Selfless devotion earns Godwin crown

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 19, 2004

Throughout her life, and even throughout this interview, Mary Godwin consistently spoke of others. Getting the 72-year-old Linden native to talk about herself and her accomplishments in life is like putting a long dress on Betty Boop. But that selfless attitude garnered Godwin the title of Ms. Alabama Nursing Home 2004 in Birmingham Aug. 10.

“The judges had watched Mrs. Mary all day and her total disregard for self and constant help to others was what won her the competition,” Marengo Nursing Home Activities Director Gail Dixon said. “She was genuinely excited for each and every accomplishment the others had done and was constantly reassuring the others on stage.”

Godwin, who has spent all but a few years in her hometown of Linden, was the next to youngest of eight children. She was raised on a farm, which she said did not afford her and her siblings many luxuries, but taught them the value of a dollar.

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“Dad was a farmer, so we did not have material things growing up. When it came time for me to attend the Beta Club Convention in Birmingham, my daddy broke down and cried because he could not afford the suit and evening gown I needed, nor could he afford to pay for the trip,” she said. “I was disappointed, but I never let him know that.”

Despite her disappointment at not being able to attend the convention, Godwin was determined not to let history repeat itself.

“When it came time for my sister to attend the convention I was working a part-time job in Birmingham where I was attending college. I was determined to see her go, have the proper clothes to wear and not have my daddy feel guilty because she could not go,” she said. “So I went out and bought the clothes and sent them and the money home to her.”

Hard work is something that comes naturally to Godwin, having started working as a young child in the fields of her family’s farm.

“When I was little, my friends and I would work in the fields and my daddy would pay us half of what he paid the field hands,” she said. “Granted, $1.50 a day wasn’t much, but it was to us.”

Godwin said she and her siblings enjoyed using their hard-earned money to go to the movies on the weekends.

“On Saturday nights my brother would take us to the picture show and we would have so much fun,” she said. “The first time I saw my favorite movie of all times, Gone With the Wind, was one of those Saturday nights. We also saw John Wayne and Roy Rogers movies.”

That hard work ethic continued as she got older, as she started her first true job at the tender age of 14.

“I had my first job at 14, working in my brother’s appliance store operating the cash register and answering the telephone,” she said. “At 16, my friend and I worked for the stockyard, writing buyers and sellers tickets.”

After she graduated from high school, Godwin fulfilled her and her parents’ dream of college by attending Birmingham Business College. Though she wanted to go to college, the choice of business college was one example of her thoughtfulness toward others.

“I had always dreamed of being a nurse, but knew mama and daddy could not afford the tuition, so I went to Birmingham Business College in Birmingham,” she said. During her time I college, she worked part time at Central Park Baptist Church putting together the church bulletin and using the mimiograph machine to make copies of it for distribution. Godwin said she often had to return to school in the evenings after leaving the church in order to finish class work or classes.

After graduation, Godwin worked at Georgia Pacific in Pennington for 30 years before retiring to care for her sick husband.

Godwin credits her strong moral values to her parents, and said she tried to pass that same love and compassion on to her son, David.

“I still admire the woman my mother was,” she said. “We lived on a farm and my mama worked so hard. She canned all the vegetables and fruits and took care of all of her children. She cleaned the house and cooked three meals a day for all of us and all the field hands. I never heard her complain. She always smiled and never said a cross word about anyone. She was the sweetest, kindest person I have ever known and was truly adored by her family”

She said the same of her father.

“My daddy taught me to respect all people of all races,” she said. “He could not tolerate someone mistreating another person. I taught David, as my dad taught me, to love everyone and have compassion and not judge people.”

She said she feels she was successful “because every holiday, he would bring home all the students from college who could not be with their families and we would have wall-to-wall kids during the holidays. I cooked and fed them and offered the love of a “mother” hoping to make the time away from their family a little easier.”

In addition to the care and love she gave her friends and family, Godwin was active in the community, spreading that compassion to others who needed it.

“I was an active member of the Business Women’s Club for 10 years, a volunteer for the American Heart Association and the Cancer Society,” she said. “I accepted Christ as my personal saviour at the age of 12 and was baptized at Calvary Baptist Church, where I became a member and after 60 years am proud to say that I still am. I taught children and young adult Sunday School classes from 1954 until five years ago when my health would no longer permit me.”

Despite all her accomplishments, Godwin said the one most important thing to her – aside from her God – is her family.

“My late husband, Thomas, my son David, my daughter-in-law Lucy and granddaughter Sarah are the most important things in my life,” she said. “Thomas and I married in 1954. He was the love of my life. In 1955, our son, David, was born. We couldn’t have been happier.”

David and his wife Lucy have tried unsuccessfully to have a child of their own, she said, so they chose to adopt a little girl from China, Sarah.

“In October, they are taking Sarah back to see her native land and will be bring back another baby girl, a baby sister for Sarah and another precious grandchild for me,” Godwin said with excitement.

Not only did Godwin care for her husband during his illness, but she cared for his brother as well.

“In 1990 my husband and I moved to Braggs in Lowndes County to care for his brother who was very sick. He refused to move to Linden so we moved near him to make his final days happy ones,” she said. “I lost my precious Thomas to lung disease in 1993. I had retired early from my job to care for him and was so thankful that we were able to spend quality time together before he died

After suffering a stroke, Godwin was told by doctors that she could not return home, so she became a resident at Marengo Nursing Home where she has been for the last 11 months.

“I like the family type atmosphere and the activities,” she said of life at Marengo Nursing Home. “I really enjoy the singings and discussion groups we have. I love story time where we are able to reminisce about the good old days. We are always having a party of parade and I love it. We also have some of the sweetest people who come and offer Bible study.” Her favorite thing, however, and one of the main things earned her the top spot, is her ability to help other residents.

“My favorite thing of all is the time I spend with other residents who need me,” she said. “This is what keeps me going each day, knowing that people really need me.”