Farewell old friend
At times, the good ones leave too soon.
John Livingston died recently, finally succumbing to pancreatic cancer. We hear often of those who battled bravely against the ravages of that dread disease. I know without asking that John Livingston fought hard. Because he was John Livingston
Johnny, as he was known to most native Cross Hillians, was in no particular order a banker, a farmer, a forester and a volunteer fireman extraordinaire.
His impact and leadership spread well beyond his native Laurens County. But I believe his beloved Cross Hill will miss him more than most. With the exception of his time as a student at Clemson University, he seldom left the place that he loved for all his 70 years.
I grew up with the Livingston family. Our grandparents lived on farms no more than a mile apart and our families, including my sister Mary Evans and John’s sister Karen, attended the old Cross Hill School for the first seven years of our education.
The Cross Hill of our youth was a quiet, friendly place. But natives were a little skeptical of outsiders. My own father, Bob Segars, lived there for more than 50 years. But he joked late in life that he was always known “as that skinny fellow from the Pee Dee (Lee County) who had the good sense to marry Ernest Boazman’s daughter.”
Many of the families of my youth are gone. In those days, there were plenty of Leamans, Pinsons, Colemans and Austins in the town proper. In the hinterlands, down Watts Bridge Road and bending toward the Newberry County line, there were a good many Jones, Boazmans and Wards- my mother’s people- all gone now.
Our rural school had seven grades, three teachers and a principal. Our education was the height of efficiency, two grades per room. For years, Mrs. Richardson taught the first and second grade, Mrs. Fennell taught the third and fourth and Mrs. Williams the fifth and sixth. The school’s principal had the full administrative for the school, without any clerical assistance. He or she also carried a full class room load as the sole instructor for the seventh grade. The late Robert Hollingsworth was the principal in my day.
Youth activity in those days could generally described as the three B’s, baseball, bicycles and Bible School. We played baseball until it was too cold to grip the bat and we rode bicycles generally in circles because there was nowhere to go. In alternate years, the good volunteers of the Cross Hill Baptist Church and Liberty Springs Presbyterian Church would conduct Bible School for the youth of the community.
To this day, I detest the feel of construction paper and the smell of thick white paste. My ineptitude as a crafter of paper mache birds and builder of houses with popsicle sticks showed up early and often.
As in most of the South, Cross Hill was strictly segregated in those days. The 1950’s and 1960’s likely represented the last vestiges of the Jim Crow South. The black community in Cross Hill thrived with churches, a school towards Mountville and for a time a very good baseball team. But the communities were separate and sadly not equal.
I might add to the litany of three B’s one more community activity that was a rite of passage in Cross Hill- baptism. I was baptized as a member of Bethabara Baptist Church in 1956. That rural church’s baptismal pool was outside, in a clearing in the woods and fed by a fresh water spring. The Reverend C.B. Rogers held me aloft to prevent my drowning and I nearly froze to death, even in late summer. Seldom as the spirit been so willing and the body so weak.
I believe a community interest in fire protection did much to solidify Cross Hill in those early days. My family’s home burned to the ground in 1968. My father was badly burned and all that was saved from that January inferno was a coffee table that never was much good. We lost everything we had but neighbors and friends rallied.
Mr. James T. Hollingsworth, the richest man in the community, came to our aide. Mr. Jimmy, as he was universally known, was a gruff, self-made man who owned thousands of acres of land. But he was a neighbor. He came himself to my grandmother’s house to bring a truck load of furniture and enough hard cash to buy clothes for our family. And we had no clothes at the time.
John Livingston was an innovator and visionary in bringing community-based fire protection to rural Laurens County. He was a founder and the, long-time president of the Cross Hill Community Fire Department and he was an early proponent of a coordinated rural fire system that promoted coordination and cooperation in the fire service. Laurens County Council played a very important role in the establishment of that system but it could not have worked without the tireless efforts of John, the late Charles McGinnis and Larry Hall, the county’s first paid fire coordinator.
I attended John Livingston’s funeral at Cross Hill’s First Baptist Church, the sanctuary of his youth and his life. Three ministers attested to his life of service and his spiritual growth that was so important to his life as a father, grandfather and story teller of legendary proportions.
Farewell, my old friend. From one Cross Hillian to another, you did well.
(Ernie Segars is the retired Laurens County Administrator. He lives in Laurens)