Burns Forsythe looked up and smiled Tuesday while people talked about his mother, Ruby Forsythe.
She was inducted into the Georgetown County Women’s Hall of Fame during an event at Holy Cross Faith Memorial Episcopal Church, just a short walk from the one-room school where she’d taught so many children for 53 years.
Miss Ruby, as she is known, spent most of her 87 years as a teacher, mother and wife. She was born in 1905 to a brick layer and domestic. She graduated from several schools and universities, and she taught the sons and daughters of Pawleys Island before and after bridges joined the island to the mainland, and before electricity, civil rights and integration.
“Don’t say I can’t. Say I’ll try,” is her well-known mantra. Ruby Forsythe retired in 1991. She died in 1992.
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Valinda Littlefield, director of African-American Studies at the University of South Carolina, gave the keynote address. She reminded the gathering of Miss Ruby’s accomplishments and the legacy of Miss Ruby’s Kids. Miss Ruby’s Kids is a literacy program for children in Georgetown County that bears her name.
Littlefield also pointed out another trait those gathered may not have known. Miss Ruby did not shy from discipline. She met with the student’s parents before enrolling the children at the one-room school. In the meeting, the parents were given a few of Miss Ruby’s rules. “ ‘I tell them I will use whatever method of discipline that will bring success. I let them know I’m going to spank their child if they need to be spanked,’ ” Littlefield said, quoting Miss Ruby. “ ‘I show them what I use. I’m not going to kill them, but I am going to put it on them enough to be felt. If you don’t want this, this is not the place.’ ”
Burns Forsythe nodded his head as Littlefield told the story of his mother’s paddle.
He shared a memory of being hit by a friend “right out there,” he said, pointing out the church window toward the school. “So I turned around and hit him. He fell down in a hole.”
Forsythe said he’d felt justified in hitting the boy after he’d been hit. “So that day, I can remember getting a beating, a whipping. It was not a spanking. I got a whipping.”
After talking with his mother that night she taught him patience and restraint. He said Tuesday that many of life’s big and small moments became an opportunity for his mother to teach him and the school children.
“In addition to being the type of person who tried to teach things, she was a good cook. She didn’t mind experimenting,” Forsythe said of his mother. “Y’all remember the ice man would bring ice; this was before we had electricity. She made all kinds of things. She made sodas. Root beer is what I remember particularly. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted root beer as good as the root beer mother made. She should have gone into business.”
Miss Ruby is the fifth to be inducted in the women’s hall of fame. The hall of fame is in the new Georgetown County Museum at 120 Broad St. in Georgetown.