Three Stories: A Teacher, a Family, a State
This column is about three stories – about a teacher, a family and a state. They are both historic and modern. But they are really about one very simple but very powerful idea – expectations.
First the teacher. In 1804, in the deep South Carolina back woods of what is now McCormick County, at a cross roads called Willington, four men got together and decided that their little community needed a church and their children needed a school.
They were all Scots Irish immigrants who had come to the Upcountry when it was still unsettled Indian territory, before the state was even a state. And, in keeping with their ancient families’ tradition, they were all Presbyterians.
And Presbyterians (then and now) place a high value on learning. Church rules require that their minister be ‘educated and trained’ and thus many if not most backwoods Presbyterian ministers also taught school in their church community.
The preacher who came to Willington Presbyterian Church and founded Willington Academy on the banks of the Savannah River was Dr. Moses Waddel. A native of North Carolina, Waddel had several schools before and after Willington in both North Carolina and across the Savanah River in north Georgia. But, they were all basically the same in two ways: what he demanded of his students on the front end and what his schools produced on the back end.
He required every student every night to translate, memorize and recite 250 lines of classical Greek or Latin – every student every night.
Think about this for a moment. These were not the sons of Charleston aristocratic privilege with private tutors and individualized attention. These were rough and ready boys from the hard scrabble back woods of the Carolinas and north Georgia.
And what was more remarkable than what he demanded, is what he got.
If you add up all the students from Dr. Waddel’s schools, they included: one president, two vice presidents, three secretaries of state, three secretaries of war, one assistant secretary of war, one U.S. attorney general, ministers to France, Spain and Russia, one U.S. Supreme Court justice, eleven governors, seven U.S. senators, 32 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, 22 judges, eight college presidents, 17 editors of newspapers or authors, five members of the Confederate Congress, two bishops, three Brigadier-generals, and one authentic Christian martyr.
In the presidential election of 1824, three of the five candidates were his students and when the electoral dust settled, the winning president and vice president were both South Carolinians who had studied under Waddel – Andrew Jackson and John C. Calhoun. At one time, five S.C. governors in a row were his students.
Dr. Waddel expected greatness from his students and he got it.
Now the family. In 1945, a young man named Clay Matthews graduated from Charleston High School. He was a good athlete and went to Georgia Tech where he was a stand out in swimming, boxing and wrestling.
But, his passion and greatest skills were in football. After graduation, he had a great pro career with the San Francisco 49ers. He married and had two sons, Clay, Jr. and Bruce; they both played in the NFL and were named First Team All Pro multiple times.
Clay, Jr. had two sons and Bruce had three sons – and all five of them played NFL football. There are also three cousins that played in the NFL. That’s 11 NFL players in three generations of one family – thus, they are known as the First Family of the NFL.
The family philosophy to their children was summed up by Clay Jr., “You guys can do whatever you want, and I’ll be proud of you. But whatever you’re going to do, apply yourself, be responsible, show up and do it like you mean it.”
This was the family expectation that produced three generations of greatness.
And a state. My father was a minister and we moved from Greenville to Alabama when I was a young boy. I grew up there when Bear Bryant was coach of the University of Alabama football team. From 1958 until he retired in 1982, The Bear compiled a record of 232 wins, 46 loses and 9 ties. He won 13 SEC championships and 6 national championships. Twice he won back to back national championships.
In 1961, they were undefeated national champions and outscored their opponent 297-25. I vividly remember watching the Bear Bryant Show at the end of the season and listening to Bear apologize for the 25 points that had been scored on them – and he meant it.
What was most amazing about Bear, was that he convinced everyone in the state of Alabama, including Auburn fans, that Alabama was going to win every game, every year and be the national champions. If it didn’t happen, we all thought there was something wrong.
All of these stories are about one thing – expectations.
And what of South Carolina today – we accept an education system that is 50th in the country, we accept being rated 48th in opportunity, we accept being 46th in overall quality of life. It’s basically the same with bad roads, violent crime, domestic abuse, etc. … ‘thank God for Mississippi.’
Sam Walton said it best, “High expectations are the key to everything.”
We in South Carolina deserve better – and we must expect, and demand, better.