Birney Imes: My old school

May 15, 2010 8:57:00 PM

Birney Imes - [email protected]


Well I did not think the girl 


Could be so cruel 


And I''m never going back 


To my old school 


--"My Old School," Steely Dan 




Sentiments of Steely Dan''s 70s hit notwithstanding, more than 100 people took the opportunity Friday to go back and walk the halls of their old school one last time. The school, once Lee High, now Lee Middle, is closing its doors on what will be its final full school year. 


January 2011, if all goes as planned, Lee and Hunt will go dark when those students move to the new middle school under construction just off Highway 45 North on what is commonly known as Air Base Hill. 


The afternoon host for the memory walk was a bubbly Angela Reed, who teaches seventh grade reading comprehension at Lee Middle. Angela''s parents, Theresa Holliman Knight, Class of ''68 and band drum major, and Dr. Jack Reed, Class of ''66, were both Lee grads. 


The Military Road version of Lee High opened for the ''53-''54 school year and graduated its last high school class in 1993. Hortense Jones Gholson, who in 1957 was in the first graduating class to have attended the school four years, and Julia Phillps, Class of ''58, showed up for the walkabout. The two of them pored over a book containing large photographs of the school''s composites looking for classmates still living. Among the Class of ''54, in which Hortense''s brother, the late Fred Jones, was a member, they found Tommy Lott, Buddy Dyson, Peggy Cox and Bobby Proffitt. Bud Phillips was Hortense''s class president. 


When asked to name her most memorable teacher, Hortense replied without missing a beat, "Oh, Georgia Payne Smith, she was the best teacher there ever was." 


Gholson, a majorette for three years, married the drum major of the Class of ''50, the late Hunter Gholson. Gholson graduated from the earlier incarnation of the school, which was attached to the Lee Home next to the library. That school was destroyed in a 1959 fire. 


"I still call this the new school," Hortense said. 


Another romance between band members was that of Pearlie (''86) and Victor Moody (''87). 


"Band was my fondest memory," Pearlie said Friday afternoon. "That''s where I met him," she said, nodding toward her husband. 


"After he loaded the instruments, he would save me a seat on the bus," she said. 


Pearlie played the clarinet, Victor the trombone. Thad Mullins was their band director. 


Evelyn Rogers taught at the school from 1955 until 1970. Rogers and her daughter, Maye Rogers Robinson (''70) arrived Friday about the same time as Floyd McIntyre and Fred McCaleb, both Class of ''65. 


Evelyn Rogers began as a Bible teacher. She later taught Latin and English. 


"We had devotionals every morning over the P.A.," McIntrye said. 


"We''d be arrested for it now," Rogers replied. 


Rogers, ever discreet, wouldn''t name her most memorable students, saying only she had many wonderful students. She recalled the 25-minute lunch periods, crowded halls and being in the auditorium when, during the middle of a program, a cloud of termites swarmed out of the stage. 


"The students just sat there and laughed," she said. "I think they let school out early that day." 


McIntyre harbors fond memories of the school''s theater productions. 


"We had two fabulous class plays. The junior class play that year was "Pillow Talk." Robert Ivy and Jan Haggard had the leads. I had the part Tony Randall played in the film. 


"The senior play was ''Night of January 16.'' It was a courtroom drama. Elizabeth Sarcone played a hussy, a street walker. She teaches English at Delta State. Robert Ivy and Lee McCaslin were the attorneys." 


As favorites, McIntyre named speech teacher Judy Morris and Margaret Raper, who taught world history. 


Maye Rogers Robinson remembers fondly Jane Pittman. "She was a hoot. She taught 10th grade English and was the Mirror sponsor. My brother Landis loved (English teacher) Ms. Pope." 


Jackie Davis, Class of "73 and the football team''s first black quarterback, said he came to Lee in the 10th grade, the first year the school was fully integrated. 


"I loved it here," Davis said. 


He remembers fondly football coaches Dwayne Acker, John Dickerson and Robert Youngblood, but his favorite was Tuffy Bourland, the Generals'' longtime basketball coach. 


"He never whooped me," Davis said. "He would get me in his office, shut the door and hit his leg with the paddle, and I would say, ''Ouch.'' I was one of his favorite people." 


Davis, a salesman for Columbus Nissan, says he sold his favorite coach a car about a month ago. 


Like those who walked the halls of Lee High Friday, I have indelible memories of my time there. As guides through those formative years, we (Class of ''69) had a sprinkling of exceptional teachers in Betty Carnes, Mack Egger and Kay Brewer; vivid personalities like Billy Brewer, Charlie Beall, A.J. Gladney and Ruby Irwin, and we had each other. 


While the fate of the old school building is unclear, what is certain is that memories from that place will live on, in the stories we tell, the people we''ve become.

Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.