One Fine Woman

There was a book on her nightstand the evening she died. A novel. She was halfway finished. Chapter eleven.

The old woman was a great reader. Reading was her thing. Her tranquilizer. Her therapy. The old woman’s bedroom was littered with mass-market paperbacks. Adventure novels, romances, humor, cheesy books that no literature buff would be caught dead holding in public unless enrolled in the Literature-Persons Protection Program.

The old woman was an English teacher. But that’s not how her love of reading began. Her journey began during a poverty stricken childhood, when the only things to do were to read library books and play cards.

As a girl she did plenty of that. She played LOTS of cards. She knew every card game in the book. They tell me she was vicious at the poker table. Each of her adult children still owe their mother roughly $7,000,000.

When the old woman was a girl, she helped raise her family after her mother died. Those were very different times, she was the oldest daughter. No, it wasn’t fair. But it’s what people did.

Still, she never quit reading. She kept up her education by visiting libraries. Daily visits. And when her last sibling left home, the girl enrolled in college, availing herself to a much larger university library.

On her first day of college, she took an English course. It was love at first sentence. The woman knew she wanted to become a steward of the most beautiful, most audibly pleasing, most confusing, hardest to grasp, most ridiculously illogical language known to man.

After graduation, she taught English in high school. She hated it. Most students were more interested in pinching one another’s butts than they were in Shakespeare. She got a job teaching at a junior college for a little while. She hated that, too. So she quit.

She got married, made a family. But she couldn’t stay away from education because you can’t keep a woman like this away from books. Words are part of her DNA. English is a lifelong pursuit. It is a drug. Nothing else can satisfy.

So she found her way into teaching again. This time she taught foreigners how to speak and write the English language in the back of—you guessed it—a public library.

This, she loved.

She taught after hours, sometimes with a grandbaby on her hip, for no pay. Hers was, to this day, the most popular class the library ever offered. Sometimes she had 60 or 100 people in her multi-use room, sounding out English words in unison. Russians, Czechs, Mexicans, and Italians worshiped her. These were students who entered her class knowing barely enough English to say “Thanks.” But when they left her, they were writing 900-word essays and reading Melville.

She never abandoned a student in need. Never turned her back on a soul who was willing to try. And her pupils cherished her for it.

She would grade their work mercilessly, she would let them cry on her shoulder, and let me point this out: She did this without a paycheck.

The older she got, you would have thought she might have slowed down, but nope. There were more people who needed her, so (why not?) she helped them. When she retired from the library, her kitchen became her new classroom.

Young people visited at breakfast. They attended her kitchen table after working long shifts, or before going to the factories. The old woman would sit over hot coffee, open textbooks, cigarette dangling from her mouth, and teach simple words.

One time an illiterate rural girl of 17 came to this kitchen. The girl was there each morning. Over the years not only did the girl learn to read and write, she applied to college. She graduated with a degree.

There are more stories like this, but I don’t have room to tell them all. You cannot compress a woman’s life into paragraphs.

But what I want to know is, how can a single life make such a difference in this world but still go unnoticed? And how many more saints exist in the shadows of this wonderful nation? Why are they overlooked?

You don’t hear about these people enough. To camera lenses and journalists, it’s as though these people don’t exist. You hear about the weather, about deaths, assaults, robberies, and senseless acts of reality TV. And when you haven’t had enough of all that, here comes another television crime drama. Do we really need another crime drama?

Meantime, a meek American who loved language, who taught others to love it, who dedicated her energy, her sweat, and her years, died with a paperback novel on her bedside table. A bookmark wedged in the eleventh chapter.

And I just thought you should know about her.


  1. Joan Golston - April 3, 2021 8:07 am

    Please respect her enough to name her.

    • Jenny Young - April 3, 2021 2:03 pm

      Maybe her family didn’t want her named. Most people who serve so whole-heartedly like this would rather not be pushed into the limelight.

      Sean, a very respectful & beautiful peace.

  2. Mariette VandenMunckhof-Vedder - April 3, 2021 8:15 am

    Dearest Sean,
    Happy Easter to you and yours and this was really a woman that loved to read and with that touched many lives.

  3. Joe Dorough - April 3, 2021 9:11 am

    We need more like her.❤️📈

  4. Sandi. - April 3, 2021 9:41 am

    I agree with what Joan Golston said, Sean. Please tell us this saintly teacher’s name. She deserves at least that. Her life truly counted.

  5. Susan - April 3, 2021 10:03 am

    Yes, more stories like this need to be told. Thanks for sharing her story, Sean.

  6. Terry Holloway - April 3, 2021 10:05 am

    Thank you, again for another touching story.

  7. Laura - April 3, 2021 10:32 am

    I’m with Joan and Sandi – her name and where she did this wonderful work please.

  8. Barbara - April 3, 2021 11:07 am

    I appreciate how you honored this selfless and gifted teacher with the telling of her story, as well as bring something newsworthy to our day.

  9. Nell Thomas - April 3, 2021 11:19 am

    Very special lady. Made life better for so many.
    Thank you for a great story this Easter.
    You and your family have a blessed one.

  10. Leigh Amiot - April 3, 2021 11:34 am

    She found her purpose in life by giving without expecting to receive. I’m okay with not knowing her name. Someone like this probably didn’t want any accolades, but was satisfied with her contribution to the world. The outgrowth of all that literacy is immeasurable.
    Another one hit out of the park, Sean. Columns like this remind me that time on earth is limited and encourage me to do my best.

  11. Suzanne Cahill - April 3, 2021 11:39 am

    What a beautiful eulogy for a beautiful life. Who knows how many lives were touched by her kindness, caring, and unwavering dedication.

  12. Michael D. Milita - April 3, 2021 11:56 am

    Thank you Sir…

  13. Ann Robbins Phillips - April 3, 2021 12:14 pm

    I too would live to hear her name! But hopefully one of these people will write her name in their journal so that their children and their children’s children will know the woman that changed generations

  14. Pamela Williams - April 3, 2021 12:25 pm

    What a beautiful tribute to a wonderful woman. This is what life is really about. ❤️

  15. Farris Jones - April 3, 2021 12:31 pm

    Beautiful, inspiring story for this Easter weekend! What an incredible woman, she truly represents the heart of Jesus!

  16. Helen De Prima - April 3, 2021 12:39 pm

    Teach someone to read, and you give them power nothing can take away.

  17. Suzanne Moore - April 3, 2021 12:48 pm

    What an inspiration!

  18. Jane - April 3, 2021 12:49 pm

    A wonderful tribute to this outstanding woman but also celebrating those who give of themselves daily to help others. The unsung, but not unnoticed………..if only by God.

  19. Amy - April 3, 2021 12:57 pm

    This is my favorite thing about your writing. You take everyday, ordinary heros and tell about their lives. They live quiet, modest lives doing amazing things to help their fellowman. I LOVE that! I can’t thank you enough for bringing back my hope in mankind! We hear so much GARBAGE every day. These are the stories I need to hear. Thank you so much!!

  20. Martha Shaw - April 3, 2021 12:58 pm

    I needed this more than you know. After 40 years of teaching, I am facing humiliating criticism. I would quit, if I could. I have surgery ahead, and I need the insurance. Boy, do I understand. Thank you, again, dear Sean.

    • Joann Thompson - April 3, 2021 1:42 pm

      God be with you.

  21. Melanie - April 3, 2021 1:02 pm

    Millions of tiny miracles a day that we don’t see but I just know they are there. Thank you Sean for sharing one of them with us❤️

  22. Jana - April 3, 2021 1:04 pm


  23. Teri Murrison - April 3, 2021 1:29 pm

    Beautiful! As the wife of an ESL teacher who shares her aversion to teaching kids who have no interest in learning, there is much joy to be had in sowing into fertile soil.

    I must say too, I disagree with those who want a name. Not that she’s not due honor and praise, but for me the point (and dare I say main message) is that there is an army of folks like her. Folks that go unrecognized every day.

    This is the hope I find when I read your posts, Sean. Sure, we’re screwed up on the macro level, but there are yet lots of fine people in the south, north, east, and west. Thanks for your story telling.

  24. Joann Thompson - April 3, 2021 1:40 pm

    Sounds as if this could be a screenplay.

  25. Bob E - April 3, 2021 1:42 pm

    Reading is everything…
    – knowledge
    – satisfaction
    – success
    – enjoyment
    – and much more.
    I believe that your stories prompt people to do good – including reading.
    Thank you sir.

  26. Richard Owen - April 3, 2021 1:46 pm

    There are millions of them out there and, when my wife (a reporter) and I (a photographer) were with the Walton Sun, they found their way on to our pages back in the day. Sadly people like this lovely woman no longer grace the pages of the as the printed word of newspapers has become more gear toward being first with the woke news that is usually NOT news but more of an opinion. Thankfully there are few people like you (and my favorite Lewis Grizzard) that shine a spotlight on their lives at least a little bit. Thank you.

  27. Judy - April 3, 2021 1:47 pm

    These everyday folks are everywhere and you are their voice. It is a task you take to heart and put to pen and feed to us. I can only hope our feedback gives you strength to carry on. Thank you Sean

  28. denise - April 3, 2021 1:48 pm

    Please tell us her name.

  29. Michelle Gresham - April 3, 2021 1:51 pm

    What an amazing life legacy !! Thank you Sean for your simple , honest writing, and acknowledging a true American hero !! My God bless her and her family . So thankful for this beautiful ,inspirational piece . Only seems appropriate this Easter weekend. After all isn’t that what Easter is about ?? Hope for the future and forgiveness for the past .

  30. Al Cato - April 3, 2021 1:51 pm

    What Amy said!! Your quiet prose stands as a voice for those stories would never be told or acknowledged in any way. The cacophany of disinformation and outright hatred coming over the media today cannot and will not stand or ever be acceptable when juxtaposed to your writings of everyday people making a difference in their neighbor’s life. Thank you. You and your family have a Blessed Easter.

  31. peggyhayesauthor - April 3, 2021 1:55 pm

    Thank you for telling us about her. Oh, to be such a fine woman!

  32. Christopher Spencer - April 3, 2021 2:12 pm

    Is this about Mother Mary?

  33. Sharon Brock - April 3, 2021 2:12 pm

    Bravo Sean. Thank you.

  34. Dawnie B - April 3, 2021 2:22 pm

    This lovely lady’s life spread thousands of ripple effects through other’s lives. Just think about all of the people who have been & will be affected by her dynamic teaching!

  35. Penny - April 3, 2021 2:47 pm


  36. stephenpe - April 3, 2021 3:04 pm

    wonderful story. For all the bad we hear about there are 1000s of more stories of love, inspiration and selfless giving we never learn about.

  37. Anne Arthur - April 3, 2021 3:24 pm

    God bless that woman, he knows her name. What a wonderful, uplifting Easter story. Thanks, Sean.

  38. Maureen Brown - April 3, 2021 3:27 pm

    I share the sentiments of all who’ve commented. I’d like to know who this beautiful woman is, if only to see a GOOD person lauded, rather than the less-admirable shocking and disgusting us daily. Their names are shouted. Dont even want to know who they are. Sean, you make my day and I can’t thank you enough.

  39. Karen Holderman - April 3, 2021 3:39 pm

    She is what real America is about. Thank you for sharing her beautiful story. The media paints such a distorted picture of our country and its people.

  40. Christina - April 3, 2021 3:56 pm

    She might have stopped at the 11th chapter, but her life continues to create countless stories who were touched by passion, kindness and generosity. May she rest in great joy!

  41. Cynthia Cowling - April 3, 2021 4:03 pm

    Another beautiful tribute to a true hero, may she rest in peace.🕊 Thank you, Sean

  42. Cynthia Cowling - April 3, 2021 4:04 pm

    Another beautiful tribute to a true hero, may she rest in peace. 🕊 Thank you, Sean

  43. Bob Brenner - April 3, 2021 4:42 pm

    Thanks for sharing her life with us ❤️! Truly an Angel 👼

  44. Linda Moon - April 3, 2021 5:04 pm

    You are a steward of words, Sean of the South. I’m glad some of those words told me about the old woman’s life and death……peacefully surrounded by all her books. She finished THE BOOK. That seems very peaceful to me….to be surrounded by my books now and, later, pass onto the next chapter.

  45. Harriet - April 3, 2021 5:08 pm

    She’s awesome. I use that word a lot- awesome. She and your tribute to her are beautiful.

  46. Pam Arena - April 3, 2021 5:15 pm

    Thank you!

  47. Chasity Davis Ritter - April 3, 2021 5:39 pm

    Thank you for sharing. They say when a person dies that a library burns down. In her case it was more than true. We didn’t know her until now but the people who were blessed enough to have the chance I’m sure will never ever forget her….

  48. MAM - April 3, 2021 6:00 pm

    She was one of the saints who walk among us and need no recognition. And I can relate so much to her story. I detested teaching French in college, but loved teaching those who spoke other languages how to converse, some in English while living overseas, and others in French in the U.S.A. We, who love to read, never stop reading!

  49. Marilyn - April 3, 2021 6:23 pm

    We do not need the name of this giving lady. There are many who could be “the one”. Just let it be a tribute to all who give so selflessly. RIP Jane Doe

  50. Rebecca Souders - April 3, 2021 7:20 pm

    Don’t give up her name, Sean. Let them believe this was a woman in their life…. as I did.

  51. Ann Padgett - April 3, 2021 8:12 pm

    Yes. Indeed. We should know about this woman you wrote about so well, Sean. And we should also know about and appreciate more who were and are like her. Thank you for noting and remembering your friend and mentor.

    My wonderful friend, Carolyn Perry, was that kind of woman, teacher, encourager, entertainer, worker, helper, mentor, and oh, so very much more. She also died alone. “The world will little note, nor long remember…” this sterling, unassuming yet ever so talented woman either. Even so, there are many of us whose life she has touched and changed for the better with such loving grace. We do note and mourn her passing and will long remember her remarkable life of love, stewardship, and strength. Such remarkable caregivers on this Earth are the true Super Heroes of civilization. We denigrate or shirk them at our peril.

  52. Patricia Levine - April 3, 2021 9:22 pm

    Thank you! AND God bless that lovely woman!

  53. Beryl - April 3, 2021 10:28 pm

    The relevance of this story lies in the selflessness of her kindnesses. Be satisfied with her deeds. She and countless others have benefited from her tireless giving. She has passed the baton to you through her story. Can you find a way to be kind today? Start with yourself and others will be drawn to you. Then you will understand what the great Emperor Marcus Aurelius subscribed to: Do the right thing. That is enough. And, when you do it WITH and FROM love, therein lies the greatest tribute.

  54. Marilyn Brown - April 3, 2021 11:31 pm

    Thank you Sean for sharing her story. There are so many good people in our world. To the main stream media, it doesn’t seem they are news worthy. I am thankful that to you they are. Kindness Matters!

  55. Jan - April 3, 2021 11:48 pm

    Thank God for this fine woman and for the other fine women and men who lend a helping hand and teach others how to truly live life to the fullest! And thank you, Sean, for telling us about them.

  56. Bernadette Wyckoff - April 4, 2021 2:14 am

    I’ve been told by friends that I always see things a little different. There are probably many fine women just like her in our world….same life story…just different day and time. Too many to give them all names. Don’t try to understand them …just love them all. Teachers are Gods’ gift to us ….what we do with the teachings is our gift to Him. Thank you once more for giving me something to remember tonight…especially being the night before Easter Sunday…memories of some very fine women and books in my life…then and now. Special teachers and friends. Blessings to you and your family Sean.

  57. Kathy - April 4, 2021 3:04 pm

    We entertain angels, unaware.

  58. Barbara J Schweck - April 4, 2021 7:36 pm

    So many heroes that we never hear about!! God Bless her and her passion for teaching!!!! Thank you, Sean, for sharing!!!

  59. Suzi - April 4, 2021 10:19 pm

    The only positive “breaking news” of the day, wonderful🤗

  60. Carol - April 5, 2021 2:39 am

    Thank you for telling us…

  61. Kate - April 8, 2021 12:54 pm

    Thank you for always reminding us of the good people do


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