1913-2017: Remembering the Remarkable Life of Sara Nickles Pruitt
Living 103 years in this life is an uncommon blessing. Last week, DPC held a memorial service for Sara Nickles Pruitt, a long-time member born less than a year after the Titanic sank and shortly before the outbreak of the first World War. Sara’s son, John Pruitt, shared his written obituary of his mother with the church. The full text of this obituary is given below.
When our mother was born in 1913—Woodrow Wilson was president, women were marching for the right to vote, and Europe was on the brink of World War One.
A year after the Great War ended… when Mom was six…. she had an experience that profoundly influenced her life. When her grandmother died the family decided that because she was the favorite grandchild that she should go to live with her grandfather and her aunt Elizabeth in Due West, South Carolina. It was a traumatic event for her, not because she didn’t love her grandfather and aunt Elizabeth, but because she was being uprooted from her family. She would have to leave her parents and her five brothers and sisters, seeing them only on holidays.
As her family drove away to Spartanburg leaving her standing on the sidewalk she began to cry, but she didn’t want anyone to see her crying. She saw an orange on the pavement and began to roll the orange back and forth with her foot. That way she could look down, so no one would see her tears.
It was like a Charles Dickens story. She even wrote a letter to her mother asking to come home, but her uncle intercepted the letter and tore it up.
So she faced up to her situation and found that life there wasn’t so bad. Her grandfather owned a big house and lots of land and was a leader in the community. Aunt Elizabeth was a teacher and later Dean of Women at Erskine College. So Mom knew her living conditions were much better than those of her brothers and sisters in Spartanburg where times were hard and money scarce.
Her role models in Due West were strong women. Aunt Elizabeth—academic leader and strict disciplinarian—Aunt Nell in Seneca with whom Mom lived during her high school years….and Aunt Florence—the family heroine because as a Presbyterian missionary in Nanking, China she had endured the Japanese occupation of World War 2 and fled the Communist takeover in the late 40’s.
Mom had the qualities of all 3 of these impressive women—sharp intellect, love of literature, courage under pressure, strong Christian faith, and a stoic strength that never wavered…all deceptively packaged in a soft spoken young woman, small of frame, always immaculately coifed and dressed, very prim, very proper, very Southern.
She raised 3 boys who idolized her…most of the time. She raised us like she was raised, with strict standards of behavior. And no matter what curves we threw her way, she was always equal to the challenge.
For example, she allowed my brother George to keep his menagerie of snakes in his room. Including his copperheads! One evening Mom was alone in the house when she heard a thump in George’s room. She slowly ventured back there, turned on the light, and saw that the top of an aquarium was dislodged, and the water snake that lived there was nowhere to be seen.
She immediately scurried to the front of the house and stood on a sofa until George returned. The really amazing thing was she didn’t get angry—she just told George to find the snake—which he eventually did in the basement. And she didn’t force him to evict his other reptilian pets.
For our entire family she was always the hostess with the mostest. She prepared sumptuous meals for special occasions—Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, Mothers Day (she would not hear of us taking her out on Mothers Day). She did it all herself…no one could help her….and it was all ready on time, the table was set, the beautiful centerpiece was in place….and we had a grand meal and the best family time ever. And, of course, she insisted on cleaning up.
She loved to entertain—gourmet club, bridge club, book club—she was a natural.
And as refined as she was, she was no prude. She loved a good western shoot-em-up. In fact when I found out my brother Alan had taken her to see the very violent “No Country for Old Men”…I was worried about her reaction. But she said she really enjoyed it.
She was a world traveler—Asia, Africa, Australia, the Middle East, South America…. the Galapagos, Machu Pichu—and all over Europe—crossing the Atlantic on the QE2, riding the rails of the Orient Express, and flying home on the Concorde. Adventures she probably only dreamed of when she was that little girl growing up in small town South Carolina.
She loved poetry and often engaged in poetry contests with her dear friends Adelaide and Bill Owens. She and Bill would quote poems back and forth, and if one’s memory faltered, the other would usually remember what the next lines were.
But no poet was dearer to her heart than her youngest son Alan. He had such a gift —and she never tired of reading his creations and later when her eyesight failed, having them read to her.
We all look back on our school years and remember that special teacher who made a difference. For so many Mrs. Pruitt WAS that teacher.
Decades after her retirement, the accolades continue to pour in from former students.
Here’s one tribute I found in her on-line memory page:
“I am one of the thousands impacted by Mrs. Pruitt and her love of teaching. She taught me 1st grade at Briar Vista Elementary and introduced me to the love of learning. Heaven gained a wonderful angel who was always a lady, and treated everyone with respect. ” Brevard Fraser-Kaplan, Omaha, Nebraska.
Years ago, Kent Alexander, who was then U.S Attorney, called me from out of the blue. He said, “John, my daughter started first grade today. And I thought of your mom who was my first grade teacher, and I just had to call to tell you what she meant to me.”
Our family members have heard variations on that theme for most of our lives, and it makes us very proud. When I think of all the lives she touched in her classroom—well, I can think of no more fitting legacy for my mother.
There is so much to say because Mom was such an extraordinary person. She was very patient, but she liked people who would come to the point. For her, brevity was the soul of wit.
So—I imagine her giving me the wrap sign as only she could do…clutching her imaginary car keys or glancing at her watch—politely letting me know that I’ve said more than enough.
And so I will conclude by thanking all of you for being here to send her off to her next great adventure. Sara Nickles Pruitt—who showed us how to make the most of the slings and arrows and the joys and challenges of a long, fruitful life –Sara Nickles Pruitt—our mother, grandmother, great grandmother, teacher, friend, inspiration—truly a woman for all seasons…. a woman for the ages.