go home. And from that day on we have never missed going home, except when he was in graduate school in South Carolina and we couldn't go. But other than that, I doubt that there's ever been a month that we didn't go home.
So what do you think made it so hard? Was it just that you liked your home so much? Was there something about--? A lot of people have a problem when they go from--like I did--from a rural mountain place. It's just so different, that it seems like it's hard to bring the two--. Was that part of what you experienced, or was it different?
I don't know. I just wanted to go home. And I told my grandmother, I said--this was before you had the community colleges--I said, "Grandma, if the school were right here where I could stay home and go, I would like that, but I don't like leaving home." And it never went away. My mother said, after I got married, "Well maybe this will help you stay in school." So I had to indoctrinate him.
Into his loving that too.
Wanting to go home? [Laughter]
And that's sort of my home now too. We do have the family home now. She still gets homesick. She wants to go home, to Roxboro. In fact that's pretty much my family now too.
Okay, so you met in--. Was it your second year you met? So you had been through one year, and had gone home for the summer. Did they have a hard time making you come back for the fall?
No, they never had any trouble making me come back. I'd just get homesick after I got here. I think--. I don't know. I had been used to my own space. Even though I was with my family, I was a girl, the rest of them were boys, and I was not used to sharing my space. And you know how crowded it is in a dorm, and so noisy, and I didn't particularly like that. And I did much better in school after I got married. For one thing I got my mind off of needing to go home every minute.
You had another home.
Yeah, yeah. And I had somebody I could enjoy things with and have my own space again.
So did you make any strong friendships with girls in your dorm, other girls too, before you got married?
Yeah, I sure did.
So how did you meet? You were a senior?
I was a junior when we met, and she was a sophomore, and it was the summer. She had come back to summer school after her first year. And I worked at the grocery store in downtown Greenville and so the college girls always came to that little grocery store to get their cookies and so forth, including Louise, so we met at the grocery store. In fact, she had a girlfriend who wanted to see if I would go to a movie with them, so the girlfriend asked if I would, and I did. And then I wound up being attracted to Louise.
Yeah, we--. My roommate's name was Diane. She was from Ahoskie, and we were real close. We liked to occasionally go uptown to the movies and go out and eat, and we had planned to go up to see this movie. We lived in Garrett dorm, and so it was a hop, skip, and a jump up by the grocery store and on to the movie theater.
Did I ask you where the grocery store was?
Yeah. It was corner of Fifth and Cotanche.
So we were starting walking up that sidewalk that just took you right past Garris Grocery, and as we got near to it she said, "You know that guy that works in the grocery store?" She said, "Would you dare me to ask him to go to the movie with us?" And I looked at her as if she were crazy. I really thought she was. And I said, "Diane, you wouldn't do such a thing as that?" And she said, "I most certainly will." She said, "Will you dare me?" I said, "Yeah, I'll dare you." I said, "You're not going to do that."
She did. She walked right into the grocery store and asked him, and I thought, "Goodness!" I was so embarrassed. And he said, "If you'll wait for me until I can get off work." So we did, and we went to the movie, and all of a sudden he reached over like this, you know, and I thought--. [Laughter] "Diane's the one wanted to date you, not me!" And then after the movie was over and we walked back to the dorm, he asked me for a date and I said, "I can't do that because Diane is my friend. She's my roommate, and I can't have Diane mad with me." But finally, I relented, and we dated. And then Diane told me, she said, "At any time that you don't want him, I do." [Laughter]
Those were the days.
Had you dated anybody else while you were here the year before?
Oh, just but nobody in particular.
So she never gave you back to her roommate.
Well, what clenched it, I think, that summer, I got an infection, I guess from the shower stall or something in the bathroom--of course you know how everybody used the same facilities then--and my foot got really badly infected. And I had a hard time going to class or anything. And if I wanted something from the grocery store, they had delivery service, and I'd call him and he'd bring it to me. And he also took me to his doctor. He said, "I want to take you to my doctor and see if we can't get that foot well." He did that. And then I went with my roommate home for a weekend. "I sure do miss him." And my roommate's mother said, "Do you know what's wrong with you? You're just in love." [Laughter] So that was kind of the beginning of what took place then in February. We got married then the next February.
So you met when you were a sophomore, you got married when you were a junior, or when you were still a sophomore?
I would have been, I guess--. I don't really know. I can't remember.
You would have been a junior, I guess.
Maybe. Anyway, we dated for seven months.
No, you would have been a sophomore. I was a junior.
Yeah, that's right.
Yeah, that's right.
So that didn't take long. [Laughter]
No, I guess we were married--. We met around June or July and we were married in February.
So you met during the summer school when you were here for summer school.
The first time I ever remember seeing him, he was walking over near what was the post office then, which was also the cafeteria.
That's where my office is now.
Really? And he was walking with a placard on his back, had some fraternity [symbol] on his back.
Phi Sigma Pi.
And then I saw him in the grocery store, and I said, "That's the same guy."
Is that the science-- [fraternity]?
No, Phi Sigma Pi was a education fraternity, and I was also in Chi Beta Phi, which was the science fraternity. I became president of Chi Beta Phi, but Phi Sigma Pi was just a member.
Your major was elementary education?
Did you have a specialty, like a focus in science?
No. I really would have rather had majored in English, but I felt like probably there was a better chance for me in elementary education. Then when we got married I had gotten so interested in philosophy that I wanted to study philosophy, and he said, "You'd have to have a PhD to do anything with that." So I said, "Well, if I can at least finish my BS degree, I will have that as an insurance in case I have to work, even though I don't think it would be my chosen thing."
So when you got married, where did you live? Did you move out of the dorm?
Oh, that's a long story. We got married in secret. And you know all the rules there were about anything like that then. But we planned to get married, and only a few of my friends on campus knew it. My sister-in-law knew it, and that was the only family member that knew it, and she tried to talk me out of it. I didn't listen. We went ahead and got married, and I went home on the bus the next day after we got married. And my sister-in-law said, "Did you get married?" "Yes." "Well, we've got to tell your brother." I said, "Oh no. We can't tell him. He'll tell Mama and Daddy." And finally she just worried me to death, and she said, "You've got to tell him, because I don't keep secrets from your brother." So I broke down and told him. I said, "But you can't tell Mama and
Daddy," and he said, "We have to tell Mama and Daddy." So before the weekend was over, I had agreed that we could tell Mama and Daddy. So we went to church on Sunday night, and my brother had this plan that after church, Daddy would put the car in the garage like he always did, and the rest of us would go on in the house, and he would stop Daddy and tell him all about it, and I was to go inside and tell my brothers--they were all three younger--tell them what had happened. I had told my mother. So we went in and sat down and everybody was very quiet. I told my younger brothers, and they were quiet and still as mice because they didn't know what kind of reaction my daddy was going to have. And he came in the house, my brother right ahead of him, after awhile, and Daddy had been crying. And Daddy was this great big man that I didn't know could cry, and you could tell he was just so shocked. He was probably hurt too, that I had done it the way I had. And he wound up telling me that he didn't--. That if we wanted to keep it a secret, they would keep it a secret. Not to worry, they would keep it a secret. But he would rather that we told it, because he thought people married should be living together, and for me to come back and tell the young man--whom they had only met once--that if we wanted to live together he would see to it that we didn't starve to death. And just come and talk to him and let him know what we decided. So I came and told him, and he said, "Of course, we're going to live together." So the next thing was what do you do now? So we went to the dormitory and told Ruth Gardner, who was the house mother then. She said, "You know the rules. You can't stay here." I said, "What am I going to do?" She said, "You should have thought about that first." And she said, "You need to get yourself together and go ahead and move out." This was on a Sunday night. So he called his brother, Lem. Lem came up with his truck and moved all my things over to his
house, and we stayed there for about three days until we could find an apartment to move into, and then his brother helped us move into the apartment.
So how did you do this financially? Were you still taking care of your mother?
Well, at that point I had to essentially stop contributing toward my mother's support. My brother was a little better off by that time so he took over and supported her. Then I continued to work at the grocery store. I was working essentially full time, almost full time, and then we got some help from her father too. I think her father felt like: Well, I've been paying Louise's tuition, so I can continue to do that and help out. And he did. He was very kind to help us out, so we were able to--. And I actually finished a little bit sooner than I would have, because I decided to go to summer school, and I finished at the end of February, I believe, rather than going through May.
So then, did you enter graduate school for your MA immediately?
In February we went to Norfolk and I taught at Princess Anne High School. It was about February when I started. I was the fourth teacher for that set of classes for the year, so that was not a very good high school teaching situation. The classes hadn't done too well, I was the fourth teacher for that set for that year, so I finished out that year and then after that I got a call from the principal at [Grimesland] High School and he said, "Mr.[Miss] Williams said you were a very good high school teacher, and we need a teacher at [Grimesland] High School. Our teacher, Miss Lewis, is ill and won't be able to come back, so can you come back and teach at [Grimesland]" I said, "Yes, I'd love to," and I therefore came back and taught at for two years and got my master's.
And at that time you were finishing-- [your master's program].
And she worked on finishing her BS while I did my master's. We graduated the same time, her with her BS and me with my master's.
So when you were teaching in Virginia, you just took a leave of absence kind of?
Well, see our first child was born--. We got married February 22 and our first child was born December 29. So going to school was hard. And I tried one quarter--we were on quarter system then--to go back while he was real tiny, and it was just too much. I couldn't do it, and we really didn't have the money. And I didn't want to tell Daddy that, "You need to start back paying my tuition again." So I stayed out, I guess it was one quarter, and then Daddy found out I was not going because of money and he started back helping me. And then after that I went as much as I could until I finished so I could graduate with my BS the same time he got his master's.
So really, for somebody who was homesick and all that, you worked really hard to finish, given the marriage, and baby and all that. Do you think you would have completed college if you hadn't been married?
Probably I would have. Yeah, I knew I wanted to do this, but I was just homesick. I never could get over the homesickness. And when I would be here and leave for the weekends to go home, I'd spend a good portion of my time just crying because I was going to have to come back, but I was going to come back. I knew I was going to come back. I guess I've just always been very attached to anything that I'm close to. For instance my children, if I can't see one of them. I've got three boys.
Wow. Three big boys.
Yeah, and can't always be with them. I miss them. And my oldest granddaughter was the same way. I took care of her a lot when she was real tiny, and my son was going to move thirty miles away, and I just felt like that was the other end of the world. And then my middle son, when he went into the Air Force, I thought I had died. I don't know. It's just that attachment, I guess, I've always been that way.
So getting married really gave you a kind of closeness to somebody so it made it possible.
Did you ever use your degree?
Well, I did substitute some, but after I graduated and he was in graduate school, we had the son, and he [Jim] was so busy, and he had a National Defense Fellowship that gave us some money for each one of us. And I had had to have my son being kept by other people and all, and I really wanted to be with him, play with him, teach him, whatever. And then I had the second son before Jim got his PhD and I wanted to spend time with him too. And then I was going to stay home with my children. I'd made up my mind to that: that I would be with my children. And then when Jim went to ETSU to teach, he was so busy, he was so involved with teaching, research and service, I didn't see any space for me to do something and the children have any kind of life. And I didn't have any family around, and I felt like that my place was to take care of those children. But then when our youngest one entered the first grade--.
Well, let me back up. After we moved to Tennessee, our oldest one was in the third grade, our middle one was three years old, and then I had the baby. And I didn't know anybody, and I didn't get a chance to know anybody before I had the baby, and I
really felt really isolated. I had a real problem with anemia, which has been a life-long problem. And I was depressed over all of this, and having three little ones, and our middle one cried just constantly. The doctors couldn't find anything wrong with him, but he just cried. And then the baby, of course he took a lot of time. And Jim's total devotion went to school [went to his career]. And then when I--. Let's see, he [our third son] was born in September [after we moved to Tennessee]. And then around the first of the next year one day at lunch time there was a little child playing an organ with one finger, playing "Jesus Loves Me", from a music store in Johnson City, and I thought that was the prettiest music I had ever heard in my life, even though I had sung and been in music all my life to a certain extent. And I loved that so much. Well, when we got married, I didn't get a diamond. There was no money for a diamond, but he promised me that when we had been married ten years, he said, "Certainly I can afford a diamond by then. I'm going to give you a diamond then." So we were approaching our tenth wedding anniversary, and I heard that child at noon that day playing "Jesus Loves Me" with one finger on this organ. When he came home he said, "Well, we need to go look for that ring. I promised you and I'm going to keep my promise." I said, "There was this little child playing an organ with one finger, and if I could have that organ I would be the happiest person in this world." He said, "Where is it?" And I told him, and he said, "Let's get in the car. We're going to go get that organ." I said, "We don't have any money." He said, "I'm going to teach summer school, and we're going to get that organ. If they'll take ten dollars a month, I'm getting you that organ and I'll pay for it with summer school money." We went and got the organ, and he said, "And I'll promise you that I'll come home and keep the children one hour a week for you to go take the
lessons." And I did that for a couple, three years, didn't I? And I kept studying my little organ, and when our youngest one then started the first grade I was still taking music lessons. And I had told him, I said, "Okay I'm going to take a vacation. I've been home with these children all these years. I'm going to take a vacation. I don't know what I'm going to do, but I'm taking a vacation. I've earned it." And I think you [Jim] said you were at school, what, about thirty minutes? And I called him, and I said, "Do you know what I'm going to do?" He said, "I have no idea." I said, "I'm going to school to study music. Can you get me enrolled?" And he said, "Yes," and "What do you want to take?" And I told him, and he went and got me enrolled in my first music course, and I dearly loved it. And so I kept on with it until I got my BS in music.
And you could appreciate this, having been a musician and played an instrument.
Yes, I really enjoyed her going through her music program because she would come home and talk about what she had learned in music theory and so forth, and I heard her practicing too. At the time I was playing in the orchestra and I was learning from her about music theory too, so it really benefited both of us.
And we got a piano and I taught our oldest one piano until--and Jim taught him violin--until he decided, "Enough of this. I'm playing guitar." So we had to let him do the guitar and put down the piano and the violin. The middle son, we started him on Suzuki method violin when he was five. And we had a schedule that he [Jim] brought the children home from school because they went to the University school on campus with him. And he would bring them home, and I had a schedule for after school that was very regimented. They were to come home, and I would have a nice snack for all three of
them, and they were to eat, and they were to take turns practicing, because the youngest one, I was teaching piano and he was taking cornet lessons. The middle one was taking violin, and the oldest one was taking violin, so two of them could be studying while one would have to practice. And of course I had all my practicing and all too, because I was taking voice and piano and organ. So that worked real well. And the oldest one learned to be a really good guitarist and vocalist. The middle one stayed with the violin until he was in about the eighth grade and we found out his ear was so good when he went to his lessons that he immediately knew what to play. He didn't practice, and we didn't know that. His teacher didn't know it. He got caught when they sent him to Knoxville for a competition and they gave him a new piece of music and he couldn't play it. [Laughter] So that was the end of that. He said, "I don't want to play anymore," so we didn't push him. The youngest, he would learn everything that I learned in school. Like I'd come home and practice my vocalizes and everything. He'd learn everything. I taught him everything about theory just like I was learning it. He picked it up just like a chicken picking up corn. He was so easy to work with, and he continued taking violin with his daddy for awhile and then he began to do his own thing with the guitar. That's him. He's a musician. He writes and plays his own music, records it and everything, and he teaches English at Coastal Carolina University. He's really good.
So he kind of went in the direction you wanted to go originally.
Yeah. But he was a joy to work with because he could understand the theory and everything, and when they had teacher days and so forth, and he had to go to school with me, I would take him to my classrooms, and he participated just like he was a student in those classes. In fact he understood what the students didn't in theory and so
forth, because theory's hard for most music students. And he still loves theory, and he has some of my theory books and so forth. You know, he's always figuring out these tenth, eleventh, and thirteenth chords, and he'll [say], "Mama, do you remember what goes in at this point?" because I used to analyze so much music, and he would see what I was doing. I guess working with my children and being able to help them along in music was one of the things I enjoyed.
But you asked about did I teach? Well I did some substitute teaching, like I said. I was the executive director of the Jonesboro Civic Trust for about a year and a half until they discontinued that position. At one time I was director of the volunteers for the Red Cross in Johnson City. I had always loved flowers, flowers are my love, and one day I decided I wanted to work in a florist. I had always wanted to do that. So I had a friend who was a florist and his mother had just died and had been her florist, and so I went to his shop to see him, and I said, "Stephen, I want to know, do you have a position?" And he said, "Louise, do you want one?" And I said, "Yes, I want to work in a florist for awhile." And he said, "Well, just come in tomorrow." And I worked with him for about three or four years and loved it, absolutely loved it. If I had been younger I would probably have bought the florist shop. I also worked with a theater group called the Road Company in Johnson City. They wrote their own material and traveled all over the nation, and I worked with developmental issues with them.
I've heard of them.
A friend who worked in the library at East Tennessee for awhile on Appalachian--
--and things like that, I think it was through her probably that I heard about them.
Was her name Nancy Fisher?
No, it was Laura Horton. This was in the, I guess, early '80s, so a long time ago.
Yeah. That was an interesting job too.
So all sorts of arts related things that you got involved in.
Oh, yeah. I was into all of those. At one time or another, sometimes I was president of more than one: the arts council, the arts committee for the chamber of commerce, a resource member for the Tennessee Arts Commission, secretary, everything except president from one time or another of the Johnson City symphony orchestra, president of the Johnson City Civic Choir, which I also sang in. What else?
Friends of Music.
Yeah. Oh. That was my big thing--ETSU Friends of Music, which they have one here. [Coughing] Helped them raise money. We had a big concert with Floyd Cramer, Boots Randolph, Chet Atkins, Helen Reddy, Governor Lamar Alexander.
That lady who sang about the clowns--.
Judy Collins. Had her once for them, and then I turned around later when I was chair of the arts commission for the chamber of commerce, brought her back again to the town. I was chair of a lot of the functions for the fiftieth anniversary celebration for the University [ETSU]. Brought in a lot of big names, and at that time we brought in Floyd Cramer again for that. And we raised lots of money. At one time we were about
the only thing that the Foundation had. Of course it's gotten great big now, the Foundation has.
So when you went back to do your degree in music, how did that experience compare to your first experience here at ECU? Was there a difference in that you were doing something you really wanted to do?
Yeah. I was more mature. I learned a lot more. I'll get it. [Coughing] You want to cut it off?
I guess, what difference do you think East Carolina made in your life?
Oh, everything. I got a really good, I think, undergraduate education at East Carolina. The math instruction was very good, excellent, and I was totally inspired by Dr. Reynolds, Dr. Davis, Miss Williams and so forth. I decided after I got my master's, I thought, "I wonder if I could go for a PhD?" So I talked to Dr. Reynolds and I said, "What do you think? Do you think I could make it?" and he said, "I think so. Go for it." Then I talked to Dr. Davis--I was teaching there at that time--and Dr. Davis talked to a friend of his, that's Dr. Williams at South Carolina, and he came back from a conference and said, "Jim, if you want to go work on a PhD, Dr. Williams said he could use you down there." So he got me a National Defense Education Act fellowship, which was really great because the first day of class, I think, they gave us our fellowship money to last for six months. So we felt like we were rich. We've got money for six months and we didn't have to pay tuition, so that was money to live on. I had two years on the NDEA fellowship where I didn't have to work. All I had to do was study. That was just wonderful, because I had always had to work full time. So I think I learned more in that two years than ever before or since, because all I had to do was study and come home and
Louise would give me something to eat, and off I'd go. So it was a great experience at South Carolina.
He would get the money from them first of the semester and we would divide it into the number of months it had to be spent, put it into savings, and each month we would pay ourselves that portion. And we kept very close records so we lived on that. And then there were so many other couples there who were in the same shape, didn't have money to spend, and it was a wonderful experience. I didn't get to go home then though, because he had Saturday classes, and we couldn't afford the trips anyway. We had to pretty well stay put. But it was great living in South Carolina. It was warm, and he had puppies to keep him up--.
Occupied, other than-- [with studying]. I had--.
Yeah. Something besides school. And our oldest son was getting three or four years old, and we had nineteen little dogs and puppies.
Nine, nine, okay.
All at one time?
And three kitty cats and two rabbits.
But they didn't live inside. They lived outdoors, but I made a little enclosure, a pretty big enclosure, so that they had a house within a house, so they were very comfortable. We enjoyed our Chihuahuas for those years.
And we had a mobile home. We bought a very small thirty-two by eight foot mobile home when he went to teach at Princess Anne High School in Norfolk, Virginia, and we lived in that until he was ready to graduate from the University of South Carolina. And we bought a new one that we had planned to move here when he got the job here, and we came to see where we could park it and where our son would go to school. And I can't remember the lady who had taken Junius Rose's place. Can you remember her name?
Anyway, I wanted to know where our son would go to school, and she said, "Well, if you're going to live in a mobile home, you can't live near one of these schools that would be your choice." And I said, "That's all right. We'll just sell that mobile home. We're going to buy a house in whatever is the school district." Because I told her that Jim had gotten such a good education in Greenville and my son was going to have the best too. [Laughter]
So did he go to Rose High School?
He went to Elm Street School. And then when we moved to Johnson City, one of our requirements was that our children could go to the University school because that was the best there, and faculty children had first preference at that time. It was almost like a private school. So that's where the children went to school and consequently the children got a very good education at the University school in Johnson City, East Tennessee State.
Did your brothers, who were younger, when they went on to college, did they have the same kind of problem adjusting to being away from home that you did, or do you think that was because you were a girl?
I think they all pretty much--. I mean we're all home bodies, aren't we?
Pretty much home bodies, yeah.
I was always real close to my brothers, just real close. I was close to my uncles, my grandmothers. It was clannish, you know?
But having that network of family around you was secure.
Yes, and I was used to having both of my grandmothers. I remember in high school when we took the senior trip to Washington, how happy I was to get home.
Do you think your experience growing up, your working and all that, contributed to your ability to succeed in college and go on and succeed?
Yes, I really think--. It might seem hard at the time, you know, to have to work and go to school, but I think I profited from having a lot of responsibility in addition to wanting to do well in school. So even though I worked thirty-five or more hours a week going to college, I did well in school. Of course I stayed up until 12:00 or 1:00 at night studying, and I studied, you know. And I had some very good teachers. I learned a lot about biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics. It was great. I really enjoyed going to college, enjoyed ECU every day.
And you know, after I was married, especially after our son was born, I really adjusted so much more to college then and felt like it was the right thing to be doing. And it may have been--I don't know this for sure--but it may have been that I was not following a path that really would have been of my choosing.
It sounds like when you got into the arts area you were far more doing something that you wanted to do.
Yeah, and I loved all my involvement with the arts. I especially loved to be a supporter of the arts. I was working where I wanted to be, and since he was teaching and we were all right financially--not that we were rich, but we were okay--I could spend my time like this and I felt like it was being spent for things that were worthwhile. And I was getting the opportunity too to do what I wanted to do with the children and to give them the benefit of anything that I had learned. When we went to South Carolina and our oldest son was about three years old, I spent my time totally with him. It was almost like I was dealing with an adult because we talked about adult things. They say that a child's first few years are the ones that matter, so I felt like I was able to give him things that he wouldn't have had otherwise. And I look at him now, and I really think that that probably was true, because he's gone on to do well. He's with Eastman in Kingsport and he has done real well. And one of the things he's involved with now with Eastman is homeland security. You know I take my hat off to what he and his wife both have been able to do. They've done real well.
So how does it feel to be back at East Carolina now?
It's very good. I am back in the same building I was in when I left in 1966. In fact, we left here in 1966 and at that time I was in the old Austin Building--or just before I left--and then they built the new Austin Building. So we moved over when it was brand new. So I'm now back in the Austin Building, which is not a new building anymore, but I'm very close to my old office. And now I'm back teaching mathematics. I might point out that for the last eighteen years at East Tennessee State I was in the
computer science department. So I taught mathematics for about twenty years, and then the computer science department formed itself out of the mathematics department. They were out of our department for about four or five years, and then they decided to put in a master's program in computer science and they needed somebody to teach the mathematical computer science courses, so they asked me if I would move over. I said, "Give me a night to think about it," and I thought about it and I said, "Yes, I'll change." So I changed into the computer science department, and I really had to work myself to death again--
--because I taught graduate courses in computer sciences--and undergraduate--for about the last eighteen years. Then after I retired from there I taught a year at Milligan College. They needed a teacher for one year. And then I decided, "Well, I'm not through yet." So I talked to Dr. Gail Ratcliff here, and they found an opening for me here, so I'm back teaching in the math department, which is--.
Has the University changed a lot since you left?
Oh yes. It's made great strides. The mathematics department when I was here, of course, years ago, was a very good mathematics department for that day and age, but for this day and age this department has made great strides. They're, I'm sure, on the verge of being able to offer a doctor's degree in mathematics, so they have some highly qualified people. I feel fortunate to be back. Of course I'm just teaching now--. I'm on a six-term contract, but I've been here for four years. And so at this stage of my life it's the kind of job I need. Still get to teach students, and I'm teaching mathematics. I'm a
better math teacher than a computer science teacher because it's more in my bones, you know.
So is there anything else you'd like to say about East Carolina, your experience, when you came here and went to college?
I guess just to reiterate that it was a great experience, both at the undergraduate level and the master's level, and that particularly Dr. Davis and Dr. Reynolds and so forth were a great inspiration.
You know I think one of the problems that I had--and I've thought about this a long time--was--and this fits right in with you doing this on first generation--I didn't have a role model. I was going down a new path. I didn't have anybody who I could talk to who could understand the situation I was in. I couldn't live the life that my mother lived and my grandmothers had lived. I couldn't fit into that. I was beyond that, but didn't have any role models. And so my security blanket wasn't there, but then I knew I wanted to go to school. And taking my first philosophy course at the University was a real eye opener for me, because in growing up, if I were working out in the fields, I would be thinking deep philosophical thoughts. And my youngest brother a lot of times would be working right with me and we would be discussing such things as, "Who made God?" You know, all of these philosophical questions that I didn't know anybody in the world had ever thought of, because nothing had ever been mentioned before. People wouldn't have dared, because I came from a Southern Baptist background. Nothing like this was ever talked about. I hadn't seen any books like this. So having my first course in philosophy was just like somebody had opened a new life, a new book, to me, and I was wanting to know all about this. And I really thoroughly enjoyed my first course in
philosophy and wanted a lot more of it. And then after Jim and I met I had somebody I could talk to about all these things, you know? And we would just spend hours over a cup of coffee down at what was the OTI, Old Town Inn, over cups of coffee and pieces of coconut pie, and write notes on napkins. So finally I was into something that I was real enthusiastic about. He had the background for things that I didn't have a background in, but we could discuss all these things and really enjoy it. And we still do. We got married here in Greenville, and last year we celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary here, and here we are.
Did your father ever accept you as a son-in-law?
Oh, yes. He was very generous with us and very kind to us, and her mother too. I was well accepted in the family. I think her mother thought of me as almost a sixth son. So I feel very, very close to her family.
So one good effect of coming to ECU was meeting each other, right?
But I think you're right about the role models. It's a very different thing if you have that sort of idea of what you can do or what you can be. If you don't have that, it's hard.
I think it's really hard, because you're venturing down something that you don't have any insight for, and you come from a little farming community. It's just so different.
You always had that strong pull, it sounds like, in both directions.
Yeah, I did. And still, I guess, we have a lot of that pull right now because we always went to my home, and we always spent any vacations there, and we finally
had a place there that my daddy gave us and we would take the boys there where we could turn them loose in the summertime and they could enjoy life with no restrictions. And then when my daddy died then we stayed in the house with my mother any time we went. And she called that house my house. If somebody called her on the telephone she'd say, "I'm at Louise's." And then she died Thanksgiving Day of 2003. We all knew, you know, we have to settle things. And it was just agreed with everybody that we would have the home. That was what Jim wanted because he said, "If we have the home, we'll keep the family together." And so we spend quite a bit of time there, and we have our permanent home in Johnson City. We're pulled both ways.
I should mention one of my other teachers at East Carolina, Ellen Fleming. I had her for a geometry course when I was a sophomore, and Miss Fleming had the habit of having her students on the first day of class, she said, "The first thing I want you to do is write a little autobiography. I want to know something about you and what you want to do and so forth." Of course I wrote my little autobiography and promptly forgot about it for almost thirty-some years. It was probably at least thirty-some years later, I saw her. I've forgotten where I saw her, but she said, "You know what, Jim? I recall when you wrote your autobiography when you were a sophomore, and I remember what you said: 'I want to be a math professor.'" [Laughter] She remembered that for all those years.
So you had role models.
I guess I did. I truly did. I thought if I could mimic Louise Williams or John Reynolds, oh man. That would be great.
So the decisive thing for you was whoever put your name in for that scholarship that led you--.
Yes, exactly, and I don't know who did that. I have no idea, but somebody put my name in.
It could have been J.H. Rose himself.
It could have been J.H. Rose himself. Yeah, Mr. Rose knew me.
He knew your daddy.
He knew my father. In fact when we--. Louise was mentioning that we went back and looked at the newspaper files when my daddy was shot when I was one-year-old. And it was front page news for about three months in Greenville. Every few days there would be a new development on their progress in apprehending the perpetrators. And I remember now seeing on the same front page, several times, there was news about Mr. J.H. Rose and things he was doing. So he was very active at that period and that was when my daddy got shot. So he kept that in his mind that my daddy was diligent enough to continue to support his family even though he was totally blind. That may be what led to my scholarship. I don't know.
It could be.
You know, even though I grew up in a rural community, it was a close knit community, and in the church I had a place that I could practice my music and use it. And I always had a talent for that, for singing, and I picked up piano real fast. Within about three months of taking lessons I was playing for church. So I had that outlet. I had the building blocks for what I needed in life that I would not have had anywhere else if I hadn't gotten it at church, because that was about the only thing you had besides going to school. And a lot of the students that I was in school with, they didn't do all that well.
So here I was. I was top in class going all the way through school. I come to East Carolina, that's not true anymore, but I could see what I wanted. But you know coming to East Carolina--I've said this many times--I got what was the equivalent of what I would consider a good high school education and maybe two years of college. So I got my background at East Carolina. Thank goodness that I was able to do that, that I was able to go to a University where even though I didn't have that background--how much of it was my fault and how much of it was high school, I wouldn't even want to say--but it was available to me at East Carolina. And I was able to do it. I was even able to do it married and with a child and to get through, and it gave me all of what I needed then to go on and do the other things. And being married to Jim, I could understand where he was, and I could enjoy what he was doing, and I could feel like: Okay. I feel confident to be with the people that you're associating with--with your PhD work and with higher education--and feel confident in myself, and to go on to the community with all the work and all the opportunities I had in Johnson City, because I did have a lot of opportunities there to develop and to feel like I'm fulfilled. I may not be making money, because most of my work was volunteer, but I felt like I was doing something that made a difference. And Jim was very supportive.
But let me tell you the end of the story about the organ. That was what propelled me to go on. That was in 1966, 1967, February 1967, when I got the organ. So I played it for a number of years and one day it quit working. It wouldn't play anymore. And I looked and looked for somebody to repair my organ and nobody would tackle it. Everybody said there's no way of doing it anymore. In September when we came back down here this year, I was calling around to see if anybody would help me to get a piano.
We had taken the chair out . I was going to put my spinet over there. I wanted somebody that if I brought it [to Greenville] down here would help us get it inside here, and I couldn't find anybody. And finally someone at one of the music stores here said, "If you call this place in Kinston, they are an organ company." I called them and they said, "No, we're not an organ company but we repair church organs." And I said, "Let me tell you about my organ." And I said, "Would you try to fix my organ?" Well they didn't know if they could or not, but we could bring it. So we brought it from Tennessee to Kinston and left it with them for about seven months, and finally they got my organ fixed. It's in Roxboro now. And so when I go home on the weekends, I can play my organ.
Then you're home. [Laughter]
Like she played it this morning.
And I just love playing my organ. [Laughter]
That's wonderful. So you've made a great contribution through your volunteer work it sounds like, as well as the joy in what you do.
Yeah, I was real fortunate to be able to do the things that I had the opportunity to do, but I couldn't have done it if he [Jim] had not been real supportive. When I worked with the ETSU Friends of Music all those years, I could do the things I needed to do at home, and so much of it had to go back to the University to the music department or to the archives or wherever. And I would give it to him and he would take it to school and do whatever needed to be done with it, so he was always active in whatever I was doing. So I guess East Carolina has the blame for all of it! [Laughter]
Or the glory. [Laughter] Well this is great. I also want to put on the tape before we end, do you give us permission to put this in the archives for people to use if they want to, and to use portions of it in any kind of write-up, or reporting, or maybe even on a website if we took excerpts?
Yes, yes. Certainly.
When I sent what I did in, I was not doing it for myself, because I didn't figure--. I thought that, you know, I've always been so proud of what he's been able to accomplish, and I thought, "He's perfect for this."
And she told me after she had already sent it. She told me the next day she had sent it in.
She seems always to have had a mind of her own, doesn't she? [Laughter] And a lot of spunk.
You're exactly right.
As your parents learned. [Laughter] Okay, I'm going to stop.
[End of Interview]
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