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Some thrived despite the curse of polio

There is something special about living in this place. I know that to be true, for I have lived in many places. I smiled and talked to people in Spain, New York, Ohio, Mexico, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia, and never did anyone sit down and tell me stories about their grandparents or the suppers of cornbread and buttermilk till I came here.

Of course, I heard about Franco, Pancho Villa and the exploits of the French Emperor Maximilian and his very royal wife, Carlotta, but not about women in homes filled with children who went on to build strong and good lives, who preserved their history in song and legends. There were no roads in Patzcuaro, Mexico, Avila, Spain, or Mill Run, Va., filled with people walking to quilting bees where handmade coverings would develop into classic patterns. This is truly an exceptional place. They, the people, have, through the years, taken adversity and turned it into sagas, sometimes filled with profound sorrow but always, in the end, telling a tale of overcoming in one way or another.

In writing about polio, I was introduced to three exceptional people who made their misfortune nothing more than a side effect. They triumphed; they made history in their chosen fields. Judge G.T. Gregory, a polio victim who was cruelly disabled, still managed to build a career that included having a charming demeanor, a gracious smile and not ever using a gavel in his years on the bench. He simply inspired folks to act pleasantly in his courtroom. Daily he garnered vast amounts of information by reading five or six newspapers, and on some days digesting as many magazines and then, at night, directing his unlimited curiosity to the radio, which he played in his car and bedroom. McConnellsville was his place of birth. He attended Chester High School and received his law degree from the University of South Carolina.

Gregory was one of the youngest circuit judges to serve on the bench in this state. Having been a victim of polio was, to him, nothing more than a happening that he set about dealing with. He socialized, made great inroads in the legal world and was active in his church. He married Willie Mae Elliot of Cassatt, and they had two sons. His charm is still talked about today and the grandness of having him as a dinner guest is still high on the memory list.

Heyward Elliott McDonald died at 74, on a blistery Jan. 5, 2000. He left behind a life filled with vigor and intellectual achievement along with overcoming the effects of a crippling disease. The obituary told of all his legal accomplishments, and his awesome educational history. He, too, attended the Chester High School, was graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1945, and then served in the Korean War before graduating magna cum laude from the University Of South Carolina School Of Law in 1958.

His various offices and positions of importance forged his reputation in the legal world. However, the part he played as the governors at-large appointee to the State Board of Education was largely responsible for the passage of the State Education Improvement Act.

It is necessary to mention his great sense of humor and his gift of interacting with folks in all walks of life. He was a man filled with the honest-to-goodness joy of living, and his talent of passing that gift on to others was astounding.

Probably his greatest kindness to the people of this state was when he served on the national committee to remove architectural barriers that hampered the movement of folks in wheelchairs and other means of walking aids. This legislation affected the whole state. Doors were widened, ramps were installed, elevators where modified to accommodate everyone. Entrances and exits were made visible, so any person with a disability did not have to search at the back door for a way to enter or exit a public building.

McDonald also served as president of the Easter Seal Foundation, which enabled him to see and understand all of the difficulties suffered by folks with any type of physical handicap. He saw, he worked and through absolute perseverance made tremendous strides that affected those less physically fortunate.

His death was a loss to those who had profited from knowing him in both social and legal encounters. His service to his church was well known. He sang in the Chancel Choir, served as an elder and faithful Sunday school teacher for more than 40 years. His life contributed greatly to the people of the state and to his friends and relatives.

Then came Patsy Gladden; her presence was a gift to the people of Chester. She was fun, daring and never afraid of little day-to-day happenings. For, you see, she had a crippling encounter with the dreaded disease and spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair. So she well understood the long arms of fear. She handled that with grace, too, just facing what happened and making the best of it. She was spirited, gracious and, most of all, herself. She was exactly what you saw, and she remained the same throughout her short life.

She loved dogs, she liked people and she admired folks who did things, and did not talk about it. She was factual, she was strong, she was real and she was a friend.

Patsy died in July, and at the close of the service, the congregation rose to sing Lord of the Dance. The verse that follows will forever be heard when her name is mentioned.

I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black

It's hard to dance with the devil on your back

They buried my body and they thought I'd gone

But I am the Dance and I still go on.

If you lifted your eyes and you let your imagination soar, you could see her, a thin lithe body rising from that chair, standing, twirling and gracefully waltzing toward old friends and family. "Patsy walks" they surely called out. She did more than walk, she danced in that cool morning air, and aren't we fortunate to be able to envision such great artistry.