I was deeply affected by an occurrence in my church’s worship service this past Sunday. A lovely woman was recognized on her 90th birthday. Unfortunately, she was unaware of the attention being paid her since she is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. She sat in her wheelchair with head bowed as her attendant leaned over to whisper in her ear about what was taking place. I seriously doubt that it made much difference to her. This event touched me because I suspected many people in the congregation knew this lady only as someone who is not really “present” with the rest of us. I wished then that everyone there could have known what I know about this remarkable person.
She was valedictorian of the Class of 1939 at Milton High School, then the only Fulton County high school north of the Chattahoochee, and was named the recipient of the Atlanta Journal Cup for Best All-Around Student at Milton. She won the statewide essay contest on the importance of signing the U.S. Constitution in the document’s sesquicentennial. A journalism major at the University of Georgia, she graduated Phi Beta Kappa. She was a charter member of the Roswell Woman’s Club and twice its president, chairwoman of the Roswell Bicentennial Committee, and chaired the Altar Guild at Roswell United Methodist Church for 12 years. During Roswell’s sesquicentennial celebration, she was named one of the city’s Most Influential People. She had a long marriage to a successful lawyer and together they raised four children.
She also was very involved in the Arts in the greater Atlanta community. She was a charter member of the High Museum of Art and also served as executive secretary of the Atlanta Boy Choir. One of the most important things she did in my estimation was to be a major voice in the effort to retain Robert Shaw as the Music Director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. In 1972, after Shaw had been in Atlanta for about five years, the Executive Board of the ASO requested his resignation because they believed he was “out of touch” with the type of music the audiences wished to hear. What that meant was that Shaw was interested in “stretching” the ears and minds of the concert goers and not just performing the old “war horses.” He championed an ambitious repertoire of contemporary composers along with a continuation of the standard literature. This wise and brave lady wrote forceful and cogent letters to the Atlanta newspapers and to the Symphony Board of Directors emphasizing the importance of keeping a man of Shaw’s talents affiliated with the Symphony. In a large part due to her efforts the public began to take notice and the the ASO collected 3,500 new subscriptions, which helped convince the Board to rescind its request for Shaw’s resignation.
So, as I looked at that small lady in our worship service, fading away from us a little more day by day, I gave thanks for her life and for what she meant to so many people. We are surrounded by those who came before us and who made large and small differences in the world around them, and hence, had an effect on the world in which we now live. May we never forget these people.
Oh, by the way, the lady of whom I speak is Rose Polatty. Her son said this about her several years ago. “She is the quintessential southern woman. She leads by example with strength, beauty and grace. She once told me, ‘I always thought I could do anything.’” Well, she did.
Filed under: Choral experiences | Tagged: Alzheimer's, Atlanta Boy Choir, Atlanta Journal Cup, atlanta symphony orchestra, High Museum of Art, Michael O'Neal, Milton High School, robert shaw, Rose Polatty, University of Georgia | 3 Comments »