An Incalculable Return

According to the World Bank(, World Bank, accessed August 29, 2012), “Investment in girls’ education yields some of the highest returns of all development investments, yielding both private and social benefits that accrue to individuals, families, and society at large . . ."

Know what that says to me? It says something like, “Jesse Derrick Martin is one smart investor!” (Some people called him "JD," others "Jesse;" I just called him "Granddaddy.")JD was brilliant.

His teachers had high hopes for him, certain he would become a medical doctor: the pinnacle of academic success in his day. Years later, when technology advanced enough to make it possible, we grandchildren developed a favorite game. One of us operated the calculator; the other called out computations. The goal was to see if the calculator could arrive at the solution before Granddaddy did. It was no competition: Granddaddy (in his 70’s by then) always won.

But Granddaddy never did become a doctor. In fact, he did not even finish two years of college before he dropped out to go to work. “What a shame,” you say. “What a loss.”

Loss? No way. A legacy. What an incredible legacy. Here’s what happened.

JD, had a bunch of siblings. Among them, twin sisters, just ahead of him in school, and a sister two years younger. Money was short for the Martin family, as it was for most back then, and college education seemed an extravagance no one could afford. But my granddaddy thought differently.

“See,” he would explain decades after the fact, “I knew I could get work even without an education. Men find jobs a lot easier than women.” (Keen insight for that turn-of-the century Georgia boy.) “But the girls,” he’d shake his head, sighing; “The girls would have to have an education to support themselves.” (Please note he said an “education,” not a “husband.” Radical thought in his day. Radical.)

So Granddaddy went to work, freeing up family finances so his sisters could get their degrees. And as far as I know, Granddaddy never looked back. My great aunts all finished college. The twins, Elma and Wilma, both became teachers and taught from graduation to retirement. Elma taught elementary school; Wilma taught Latin and eventually got her Master’s degree. Their younger sister also became a teacher.

December 2010.

In the early 1920’s, JD Martin met Louise Cobb, they fell in love, and married. They had five children: three sons, two daughters. Just as with his sisters, Granddaddy was determined to see his daughters finish college. His oldest, Marie, graduated around 1950 with a degree in Home Economics; she later took up teaching. One of her daughters, my cousin Linda, achieved her bachelor’s and then her master’s in education and has served in the classroom over 30 years.

My mother graduated with her bachelor’s in 1960, my sister in 1985, and I in 1987. My sister and I both have graduate degrees. Like Aunt Wilma, my sister became a Latin teacher. She’s built a strong Latin program and is renown in her field. I’ve done lots of different things, the latest of which is teaching in a community college and serving as campus minister at a regional university.

Linda’s sister Kathi wasn’t able to attend college; but she had two boys and one of them has a daughter. That young lady, JD Martin’s great-great granddaughter, just started at Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Mississippi. And my daughter, Trellace Marie, started at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.

Nearly 100 years ago, around the time women got the right to vote, my Granddaddy made a sacrifice, a sacrifice that would have appeared completely foolish to his contemporaries. He had crazy ideas, my Granddaddy. He believed that women were independent individuals, separate from their husbands. He believed women were capable of and deserving of higher education. And he believed the cost of that education—whatever it was—was worth it.

Of course, the women who have descended from JD Martin have been blessed with a host of other forbearers along with role models and mentors who valued learning. But Granddaddy’s sacrifice is certainly one of the gifts we girls have been given. See, because he paid that price, thousands of children have been educated in the classrooms of his sisters, daughter, and granddaughters. Because Granddaddy didn’t go to college, because he knew the education of women was worth the sacrifice, his daughters and theirs, his granddaughters and their granddaughters not only went to college, but inherited the legacy that Granddaddy left behind: education of women must be a priority, no matter what the cost.

"The good leave an inheritance to their children’s children . . ." Proverbs 13:22

About the Author Aileen Lawrimore

Aileen Mitchell Lawrimore is a mother x 3, wife x 28 (years not men), minister, speaker, writer, retreat leader, and lover of beagles and books. She has a lot to say.

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