Grisamore: Longtime educator on the eve of birthday No. 100 and proud of it

May 6, 2014 

Carolyn_Pitts

Carolyn Pitts, who grew up in the Pleasant Hill neighborhood and is about to turn 100 years old, received her master’s degree from New York University and spent her professional life in Macon as a teacher.

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When you live to be 100, you don’t lie about your age.

You don’t conveniently subtract a few decades from the total. You no longer claim to be 79 and holding. You are flattered when folks say you don’t look a day over 84.

Carolyn Pitts will hit triple digits Thursday with a smile on her face. She is proud of her upcoming promotion to centenarian. Her hips might not move and her knees might not bend the way they once did, but her mind is still as sharp as a pair of scissors in the top drawer of the sewing cabinet.

I’m not sure how many times Carolyn has ever stretched the truth about the number of candles on her birthday cake.

But I do know of at least one. And she didn’t trim back the years. She padded them.

After graduating from Ballard Normal High School in Macon, she applied for a teaching position in the tiny community of Howard, in Taylor County. She told the superintendent she was 21. She was only 16.

She got the job (no certification was required) teaching grades 1-7 in a one-room schoolhouse during the Great Depression. She was only a few years older than some of her students. She lived with a family from the school. It was the beginning of her life’s work as an educator.

The day Carolyn was born -- May 8, 1914 -- Congress passed legislation designating the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day.

Although she never was a mother herself, she served as a mother figure to hundreds of schoolchildren over the years. She adopted nieces and nephews into her home as if they were her own.

She has a rather famous cousin, Dwight Howard, of the Houston Rockets, who is one of the top players in the NBA. She is old enough to be his great-great-grandmother. On the eve of her century mark, she is his most senior fan.

Carolyn does have longevity genes. Her sister, Marie Hill, lived to be 97. They grew up in the Pleasant Hill neighborhood, the daughters of Joe Henry and Gaddie Walker. Their father was a chauffeur and gardener for the B.P. O’Neal family. She attended what is now L.H. Williams Elementary. At age 12, she earned the title Queen of the Playground at Mattie Hubbard Jones Park.

When she was in the 10th grade, she never would have believed she would live to reach the ripe old age of 100. She was convinced she was going to die. She went to school one morning burning with a fever. She hurried home and fell flat on the floor. She had pneumonia, practically a death sentence in those days, and was hospitalized for two weeks.

She later wanted to be a nurse but “couldn’t stand the sight of blood.” As a black woman, she had to work harder and travel farther to get her college education outside the segregated South. She received her Bachelor of Science degree from Fort Valley State and her Master of Art Degree in Education from New York University. She then headed for the West Coast, where she did graduate work at UCLA.

She met her husband, David Pitts, after she followed a friend home against her mother’s wishes. He was gathered around the piano with his family. He was in the choir at Holsey Temple CME Church on Washington Avenue, which was built in 1895.

When Carolyn went to Holsey one summer for vacation Bible school, she lost an earring. David stayed to help look until he found it and placed it in her hand. Years later, it was a ring, not an earring, he put on her hand.

They were married on a Saturday and wore the same clothes to church the next day, when she became a member at Holsey. David was a mailman for 40 years. They were married for 58 years.

Carolyn’s first teaching position after college was Union-Bibb. She rode the bus every day. She later taught at G.W. Carver before settling in at Henry A. Hunt Elementary on Shurling Drive, where she was named Teacher of the Year for Bibb County in 1958.

She has been part of everything from the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, March of Dimes, Red Cross, the Retired Teacher’s Association, League of Women Voters and the Macon chapter of Links. She was one of 101 women profiled as part of Catherine Meeks’ project “Standing on Their Shoulders: A Celebration of the Wisdom of African-American Women.”

For many years after her retirement, she took daily classes in sewing, handbag making, ceramics and Bible study. She has maintained her fierce independence and continues to live in her east Macon home.

She will tell you the key to a long and happy life is to stay busy and never stop learning.

When the sun comes up in the morning, Lord willing, she’ll be 100 and proud to let you know it.

Reach Gris at 744-4275 or gris@macon.com.

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