All journeys encounter detours, roadblocks, well paved, heavily traveled highways, and occasional long dark treacherous roads, which ultimately lead to our destinations.
The journey for Mary Lois Young Gerald began in Troutman, North Carolina, a small town 45 miles north of Charlotte. She was raised by her grandparents, Walter, and Macon Young who she was greatly influenced by.
Early in her journey, Mary Lois embraced learning. Her grandparents, teachers, and community leaders recognized her love for learning, and they sought a rigorous academic grade school for her. They enrolled her in one of the Rosenwald Schools erected throughout the rural South, built exclusively to give Black children a quality education. These partnership schools between Booker T. Washington and the president of Sears & Roebuck Company, Julius Rosenwald would eventually serve over 700,000 students, and graduate Mary Lois as salutatorian of her seventh-grade class.
Graduating on to Union High School in Troutman NC, Mary Lois’s work ethic would again lead her to graduate salutatorian of her high school class. Being impressed by her scholastic aptitude and love for learning, her principal encouraged her to continue her education and suggested she apply to Spelman College, in Atlanta GA.
Upon her acceptance into Spelman College, her humble beginnings required her to spend many holidays and summers working in the school cafeteria earning money to finance her education. In her 2003 memoir she wrote, “While at Spelman, I was privileged to be selected to serve in the home of Spelman President, Florence Read. I had the honor to meet and serve Marian Anderson, Benjamin E. Mays, and members of the John D. Rockefeller Family.” She recalled how competitive her Spelman classes were and sitting in her Greek Literature class alongside Martin Luther King, Jr., who was a student at neighboring Morehouse College.
Following her graduation with honors from Spelman with a Bachelor of Arts degree, she wrote of her excitement of accepting a teaching position in Dillon South Carolina where she and classmate and best friend, Ruby Woods began their careers as educators. While there, she and Ruby mentored and coached the girls’ basketball team. They were often joined during their walks to and from school by students who loved, admired, and identified with the young teachers.
It wasn’t until her second-year teaching in Dillon that Mary Lois met and later married Maxie Gerald, Jr. from Mullins, South Carolina. Her journey quickly evolved into that of a wife, mother, educator, church worker, community leader and activist. Mary Lois and Maxie were the proud parents of four children, Michael, Robin, Mark, and Maria. In 1972 Mary Lois’s journey changed when Maxie preceded her in death. As devastating and heartbreaking as his death was, Mary Lois grieved as she quickly became head of household and continued to raise her four children as a widowed mother. Relying on discipline, work ethic, the love for her children and an appreciation for education, she continued the journey with courage, determination, and grace as she would see all of her children off to college.
Leading by example, as a young mother she managed to earn a master’s degree in Education from South Carolina State College, in Orangeburg South Carolina which afforded her an opportunity to have a greater impact on more students. She transitioned into the role of high school guidance counselor, later a school psychologist, and eventually a social worker in the Mullins School District. During these tenures, she identified and took personal accountability in the need to help people. There was no one in the community outside the boundaries of her willingness to help. There are countless accounts of high school students that Mary Lois mentored and profoundly impacted. Her door was always open to those in need, and she earned the trust of the community as a dependable and reliable resource. She truly lived by the Hispanic phrase, mi casa, es su casa meaning, my house is your house.
Mary Lois made impacts as an active and faithful member of Mt. Olive Baptist Church where she held numerous leadership positions, sang on the choir, and played piano for church services. Her leadership in the school and church lead to her leadership in the community.
She served on several local, state, and national boards, including the local Housing Authority, Marion Regional Healthcare Systems Board, Marion County Council on Aging Board, and the American Hospital Association Region and Policy Board. She stood on her position to fight for and influence change for the underprivileged and underserved. She affected and influenced countless lives during her board appointments. In her 2004 memoir entry she wrote, “Ever since my husband died in 1972, I have felt a need to give a lot of service to my community. Being on the Board gives me the opportunity to help people. That’s important to me.” “I am a humanitarian. I’m concerned about people-all people. That’s my strength and that’s one of the main qualities I intend to bring to my work on the Board.”
As an English teacher at Palmetto High School and Mullins High School, she is fondly remembered by her students over the years as a smart, fair, but demanding teacher. She developed personal relationships with her students and understood that that was often the key to the total development of her students. She loved words and writing and could diagram a sentence with ease. Her children and students learned at an early age that nothing less than proper English was to be spoken in her presence as she would correct broken English. So it is with some trepidation that we write this obituary because we know she will be looking to make sure our subjects and verbs are in agreement!
Mary Lois was proceeded in death by her husband Maxie, son Mark, and grandson Jarod Gerald. She leaves to cherish her memories: her children Michael Gerald (Veronica) Stone Mountain, GA; Robin Gerald (Alfred) Marietta, GA; Daughter-in-Law Diane Gerald (Mark deceased) Mullins, SC; and Maria Gerald-Troy (Penn) Alexandria, VA. Her grandchildren, Michael, Michaundra, Erin, Jessica, Chasni, Eric, Quasheem, William, and Tyler. Great-grandchildren Michaie, Jaden, Jonah, Chase and Dreux.
When our time on earth is done, money or material things will not matter. But the love, time, and kindness we gave others will shine and live on forever.
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