MATHESON HISTORICAL MUSEUM
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
Mary Myers Elliott
Louise Scales Brown
Ruth C. Marston
July 10, 2000
Interview with Mary Myers Elliott 1
July 10, 2000
B: My name is Louise Scales Brown, and I am interviewing Mary Myers Elliott at
2226 N.W. 4th Place, Gainesville, Florida, on July 10, 2000, for the Matheson
Historical Museum Oral History Program.
Mrs. Elliott, please state your full name and birth date for the tape.
E: My name is Mary Elizabeth Myers Elliott. I was born in Kansas on March 26,
B: Mrs. Elliott, the goal of the Matheson Historical Museum Oral History Program is
to collect and preserve the history of Gainesville and Alachua County by
interviewing longtime residents of the area. You and your late husband, Dr. L.
Paul Elliott, have been such a great part of the cultural and educational
community of Gainesville it is indeed a pleasure to visit with you in your home
today for this interview. Please begin by telling about your early childhood,
where you were born, your parents' names and other family members.
E: Well, as I just said, I was born in Kansas in a little town called Potter. Potter was
located between Atchison and Leavenworth, two very historic places. My father
was Dr. Samuel M. Myers. He was a trained doctor. My mother was Gertrude
Melvina Hill. My mother was a very capable woman but my father and other
members of the family thought she was probably the most beautiful woman that
I was very fortunate in that my parents valued education above everything else.
My uncles, my cousins, everyone had very rich land in Kansas, but my father
said, "I am going to give you something that can't be taken away from you, an
education." I knew from the first grade on that I would go to the University of
Kansas, and I did.
I lived in Potter until I was, I believe, thirteen years old. My dates may be off a
little, but the First World War came. My dad enlisted because they were so short
of doctors. We had had such a happy time in Potter, but the war really frightened
me. The community depended so much on my father more than I actually
realized until he was ready to go. When the train came in that he was supposed to
take, there were so many people there to tell him goodbye that I never felt I had a
After Dad left, my mother, my older brother Francis and my younger brother
Tom, and I lived just as everyone else did, except we didn't have my father. The
town was unusual. We had so many educated people in the little town, and I'm
sure it didn't have a thousand people. We knew everyone. We knew the good
and bad about everyone. It was a very, very nice place to grow up. We had a big
Irish settlement to the north of us, a big German settlement to the south of us, but
our little town was purely American.
Interview with Mary Myers Elliott 2
July 10, 2000
Our main entertainment was picnics, church organizations, and dancing. You
learned to dance as soon as you could walk. Of course, athletics. My brothers
and I all played basketball. We all did track. In those days we didn't have
football in the small towns, but basketball was very important. The principal of
our elementary school was especially interested in basketball, so he took all the
third graders, boys and girls, and had them play together. I was on the boys' team
until the 8th grade, and then we were separated.
Our principal came from Effingham, Kansas. The high school there the year
before had won the state championship. Those girls all graduated, and because
they were good and recognized as champions, they continued as an American
Legion team. The principal, whose name escapes me right this minute, told my
father that his 8th grade team of girls was so good that he would like to challenge
the champions. Of course, my father was very doubtful because we were all just
kids, but we needed money for the school and he said that would be a big money
maker. So the parents permitted him to schedule the game. He scheduled it in
Topeka. Now Topeka was the capitol of Kansas and a city. When we got there,
we were awed because we had never seen a court quite that big. When the
champion girls came out, the crowd roared. When we ran on the court, they
laughed. They laughed and laughed. They couldn't believe these kids were going
to play a game. I know I was terribly frightened. I remember my older brother
came over and he looked me in the eye, and he said, "Now you girls are good.
Don't let them get your goat."
Well, the game started, and we had a great center and she got the ball to us right
away. The game went on, and we won. We became famous as basketball
players. When we left the court after the game, there was not only laughter but
there were cheers and I think we were the happiest team that ever lived.
B: How wonderful! What a wonderful experience.
E: After that, because of the war, we moved to Lawrence, Kansas, because my
brother was ready for college, and we wanted as much of the family together as
we could. I guess it was R.O.T.C., but anyway the boys at the university had to
drill because they were quite sure all of them would be drafted. My brother was
17, so he wouldn't be drafted but he was a freshman and my father asked
permission for him to drill with the boys because he thought the war would go on
long enough that Francis would have to serve, too. He did but the terrible flu
epidemic that came at that time killed hundreds of boys, especially the country
boys who had not been exposed to all the germs. Husky farm boys died not only
on the bases but at our university. Well, my brother brought the flu home to us,
and our entire family had that horrible flu that they had during the First World
War. We needed a doctor badly because my brother developed pneumonia.
Doctors were so scarce that we saw him just about once. Mother refused to call
Interview with Mary Myers Elliott 3
July 10, 2000
my father, who was at Fort Reilly because the boys were so sick there, so we sort
of just got through.
My brother was in an upstairs bedroom, so I didn't see him for two weeks because
I had the flu, too. He was the worst but when he came downstairs for the first
time, I hardly recognized him. He was so thin. I had been very sick but not that
sick, but my flu settled in my ears and I didn't recognize that I became somewhat
deaf at that time.
My younger brother became very delirious during the flu and my mother had to
practically lie over him to keep him in bed and quiet, so she took the flu and she
had a terrible case of it and it later developed into tuberculosis.
I was in high school in Lawrence a freshman and my younger brother was in
what they call middle school today. He was one of these very happy, popular
I loved going to school in Lawrence. I think it was one of the best schools I have
ever attended, including the university I went to, but it was very hard. I remember
my Latin book was in tatters because I didn't like languages but felt I had to do
well in Latin because you weren't a scholar unless you could do Latin. I made an
A+, which amazed even me. I had an excellent teacher.
Of course, my brother was at the university. We stayed in Lawrence two years
and then my father got out of the army. The war was over. He stayed in a little
longer than some of them because they were so short of doctors. By the time my
father got out, he thought he would not go back to our old hometown but go to
Atchison because Potter had gotten quite small. However, the doctors that got out
ahead of him had gone to Atchison, too, so it was crowded with doctors so he
went to Effingham and I enrolled in the school. My brother was in high school by
then. I was a junior at Effingham. My brother was on the football team. They
had such poor school spirit that the principal asked me to give a pep talk. Speech
was my major. I talked a lot! I had the nerve to get up and give a speech. I got a
great deal of support. Effingham was very kind to me. I told them about how we
beat them in basketball and I told them it was because we believed in ourselves. I
said, "You people go out to play football and none of you believe the team is
going to win. Until you do, we aren't going to win." Of course, my brother was a
very good player and he helped, and they started winning. I felt really gratified,
and I had a lot of friends there, but my dad did not like that territory and in the
meantime, a place called Coming had a number of people that had originally lived
in Potter. They came down to Effingham and just begged Dad to go to Coming,
so finally he did.
That meant that Tom and I were going to change schools right in the middle. I
was very unhappy, but I knew I had to go. The first thing we did after we
enrolled in school was ask about basketball. They had a team, so we said we
Interview with Mary Myers Elliott 4
July 10, 2000
wanted to play. I practiced with the team for just a few days when they had a big
game, and one of the forwards was ill. I was a guard, but the coach said, "You're
going to have to play forward tonight." Well, I played forward with the regular
forward. I was very fast. That was my main feature as a basketball player. I was
short but fast. I fed her the ball all evening. I could run circles around her but the
crowd got so they were yelling, "Shoot!" They thought I was just giving her the
ball. Well, she loved it! Well, the next week the regular forward was back. The
question was what were they going to do with me. I have to admit that I was
better than anyone on that team because I had former experience with our
principal who had made all of us into good basketball players. The coach said, "I
have to play her, and I don't know where to play her. She's a good forward, but
she likes to play guard." After a few practices, having me play forward, the
former forwards became belligerent because they didn't know which one would
lose her place. Well, the forwards got together and persuaded the centers to join
them, and they were going to tell the coach that I had come in late so I had no
right to play and if she played me they were going to quit. During that period,
those four girls did everything they could. They would talk to each other as close
to me as they could get and talk about that new girl and they went so far as to say,
"I think her father must be a horse doctor." Anything they could think of to say.
Well, I of course told my parents that I was being persecuted and my father said,
"You just go out to practice. Never answer any of them, no matter what is said.
Don't say a word." That's what I did, but it wasn't what I wanted to do. I wanted
to hit them. But I did as I was told, and the girls did quit the team because the
principal said, "You have to play the best players, and she is obviously one of
your best." Well, the rest of the team and the bench-warmers and I started
playing basketball, and some of the girls who were sitting on the bench with my
pep and encouragement became very good, so we had a good team and had a
great year. The girls that had left the team felt very sorry for themselves. When
the year was over, they awarded themselves letters. The town became quite
divided on it but the majority were on my side, but it was a very, very hard thing
to go through. I think that experience made me very conscious of how you can
persecute a person just by talking.
I happened to be very strict morally and a lot of them weren't. One of the girls
that did the most talking had an illegitimate baby and, of course, my father took
care of her. She recognized that he was a very good doctor and liked him very
much so then she tried to make friends with me. Regardless of how I felt, I
pretended I was a good friend.
When I graduated from Coming, knowing that I had not had very much education
for two years, I went back to Lawrence to the university. The odd thing was that
the girls that had left the team became great friends of my father and supposedly
great friends of mine. In fact, I heard from some of them way into my upper
years. I think it was an experience that was good for me because I know
prejudice. I learned what unfairness was, and up to that time I had lived such a
nice life with good friends in my little town and at Lawrence High School I did so
Interview with Mary Myers Elliott 5
July 10, 2000
many things. We didn't have a basketball team, but we did a lot in forensics. I
won several prizes just reading. They would call it elocution. They had a speech
contest while I was there. I think we had twelve subjects. They would post the
subjects, and you had a minute after you saw it to prepare. Well, I entered the
contest and thought it was fun and went home. I went back to school the next day
and found out I was one of the finalists, and I was shocked. The contest was
going to be in about an hour. I didn't have time to prepare, but I was going to be
in the contest anyway. I told them what had happened, and the subject I have
drawn is on acoustics. I said, "I know nothing about acoustics, so I'm not going
to stand up here and pretend that I do." But I did go on and say that I knew
acoustics must be good if you're to be heard and so on and so forth and, of course,
my friends were out there laughing because I was being so honest. Of course, I
didn't win, but when the comments came back, they said that I had spoken more
distinctly than anyone else and complimented me on my humor and honesty, but I
didn't get a prize.
B: You enrolled in the University of Kansas when you returned to Lawrence?
E: Yes, from Coming. I was at Coming for two years. The children were bright in
Coming, but they had never been introduced to culture of any kind. The only
college graduates in that town were my father and the priest. It was
predominantly a Catholic and Lutheran community. The little town itself had a
church called the Christian Church. I felt very unprepared but those two years at
Lawrence High School were great, so I was all right at the university.
B: Did you play basketball at the university?
E: We didn't have basketball. Mr. Neismith, the inventor of basketball, was at the
University of Kansas. Phog Allen, who was probably one of the greatest
basketball coaches who ever lived, was at the University of Kansas. They had
basketball for boys. We played basketball in gym, what we called gym, and by
then the court was divided in half, but we didn't have a school team. I wanted to
go out for drama and speech. That was the place after basketball where I felt I
was more talented. They had a dramatic club and it seemed to be quite powerful
on the campus, but they said they didn't take freshmen except on rare occasions.
I was so not excited -- but I wanted to make that drama club so badly that I
actually got sick the week before. I think I was frightened and thought, "Oh dear,
why am I here?" I got over being sick, but I wasn't over being terribly frightened,
but the night of the trials I got myself together. You had to go on the stage and
entertain for the club. The University at that time had a very snobbish group.
Fraternities and sororities were very powerful. Of course, I didn't know anyone
that would get me dates in a sorority so I was completely on my own from
Coming. Well, when my turn came, I went up on the platform and I gave what
we call a reading and I gave it everything I had. When I walked off of the
platform down the few steps, the president met me and he said, "Well, this is one
freshman that will get in." So I did. I was very thrilled but I was terribly
Interview with Mary Myers Elliott 6
July 10, 2000
intimidated by the group. A lot of them came from Kansas City. They were very
sophisticated. They thought they were very important, and I hadn't been taught
that I was important.
They were going to cast a play, the first play of the season, and I tried out. I got a
minor part in the play, a very hard part. I had to learn the Cockney language. It
was a good part, but certainly one that not many people would want. Professor
Crafton told me that the trials were rather political. He said, "You weren't going
to get a part until I said to them, 'Now here, here's a really talented girl and
you're ignoring her. Now she deserves a part from her tryout.'" So that's when I
got this Cockney part and, oh, did I work hard on it. I made a little reputation
with it because it was a rather colorful part, but small.
Well, life at the university was very odd at first. I lived in a house called a
boarding house, but it was one where only very high-class people lived. I didn't
know that because I was rooming with the maid, who was also a student. She was
a girl that lived in the town next to mine, and she asked me to room with her and I
thought, "Great. She's a nice person." When I got in this house, I found that it
was the most snobbish place that you could possibly be, and I thought I was a
little tainted by the fact that I was living with the girl that worked in the kitchen.
She was a good student, but she worked in the kitchen of this boarding house to
get herself through school. Well, I watched the girls go through Rush Week.
There were several girls from Kansas City and they wanted to make, I think it was
Theta and Kappa that they were interested in. There were four of them and three
of them made sororities but the fourth one didn't. I saw the grief that she felt.
She felt she had been rejected. I was so glad that no one had recommended me
for a sorority because I certainly didn't want to go through that.
One girl in the boarding house was very wealthy and very independent. She
roomed alone. She decided she liked me and she talked to me about the sorority
situation, so that I felt that maybe was something I didn't want. She walked and I
wanted to belong to the athletic group I've forgotten what we called it now.
Anyway, in order to belong, we had to do certain things. One was walk five miles
every so often. Well, this girl wanted a walking partner, so we got up early every
morning and walked five miles, so I became a member of the athletic group,
which was very nice. My dear wealthy friend was a great help to me because she
didn't care. She had the money and her idea was the one with the money calls the
tune. She wouldn't even look at a sorority.
I continued in the drama and in the athletic organization. Then because at that
time I could write well I certainly wasn't a budding author but for a college girl
I could write well I was taken into a writing group and before I knew it, I was in
so many groups I didn't know what to do.
There was a sorority there that was interested in activities, not social life, although
they did later have quite a little social life. They asked me to join, and I thought,
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July 10, 2000
"This is where I belong." They were politically very strong, so I went into
politics, too. I never wanted to run for office, but I liked to be behind the scenes.
B: What is the name of your sorority?
E: That was Phi Omega Pi. What happened to that was the president of that group
lived in Lawrence, and we became so discouraged with her that we withdrew
from the national and established a local. That was about the time I was ready to
B: What year did you graduate?
E: I graduated in 1926. That sorority did give me a group, and it was a very
intelligent group. They just about ran the campus but not socially. Several girls
smoked. Smoking was the sophisticated thing to do. I remember one of the girls,
who was a senior, took us into a room and said, "I'm going to teach you to
smoke." Well, teaching me to smoke would be quite a chore because we did not
smoke at my house. I tried a cigarette, but I told her I couldn't do this, and she
was very nice. Some of them learned to smoke, but I never did.
B: Weren't you fortunate not to.
E: Oh yes, I'm so glad I didn't like it. When we became a local sorority, we had a
very nice house and a wonderful housemother, but I was ready to graduate. They
wanted to petition Tri Delta. In order for a local to become a national, they had to
do a lot of things and personnel had to be a little higher supposedly, but you know
a group has good girls and bad girls and in-between girls. Later, when I went to
the University to teach, the sorority asked me if I would live in the sorority to help
them, and I did. I lived on the third floor in the only room. It was a very pleasant
room, but, of course, I was by myself. I was a faculty member then. I helped
them as much as I could, but that particular group, if I was informed correctly
because I was gone when it happened, they did not become Tri Delta. Another
group did, so Tri Delta was on the campus.
Well, when I graduated, I had trained to be a teacher and an actress. I expected to
go on the stage. The head of our department and his wife were ex-Broadway
actors and very good. They took me under their wing and helped me to improve
myself. I later did a lot of drama there the four years I was there.
When I graduated, I had been acting in the summer I'll tell you about that later -
but I went to Chanute, Kansas, and I taught English and Drama. They expected
me to put on plays. The going price at that time for a teacher was $1,200 a year.
I got $1,600 because I was going to put on plays. That was at Chanute. The
Superintendent of Schools was fascinated by the first play I gave. I worked hard
on plays. I wanted to be better than just an English teacher giving plays. I
wanted to teach them something. I gave 25 one-act plays and four long plays. I
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July 10, 2000
was exhausted when the year was over. In the meantime, the head of the
department at the University of Kansas wanted to take a year's leave of absence.
He recommended to the chancellor that I take his classes. Of course, I wouldn't
be head of the department because I was just a kid really, but he wanted me to
take his classes. I thought that was probably the break of my life to get to teach at
the University of Kansas.
I haven't mentioned any romance along the way.
B: I was going to ask you when you met your husband.
E: Well, my junior year in college I went to visit a cousin of mine, and she said,
"You know there's a young teacher here that I'm just dying to date, but I don't
know how to approach him without his thinking I'm very bold." This was at
Denison, Kansas. She said, "I could ask him to take you out." I said, "Oh golly. I
don't like blind dates." Well, she went to him and said, "You know my cousin is
here, and I know she's bored. There's a big picnic out here." Kansas was always
having big picnics and they always had a dance platform because we were great
on dancing out there. We two-stepped, we waltzed, we did the tango, we did
everything but jitter-bug. We didn't know that. He came to the house and he was
meticulously dressed. We went to the picnic and danced and really had a very
good time. He said, "Well, the picnic's on tomorrow night. Let's go again." I
said I would love to, and I did. I wanted to go but I said my uncle was taking me
on a buying trip with him, and when he does that, I buy my clothes for the next
year. Now I was a junior then.
So I went with my uncle. I can't remember whether it was Kansas City or St. Joe,
but anyway we went to the factory and I remember I got a winter coat and
everything. We got back early, in the late afternoon, and I thought, "Oh gee, I
wish I had that date." Well, I didn't but my cousin said, "Let's go out to the
picnic anyway." So we drove out. She said, "He's on the dance floor." I looked
at the girl he was with and I thought she was very cute. Then I said, "Well, let's
just let him know I'm here anyway." So I walked around to where he couldn't
miss me, and he came over and said, "I'm so glad you got here." It turned into a
date. He was teaching and I was at college, but we managed to see each other
once in a while. In fact, sometimes we would meet in Topeka. Of course, that
wasn't very satisfactory, but then he finally got a good car and he would drive
down for some of the parties at Lawrence. I was taking music, and one day I said,
"Let's go up to the music room and I'll sing for you so that you'll know that my
lessons are doing me some good." Well, I didn't do much singing. We did a lot
of talking, and he proposed. We became engaged. I was a senior then. When I
went to Chanute, I was engaged.
We saw each other very little that year, but we wrote a lot. I had a student that I
thought was very good at what we called elocution. By then, my to-be husband
was teaching in Manhattan High School and he had a lot of friends on the faculty,
Interview with Mary Myers Elliott 9
July 10, 2000
so I took this young boy to give a reading at this contest and he won first place. I
was very pleased with that, and I got to see the boy I was engaged to.
We had been engaged now over two years and had seen very little of each other,.
When I went to teach at the university, that summer we got to talking and decided
that we would get married and he would stay at Manhattan and I would stay at
Lawrence, but we would get married. Perhaps I shouldn't mention this, but in
those days, a lot of us would not have sex before marriage and I was one of them.
We decided we had known each other long enough that we really should get
On August 14, 1927, we had a nice wedding and went on a honeymoon to Utah
by train. We had a great time. He continued at Manhattan, and I was at the
University of Kansas. One weekend I went to Manhattan, and the next weekend
he came to Lawrence, so every weekend we were on the road.
At the end of that year, Professor Crafton came back and I went to Manhattan to
live, without a job. Of course, we got married in August and in September I was
in my apartment one day. It was immaculate, so I thought, "What am I going to
do?" The phone rang, and it was the head of the drama department at Kansas
State. He said, "I hear you're an actress." I said, "I like to think I am." We had
Kansas players that actually performed on the Shubert Theater. Anyway, I said,
"I like to think I am." He said, "I am giving a play and I'd like for you to come
up and try out." I did, and I got the part.
Immediately after I had performed in the play, the head of the department came to
me and said, "I am going to have a vacancy the second semester and I would like
for you to teach while this teacher is gone. He was taking a leave of absence. So
I started teaching at Kansas State. I was teaching very little drama. I was
teaching mostly speech. I had one class where I prepared students for radio, but
mostly just speech.
I've forgotten to say that my husband, who was teaching high school in
Manhattan, was teaching science. He had a great reputation in athletics because
when he was teaching at Denison about the time I met him, he coached a
basketball team. The team had never won a game. Denison is a small town. As
well as teach, he coached the basketball team, and the second year he had them
they won everything and he got to go to the state tournament. Well, in those days
they didn't classify the schools. The big schools would play the small schools.
You would just play them as they came. Well, my husband's team went to the
finals and they played Topeka. That was considered a miracle. My husband was
a strategist. He understood sports. He had played football but not in college. He
worked his way through college 100%. He didn't have time for games. Topeka
won by one point.
Interview with Mary Myers Elliott 10
July 10, 2000
That weekend we spent at my home and he got telephone calls, one after another,
wanting to give him a job coaching basketball. We talked it over and we talked
and talked and finally I said, "You know, I don't think you want the life of a
coach. Although you understand it, I don't think that your nervous system would
survive. I know mine won't." Well, he turned those jobs down and accepted a
position at Manhattan High School, and he was getting his Master's at Kansas
State University at the time. He finished that soon after we were married. Well,
of course, I was teaching at the University of Kansas in Lawrence and he was
teaching at the high school in Manhattan. In those days, that was considered odd
but not impossible. I loved it there.
We were married in 1927 and in 1931 we had our first child, which was a boy. I
wanted to name him for his father, but his father said, "No. I've picked out the
name." My husband's name was Leonard Paul, and he went by L. Paul, but he
named our son Larry Paul. Of course, I liked the name.
We stayed there just living and enjoying everyone for a few years, and then the
Depression became so great that all married women at Kansas State College had
to take a leave of absence. I had developed a lot of throat problems. I was having
trouble with my voice, so I decided that would be the time to have my goiter
removed, which I did, and afterwards I could only whisper. In the meantime, the
head of the department at the University of Kansas wanted me to come back to
teach and I said, "I can only whisper for now." He said, "I'll give you small
classes, and you'll be able to talk soon," and that's what we did. Paul wanted me
to go there, so he could get his Ph.D. He was so unsure of my voice that he didn't
take a leave of absence the first year I was there, so Larry and I lived alone with
weekend visits. Then the next year Paul took his leave of absence and came down
and did all the class work for his Ph.D., which he later got.
Before Larry was bor, those years, we went to California. I went to the Pasadena
Playhouse and my husband went to UCLA He was very fortunate that he liked to
go to school. I had been acting in Chataqua. I've kind of passed that up, but
while I was at the university that first year on salary, Bob Calderwood, a faculty
member who was an excellent actor. Of course, Professor Crafton and his wife
were gone, so Bob was the big actor there. Well, he wanted to do "Sun Up".
Lula Volmer had made "Sun Up" a very famous play, so I was very eager to play
the old mountaineer woman. We had a big theater there, the Bowersock Theater.
Bob and I and the students put on the play at the Bowersock. I had already done
some work with the Kansas Players, but that night one of the officials of Red Path
Homer, which was the big Chataqua, was there. He got in touch with me and
asked if I would play that part on Chataqua that summer. Of course, it was a great
honor in those days to be on Chataqua, so I took the job and spent a summer as
Ma Cagle. I loved the part. She was an ignorant mountaineer woman who had a
son who went to war and was killed, and it had a lot of human interest in it. Ma
Cagle had so many great scenes in the play. One was at the last. She was so
Interview with Mary Myers Elliott 11
July 10, 2000
bitter against the government and her husband had been what they call a revenuer.
In other words, he made whiskey.
B: He was a moon-shiner.
E: Yes, moonshine is right. He went to prison. One of the very dramatic scenes is
where the sheriffs son deserts the Army and ends up blinded by the snow and in
her house. The sheriff was after him, and because the sheriff was after him, she
was protecting him. It was the sheriff who had caused her husband to be arrested.
Well, the sheriff comes and she denies that the boy is there, but he searches her
house and to her great amazement, does not find the boy whom she had shoved
into a room. She later found out that he had crawled into the potatoes, which
were piled in that room. He had gotten under the pile. Then she finds out who
the boy is, and she is about to shoot him when all at once she stops and she hears
Rufe's voice, and Rufe tells her about loving people. It's a wonderful scene for
an actress. Anyway, the play goes on and the boy goes back to the Army and is
okay, but at the end of the play she has another scene where she talks to Rufe.
She said, "You've taught me what love means." Oh, she loved Rufe. She would
carry him up and down the mountain so he could go to school. Well, the play
ends and Rufe is still dead. One night when we were in the Sand Hills of
Nebraska where you think you would have no audience, our tent was crowded
with very wealthy cow people. They liked shows and when a show was given,
they were there. That night when the show was over, no applause, and we usually
had big applause. The manager of the Chataqua came back and said, "They say
the play isn't over." Rufe hasn't come back. They will not accept that Rufe is
dead. He said, "You've going to have to go out there and do another scene." I
couldn't take other people with me, because we couldn't all make up something,
so I came back in with my hoe and I gave a soliloquy, saying, "Rufe is alive.
Thank God." Then they just went crazy.
The strange thing about that night, too. We'd had a cloudburst, and they were
sitting with several inches of water on the sand. I'll never forget that one of the
lines in my part is, "Shore is a dry spell." They wouldn't leave, no matter how
much water. When I sat down, the water squished, and then I said that about the
dry spell. They had hysterics out there! It was the only time in my theatrical
career that I broke down with the audience and laughed.
Well, let me see, where am I now? I've gone back and forth. In those days, the
husband was supposed to have the better job, so every move I made was to help
B: When you were out in California, was he teaching there?
E: No, he was going to school at UCLA This was summer. I went to the Pasadena
Playhouse, where I met with the best. I met with the people that were doing
movies. I had thought very seriously of making the stage a career. The head of
Interview with Mary Myers Elliott 12
July 10, 2000
my department, Professor Crafton, said I should go to New York. He said,
"You're good. You'll make it." But the youngsters that had gone ahead of me
that I thought were good hadn't made it in the theater. One boy got several parts,
but in order to live, he lived with an older woman in a way that I wouldn't live
with anyone. It was a sexual alliance, and he would do anything to get to stay in
New York, and that's what he did. He lived with her. I didn't want to go to New
York unless I was positive that I was good.
B: Did you spend just the one summer in New York?
E: Later I went to live there, but that hasn't come yet. Anyway, at the Pasadena
Playhouse, you gave scenes and one-act plays. We had directors. Mr. Brown,
who was famous as a director, did not come in until we had the play about
finished. That's why we were there, to let Mr. Brown see us, but he didn't see us
until we had something real to show. Well, we gave this play four of us, four
women. We were more than half way through it when he stopped us and said,
"This is terrible. I don't think you know what you're doing." It was an odd play.
He just panned us. I said, "Mr. Brown ." I didn't have a lot of nerve, but that day
I did because it cost me thousands of dollars to get there. I said, "Mr. Brown,
you've told us we're terrible. I want to know in what way. I want specific
criticism of why I'm so terrible." He said, "Miss Myers, you are not terrible.
You're the highlight of the play. If the others were half as good as you are, it
would be great." He went on and on. Well, I didn't know whether to believe him
or not, but then I thought he said it, and of course from then on I was one of the
stars of the summer school plays. But I was always easy to get along with
anyway. I had a lot of friends, but after this, they gave me great respect.
Then I went back to Kansas State and was in plays again. My son was born in '31
and later, as I said before, I taught again at the university and then Paul came
down for his Ph.D., his residency. They had to have so much residency.
B: What year did he get his Ph.D.?
E: You know I can't because it was so difficult to get jobs during the Depression, he
withheld getting his degree because he thought it would look better if he didn't
leave a long space after getting his degree until he got a job. At that time,
Columbia University, which was the great teacher's school, was sending scouts
out to get jobs. I know my husband would almost have a job and up would come
a Columbia scout and he wouldn't get it. Finally he got a job in northern
Michigan at a small college. I was teaching at Kansas State then, happy as I could
be. Oh, I'm way ahead of my story now. I think I'd better backtrack a little.
After our summer in California, we went back to teach at our old jobs in
Manhattan. We did go to the university so Paul could do that degree. Then we
went back to Manhattan, but my husband was offered a job as an editor at Silver
Burdette Company, in New York. I gave up my job, which killed me, and went to
Interview with Mary Myers Elliott 13
July 10, 2000
New York with him. While we were there, our second child, Mary Leeanne, was
born. I was doing drama but I hadn't done it professionally yet because I was
pregnant with Leeanne. I was working with the Woman's Club and I gave a play
with the women, but I took only a minor part because I was the director. We won
several contests. Then they asked me to do plays for a big money maker, and I
did a comedy in which I took the part of a big fat German woman. I had a lot of
fun with it, but a woman that I knew well in the club but didn't know her
husband's connection, but it happened to be that he was one of the big radio men.
We didn't have TV then. She said when we sat down in the auditorium and he
looked at me, he said, "And you have brought me to amateur plays?" She said, "I
want you to know, Mary, that when the play was over, he said, 'Thank you. That
was not an amateur play. It was professional.'" Then he asked me to come to
New York and try out for radio. I went but I told him that I was pregnant and the
rest of the story was that my husband had begun to have heart trouble and I knew
we were going to have to leave New York.
I went to Kansas to have my baby. I wanted my father to be my doctor because
that was his expertise, and I told him, "You're not to turn me over to anyone
else." I called the head of my department at Kansas State and said, "My husband
can't stay in New York. I think I'm going to have to make the living for a while
and I have no connections out there." He said, "You don't need connections.
Come back and work with us." So I went back to Kansas State to teach.
In the meantime, Paul finished his Ph.D. and went to northern Michigan to teach
and I didn't go with him because Leeanne had had whooping cough and almost
died, and the doctor said, "You can't go to Michigan. It's too cold." So we were
apart again. They asked him if he could give a play and he said, "Yes, if my wife
can take a leave of absence." He selected a play, they learned their lines, and Dr.
Hill told me, "You go out for ten days and finish the play," and I did.
The next year the children were okay, so, much as I hated it, I gave up my job and
went to northern Michigan. We had a very interesting home. It was right by a ski
slope and it was stone and very interesting, but we hadn't been there very long
until the college at Ypsilanti wanted Paul to come and I said, "Oh goodness, let's
go. This is too cold up here." So again we left in the middle of the year and went
to Ypsilanti, where we lived for many years. While I was there, I did not teach. I
was a Grey Lady. The Second World War was on. My husband, of course,
couldn't go. My son was too young to go. We stayed there several years.
Then one day, out of the blue, we got a call from Dean Little of the University of
Florida, wanting to know if my husband would come down for an interview.
Well, my husband said, "Dean Little, how did you ever hear of me?" He had
written to a friend of his up north someplace, saying, "I need a physics teacher
and I want a good one." This man said, "I do not know the man personally but I
do know his work." So Paul came down to see Dean Little. I came with him. By
Interview with Mary Myers Elliott 14
July 10, 2000
that time, up in Ypsilanti, Larry was a football star, and they won the state
championship. He was having the time of his life. He was a great athlete.
B: What state is Ypsilanti in?
E: Michigan. It's thirty miles from Detroit. We would jump on a bus and go to
Detroit anytime. We all shopped in Detroit. While I was there, I did substitute
but I did a lot of war work. We had a big airplane factory Willow Run where
they made the planes. We had workers all over. I finally took in some of the war
workers. I kind of crammed my family up in a few rooms and took them in
because they were sleeping in their cars. It became one of my jobs. I never had a
paid job there except substituting in the schools. I was a Grey Lady. In fact, I
have a Medal of Distinction that I keep, little ribbons like the soldiers get, for my
But then we got this call from Dean Little and came down to Gainesville. It was a
small town with a big university, not as big as it is now.
B: What year was that?
E: That was 1948. Larry was a going to be a senior in high school. Oh, I thought,
we can't take that boy. He's so popular and such a good student and a good
athlete. I had trained Larry to enter speaking contests. At Ypsilanti during the
war, a young man there formed what they called a Teen Canteen. Anyone could
belong except the colored. They went to school together, but their social life was
separate. I would volunteer to chaperone some nights. I substituted in the high
school when they were desperate. This young man had to go away. This group
met in the Episcopal auditorium beside the church. It was keeping the kids off the
street. It was so good, but he said he didn't know who he would get to take over.
He told me the youngsters at Ypsilanti High School said, "How about the woman
that substitutes here once in a while? We think she could do it." So he asked me
if I would and I said, "Yes, I think I'd like that. I like to work with young
people." I took over this unpaid job. The high schools were all at each other's
throats. I said, "The first thing I'm going to do is try to get the high schools to
support each other in events." The first night I was there they had a big brawl out
in front with different ones from different schools. I went right in the middle of it,
got them to stop, and then I talked to them. From then on, I formed a board with
people from each school that met with me. I think that was one of the most
enjoyable times of my life. For several years, I was head of the Teen Canteen. I
ran it by myself. Wednesday night until ten o'clock, Friday and Saturday until
twelve. I gave plays to make money. They wanted to play pool. They would
excuse themselves, some of the boys, and go play pool, so I bought a pool table so
they stayed there. When I left, I got a great farewell. I didn't want to come down
here. Oh, I didn't want to come. My Teen Canteen and my neighbors. I
belonged to a wonderful bridge club. I had a neighbor from Kansas. She was a
Interview with Mary Myers Elliott 15
July 10, 2000
very wealthy woman. In other words, you couldn't get a car but my friends were
powerful enough to get me a car. I just had wonderful friends.
B: It was probably much easier to do that in Michigan than it would have been in
E: Yes. Well, I came to Florida with my husband in 1948. 8th Avenue was full of
deep ruts. My children played tennis out on 22nd Street, which wasn't paved.
When we first came here, we lived out on 13th Street across from the Turlington
B: Which is now Gainesville High School.
E: The high school. Ralph Turlington was the representative and a teacher here. I
knew the Turlington's.
B: His father was a Professor of Agriculture at the University.
E: Yes. Ralph would get all kinds of fruit presents, and he would share them. There
was a row of new houses that Mr. Newsome had built. Our house was very
comfortable and we loved living there with our neighbors. One of them was a
music teacher, and my daughter took music from her.
Larry was welcomed in the Gainesville High School with open arms because of
his football experience. Tiny Talbot, who was here at the school for a long time,
and Buster Bishop were the coaches at the high school. They were the first
people I met. We sent Larry ahead of us in our old car. By then we had two cars,
but my friends had gotten me the new car. He came down here and he got into
town in the middle of the night. He felt it wouldn't be worthwhile to go to a hotel
so he just stayed in the car until time to go. I think he went over to Buster
Bishop's around six o'clock. He woke Buster up. Buster said he was so glad to
see him when he found out he was a football player. We expected Larry to stay in
the house that we had bought, but Tiny had him stay at his house. So Larry was
here before we were, playing football.
Then we came and got established at the house. Larry played, I think, three
games. They were calling him "pennies from heaven". Whitey McMullen, who
was writing then, wrote such glowing things about him. The boys wanted him to
go down to a big football game in Tampa. I don't remember which game it was,
but Larry got a headache at the game. He later told me that he went behind the
stadium and laid down on the grass he was so sick. When he got home, he told
me, "I can't stand this headache." I called Dr. Thomas. He said, "I'm in the
middle of delivering a baby, and it sounds as though you need someone now." He
sent his partner. He was with Dr. Thomas for years, and I've forgotten his name.
I later taught his son, too. Anyway, he came out and they did laboratory tests, and
Larry had meningitis. Seriously. They quarantined him at the hospital. If you
Interview with Mary Myers Elliott 16
July 10, 2000
went in the room, you had to have on a mask and coat and gloves. I went out and
stayed in his room a lot. One day I went out and there was his lunch out in the
hall, everything congealed. I got ready and went into the room and he said,
"Mother, I'm not getting much care because they don't like to dress to come in
here." I talked to him for a while and pretty soon I took off the coat and gloves
and the mask, everything, and said, "Larry, I'm going to stay. I'll be here." I
did. I stayed with him until he got well. He didn't play any more football. They
have a sweetheart at the last game, and anyway, a couple is honored, and Larry
was the boy that was honored. But that wasn't what he wanted. He wanted to be
on that field. He didn't feel very honored being Mr. So-and-So.
We got through that, and because Larry was very ill and he wasn't even eighteen
yet, the University of Florida had shown interest in him but he hadn't played
enough here for them to be terribly interested, so we sent him to a boarding school
up in Virginia a boys' school and he played football there. Naturally he was
one of their best players and having a great time, and his father had a heart attack
B: Your husband was a professor.
E: He was a professor. He was in the Physics Department. He was quite close to
Dean Little. The Physics Department was small. It was in an old building. Now
it has this gorgeous new building my husband wouldn't believe. Anyway, Larry
had been very homesick. He would call me two or three times a day, and I didn't
have a phone. The neighbors had to come get me, but they were such nice
neighbors they didn't seem to mind. When Paul had this heart attack, I told Larry,
"You're up there just so you can get enough age to play football in college, so I
want you to come home." He did and he did get a scholarship at the University in
My parents came down to visit us. My father saw my husband through the first
sick spell. It was a little tricky because my father needed certain medicines and
he wasn't permitted to get prescriptions in Florida. The pharmacist here knew
me, and he knew Dad was a doctor, so he filled the prescriptions anyway. Paul
got well and Larry graduated from high school, but I think it was the worst thing
that you could possibly do to a senior in high school, change his school. They
were very nice to him here. So, after the Virginia school, he came back here and
had his scholarship so he went to live in the dormitory.
Leeanne was in the 5th grade, I believe. When Paul was down here to get the
position, they told us if he would come, they would see that Leeanne got into P.K.
Yonge because at that time that was considered quite an honor. So she went to
P.K. Yonge. Soon after she got in, a little boy gave a party and he didn't invite
her. Later he apologized. He said, "You know you hadn't been here long enough
for us to know whether you were the proper type of person (or something)." I'll
never forget that little boy. His father was Judge McDonald. I was always able to
Interview with Mary Myers Elliott 17
July 10, 2000
make my children understand why they were excluded, if they were. Later that
little boy moved heaven and earth. He wanted to be her boyfriend, but she never
forgot that first rebuff. She did go with him to a party once and she was young
enough that the parents brought him and took them to the party and then his
parents picked them up.
Later, that same boy, over at P.K. when Leeanne was much older, he shot a B.B.
gun down the hall and hit her in the eye. It was a homemade B.B. gun. I was
teaching at Lanier at this time and I'll tell you in a minute how I got there. They
took her down to the nurse, and we took her to a doctor I think his name was
Pinkoson, an eye doctor. Anyway, she was in the nurse's room and the nurse
called me and said, "I don't think it's necessary to come, but she's here, and she
told me about the bullet." I went to Mr. Hendrickson, who was principal, and
said, "You know, I don't feel right about this. What am I going to do? I need to
go to P.K. Yonge." He said, "Tell your students that I am going to put them on
the loud speaker so if they don't behave, I can hear them, and you go back and
talk with them." I did and I said, "This is very important. My daughter may be in
real trouble." I gave them work to do and told them, "You just do your work and
I'll be back as soon as I can." Later Mr. Hendrickson said they did not hear a
thing from my class. He said they really worked.
So I went up to P.K. and Leeanne said, "Mother, my eye hurts so much.
Something is wrong." I told the nurse, "I'm going to take her to a doctor." I did
and she went into the room with the doctor and I waited outside. I got very
nervous because it was taking so long. He came out and perspiration was
dripping from his face, and he said, "Well, I got it." I said, "What do you mean?"
He said, "The bullet was lead, so my magnets wouldn't work on it and I thought I
had a little girl that was going to lose her eye, but I got it." I've loved that man
B: That must have been Dr. Charles Pinkoson.
E: Oh, Pinkoson, yes. He retired long ago, but Pinkoson saved Leeanne's eye.
After my husband had that heart attack, I decided I had better go back to teaching.
I looked over the city. Gainesville High School, P.K. Yonge, and nothing else. I
saw that the faculty at G.H.S. didn't move, so I went out to the county office. I
couldn't teach at the University because of a nepotism rule -- a husband wife
could not teach there. I said, "What do I have to do to teach in the elementary
school?" They told me I had to have so many courses and education. I said,
"Well, I've had all that you have to have to teach in Kansas." I had to take thirty-
two hours of nothing. I shouldn't say that but I took drawing, I took physical
education. Everything I took was, of course, to help me teach children. After I
had taken this I took it in a semester in summer school I went back and I said,
"I've done everything you told me to do" and showed her my transcript. She said,
Interview with Mary Myers Elliott 18
July 10, 2000
"You are the first person who has come out here that has done what we told them
I started teaching at Lanier because the principal there was Clara Groth, and she
had been a university teacher and her husband was at the University so she
couldn't teach there, so she was very sympathetic. I started with the 6t grade,
and I had a wonderful time. Those 6t graders were so interesting. I've forgotten
how long I taught there, but a lot of the young people in town today were there.
Clara Groth decided she didn't want to be principal, and Tiny Talbot came in. Of
course, I liked Tiny very much. He abused the English language, but he certainly
knew how to handle people and he was very fair. Our school got large and they
had these auxiliary buildings that look like a trailer.
There were two other teachers who taught 6th grade. Two men: Art Spencer and
a man by the name of Simmons. We had an awfully good time. We became very
competitive in sports. I was lucky. I had two or three of the best athletes in my
class, so I worked with them and my group won most of the athletic contests.
This bothered the men terribly, but I was the one who had the talented kids.
While I was at Lanier, Tiny went to the junior high school, and he said, "Mary,
you have to go with me." I did, so I taught at Buchholz Junior High School. I
had a room down at the end of the hall. I enjoyed teaching there so much. Those
youngsters were so innovative. Some of them are running businesses in town
today, and some of them are dead.
B: When it was Buchholz Junior High School, where was it located?
E: Right where the old high school had been. In the meantime, Turlington sold their
13 Street land to the city and the high school was built.
B: So Gainesville High School moved from West University Avenue to N.W. 13th St.
E: Yes, where it is today.
B: The old Gainesville High School building became Buchholz Junior High.
E: Yes, and I taught there. After I had been there a while, Tiny wanted me to be
Dean of Women. I said, "Let's make it a part-time job because I like to teach."
So I shared the job with one of the other teachers. I had such interesting
One of the interesting ones was that while I was Dean of Women, they were going
to select a School Sweetheart and I was helping them make the ballots and all. Of
course, the pretty girls were the ones they were going to make the sweetheart, but
when the final vote came in, I was the designated School Sweetheart. I was
Interview with Mary Myers Elliott 19
July 10, 2000
actually sort of embarrassed because I thought I was running it and I hadn't run it
Another interesting thing that happened there. Some of the girls came to me one
day and said, "So-and-so's going to run away." I said, "Why?" They said,
"Because her father is sexually abusing her. Her stepfather. He would say,
'We're going to have a driving lesson,' and he would take her out in the country
and that's when this took place. She said she wouldn't go through it again so
she's running away." I called her in and asked her and she said, "Yes." I asked
where she was going. She wasn't sure. She didn't have any money. So I called
the principal in and we talked about it and then I called her mother. Her mother
knew it. Then we called the sheriff and the stepfather was arrested. I had to
testify, but I hadn't seen anything. I had only heard something, so when the other
lawyer started questioning me, he said, "You didn't see any of this?" I said, "No,
I was told." Then I said, "But I believed her." He said, "Strike that, strike that."
I knew they would but I wanted to get it in because it was a jury trial. Well, he
was convicted and we helped the mother. The little girl was real sweet but was
just the victim of her stepfather.
Those were the bad things. It was a lot of fun to teach down there. Tommy
Tomlinson, who later went to the county office, was there, and of course Tiny.
Then Tiny went to the high school and he wanted me to go with him. I said,
"Well, I want to go, Tiny, but I know you want me to do the drama," because I
had done a lot just on my own in drama at Lanier. I made up plays and gave
them. I said, "I'm not ready to do that. My daughter is still home. When she
graduates from college or gets married, I'll come." It was 1961 when I went, so
this was still 1960 when he called me in and said, "You know, you're not going
back to Buchholz." I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "You're coming out to
the high school the second semester. You didn't tell me your daughter got
married." I said, "No, Tiny, I didn't want you to know it." He said, "Well, I've
seen the superintendent; I've seen your principal, and when Christmas is over,
you come out." So I did.
Other things were happening during that time. I have to go back now. We came
in 1948 I'm backtracking a lot and in 1951 my parents were killed in an
automobile accident. I must say that the Lanier teachers were just perfect. The
students were so good.
B: I know that was a very sad time.
E: Oh yes. Larry had his sickness during that time. Leeanne was hit by a car. She
was on her bicycle. She was not in the wrong. The woman who hit her was in the
wrong, but that didn't help. I was still at Buchholz when this happened.
B: Was Leeanne seriously injured?
Interview with Mary Myers Elliott 20
July 10, 2000
E: She had a concussion and her arm it was like a bum, you know. It took the skin
off. She was just generally bruised but not seriously, except it was a terrible thing
to go through.
The next terrible thing was in '54 when my husband died. In the meantime, Larry
had gone to medical school, and his father died when he was a freshman in
medical school. Of course, that meant the big income disappeared. If you call
them big incomes. Professors at that time were making just a little over $7,000.
B: I know. My husband was one, too, at that time.
E: That's about what the salaries were. J. Wayne Reitz was making $15,000.
B: As President!
E: As President. So the times financially became very hard. Of course, I went to the
high school because it was the only place I could go when Tiny got through.
They had an Englishman teaching drama they sort of wanted to get rid of. I don't
know who he was. But I took over the drama program in '61 when I went to the
high school. I'm bad on dates, but I do remember those. It was a nice place to be.
Tiny was a good superintendent because he backed these teachers. Clara Groth,
who had been my principal at Lanier, was then an English teacher at G.H.S., and
Catherine Murphree gave wonderful musicals.
B: She was the music teacher.
E: Yes. I took care of the drama. She took care of the music. Ann Elliott helped
with the costumes.
B: Ann Elliott was the home economics teacher.
E: Yes. Peg Westmoreland took care of the advertising, and Helen Philpot helped
with the scenery. Catherine was in charge, but I did the drama, and we worked
B: You certainly put on some wonderful productions.
E: Really, I felt those productions could be called professional. They were very
good. When we gave, "Sound of Music", Catherine asked me if I would mind
teaching summer school. I said, "What would I teach?" She said, "Help me get
ready for the musical." We had a number of the characters go to summer school,
and we worked on parts. That show was very good.
I gave two big plays a year. I did them alone except I got some advice on scenery
but the students and I painted the scenery ourselves. We did that on Saturday. I
had to enter contests with one-act plays, and I have the picture of one. I had it out
Interview with Mary Myers Elliott 21
July 10, 2000
this week. One that we gave that was so successful was "Balloon Shot". I have a
picture that is four boys, and they won first place everyplace they gave it. I
counted seven trophies that we had that year.
Then the girls gave a play that was a little ahead of its time. It was about drugs
and an excellent play. They won some contests, but they didn't win every time
because people were a little bit turned off by it. We didn't have so many drugs
B: Do you recall what year that was?
E: I went in 1961, so it was in the early 60's. I taught until 1974. I was seventy
years old then, so decided I couldn't paint any more scenery. I would like to
teach but not that.
B: Somewhere I read that you had a 45-year career of teaching. Does that sound
E: Yes. I taught at Chanute, the University of Kansas, Kansas State University,
Lanier, Junior High School, and High School. Now, whenever they have the
reunions I go because I just love to hear the students tell me about their success.
Ralph Turlington had a son that I taught speech, and he thanked me. He said,
"Mrs. Elliott, I can't tell you what your speech course meant to me." I said,
"Well, didn't you take speech in college?" He said, "Yes, but it was your class
that taught me to be a successful New York lawyer." You know, we love to hear
things like that.
Sharon Stedman, who is supposed to be one of the best appeals lawyers in the
state, tells me that she's a good lawyer because of me. I like to hear those things
because we were so underpaid! No, so many of my students have gone way
beyond what I have done, but it makes me proud.
B: Absolutely. You mentioned earlier the reunion you attended of the class of 1965.
What was special about that?
E: I think I told you, didn't I, but maybe I wasn't on tape when I told you about one
of our G.R.U.
B: That was before we were taping.
E: Well, this young man well, he's 50! came over, and he took my hand, which
surprised me, and he said, "Mrs. Elliott, you just don't know how you've
influenced my life for the good." I just couldn't believe all that he was saying.
He's here now, working.
B: Is he the young man who is with the Gainesville Regional Utilities?
Interview with Mary Myers Elliott 22
July 10, 2000
E: Yes, right now. I had a young man from Ohio come and I was not supposed to go
to the reunion with him, but he called and said he and his wife would take me.
Rick Danburg and Sam Holland and their wives came and got me and took me to
a reunion and took care of me. I met so many students. I am sure there are some
that don't like me, but they don't say anything. The ones that like me or think I
influenced them do. Of all the things I've done in my life, my work with young
people has been the most gratifying and to see them succeed and to tell me that I
was a part of it makes me feel good.
I gave up acting reluctantly, but I gave it up because I saw I couldn't have a
family life that I had been reared to have. My early training did not train me to be
an actress. I was associated with people that I wasn't accustomed to, and when I
was on the stage I had the job of keeping some sober. They were talented actors,
but they weren't talented morally, and I chose to teach, and I'm glad I did because
my experiences with young people have been so great. Gainesville High School
has produced so many really great people.
B: All the recognition that you have gotten certainly speaks for the fact that you must
have been a wonderful teacher.
E: I don't know whether I was a great teacher or a great humanitarian! I just loved
B: What year did you retire?
B: What year did you move to this house where you make your home now?
E: 1951. I've been the only owner of this house. I bought this house with money
that my parents left me. When they killed in 1951, the money I got from them I
paid cash for this house. Then I bought a mutual fund, and now when I talk to
young people, I'll say, "Don't splurge. The first money you get, put in a mutual
fund, because that fund has doubled and tripled and gone up until it's what makes
my life easy now."
B: That's right.
E: My basketball girls we see that they invest.
B: I'm so glad that you're mentioning basketball. I want you to tell me again when
you first became involved with the Lady Gators, the University basketball team.
E: It's rather strange. I went to the games, but I didn't know the coach. I belonged
to Fast Break Club, but I still didn't know the coach. Actually, I didn't belong
Interview with Mary Myers Elliott 23
July 10, 2000
until I did know her. I must take that back. Well, one night about 11:30 or 12:00,
I was sitting reading and I heard a knock on the door, and here was my next door
neighbor who was the secretary of Ann Marie Rogers. She wasn't Rogers then,
but she is now. She had Coach Ross with her. She had said, "Let's go see Mrs.
Elliott. She's always good for a laugh." Carol told me, "We can't visit at
midnight." Robin said, "Yes, we can with Mrs. Elliott." So they came in and we
started talking and we had the best time. So then I joined the Fast Break Club.
After the first season was over that's years ago now.
B: She's been here ten years.
E: I've been with them about six. Anyway, at the end of the year I wrote her a letter,
telling her how much I had enjoyed the games and I commented on the girls and
congratulated them. The next year she said, "I'd like another letter, one
encouraging the girls." So I wrote the letter and asked her if it was what she
wanted, and she said, "Exactly, but I want you to come read it." Well, that made
me a little nervous. I had met some of the girls. In fact, the first I met was Alicia
Milton, who is now on the Olympic team, and she was so sweet. She was a
freshman when I met her. I went to read the letter and, my land, everyone was
there that had anything to do with basketball, so I was so nervous.
B: Even with all your drama experience?
E: Yes, because that was a new thing to do and I didn't know the girls too well. I
had just met them. When they ran out on the court, Carol said they had to feel
loved after that. For all the rest of that year, I talked before the games to the girls.
I went to the locker room. Coach Ross and I just became good friends, very close
B: About six years ago you became their mentor?
E: Yes, I became a mentor.
B: Are there any other names or titles that they call you?
E: I don't know what they call me except Ms. Elliott. I've been very close to several
of the girls and, of course, you know most of them are colored girls. Some of
them are very smart; some have troubles and need help but they have a tutor if
they want it and they have study hall. They have every help that you could give a
person. That scholarship is very, very valuable.
B: Do you attend just the home games?
E: I go to some of the away games. Now before I was hurt, I went more often.
B: Do you want to tell us how you were hurt?
Interview with Mary Myers Elliott 24
July 10, 2000
E: Well, I had been to a luncheon at the Fast Break Club game, and I drove from the
luncheon to the front of the building. We were playing FSU on December 14t.
B: What year?
E: I can't tell you! It must have been either 1992 or 1993. Anyway, I had been with
the girls long enough that I was very close to them.
B: So actually you've been with the girls more than six years, probably more like
E: No, not ten. You know, it just evolved, so time hasn't impressed me very much.
On the way there, I was hurrying a little and started through the revolving door
and all at once it whacked me and I landed about twelve feet away
B: Was this at the O'Connell Center?
E: Yes, right there at the front. Of course, people gathered around me and they said,
"Can you sit up?" They started helping me to get up and I said, "No. I can tell
I'm hurt. I think you'd just better call 911." There was a man there that I
recognized from our Fast Break Club, and I asked him when it was convenient to
tell Carol Ross that I was going to the hospital and not to tell the girls until she
wants to tell them. Well, they took me up to the hospital and took x-rays and the
technician came in and said, "I have good news for you. There are no breaks, so
you can go home."
By that time, my niece, Catherine Jones, was there. She said, "I'll take you
home." Then she said, "No." The nurse and Catherine got me in the car and
Catherine said, "You can't be alone tonight. I'm going to take you to my house,"
so she did.
That was the night that Wuerffel got the Heisman Trophy. I remember that.
Whatever year that was. I got out of the car, and I got to her door in the garage.
There was about a 4" rise there and I couldn't get over it. I said, "Catherine, I'm
in pain." I couldn't get my leg up to get over that tiny little step. So she got a
chair and put under me. I said, "I'll sit here and you go listen to see if he gets the
In the meantime, I said, "Catherine, you'll have to call 911 to put me to bed
because I can't get any further." She did, and they picked me up and oh, I
screamed. I thought it would kill me. They put me in bed, but by then I knew
something had been missed, and I said, "Don't waste any more time. Take me to
the hospital." They did, and I remember being strapped on that board. It hurt so.
In the meantime, one of the basketball players that I knew well had arrived -
Shanda Stebbins and she got in the ambulance with me when I went back to the
Interview with Mary Myers Elliott 25
July 10, 2000
hospital. By then, the game was over and the coach knew about it, so she came
out to the hospital. She was rather appalled that I was still in the hall. In the
meantime, they had taken more x-rays and found that my femur and my hip were
broken. Of course, that meant surgery. She said, "I'm going to go home and
change my clothes and I'll be right back." When she came back, she came back
in her casual Gator clothes, and they recognized her as the coach, and I was still in
the hall. She said after a while, "I've never talked to anyone as I talked to them."
I think I was 92. She said, "You have a 92-year old woman and you're treating
her as though she were some homeless 16-year old. I want her in a room, and I
want her in a room now." So that's how I got a room.
She had a cell phone, so she called my son and my daughter. My son had to come
by plane. He was at Georgetown University. With all this talk, I haven't talked
about his becoming really quite famous. He was a cardiac radiologist, and he is
highly educated and it paid off. Anyway, the children came. Leeanne got here
before the operation. You see, they thought I wouldn't live because of my age
and the break was so severe. They couldn't find it at first and then it turned out to
be a major break.
Larry got there just as the operation was over. The interesting thing about the
operation is that they took me to the operating room Sunday. The whole team
was there, and they jumped out from a little alcove to surprise me, so I said, "Stop
the gurney. I want to talk to the girls." I did talk to the whole team. Then they
operated and set it, and I've been trying to get well ever since. Carol said, "You
know, Mary, I'm awfully sorry you got hurt, but you know as far as the team was
concerned, it was the best thing that could have happened. They just rallied
around for Mrs. Elliott." She said they played better and did better after that
because they were so concerned about my welfare. She said, "But I'm sorry you
had to get hurt to get that result." Since then I've been very close to all of them.
B: You've done some advertising for them, haven't you?
E: Yes, I made the commercials. The girls don't have big crowds, and the boys do.
The girls play such an interesting game, so we've been trying to build up our
crowd, and they decided to hire an advertising firm of some reputation. I didn't
know about this, but this group came up here and they said, "Now we have made
the plans but we need an elderly woman. Do you yourself have one?" Carol said
the whole table said, "Yes, we do." So that's how I did it.
B: I saw your TV ad on our local Channel 20. Did it go out throughout the state?
E: Yes, it went out on the Sunshine station a lot, and it went on ESPN. That's a
national channel. Not this year, but the year before, it was on a lot. Of course,
my students saw it and some of my students. One came up and spent a day with
me because they had lost track of me. I got to meet a lot of old students over
Interview with Mary Myers Elliott 26
July 10, 2000
I can't go anyplace now if I have to walk a lot because that leg has never gotten
strong, as it should be, and I limp badly, but I go to practice by myself. I just
won't let them take me up there because I can drive myself, but at night when the
games are on, they come get me and I always go to the locker room. Sometimes I
talk to the girls and sometimes I don't, but I'm always there. This last year I told
Carol, "You know, I really think that you don't need an extra speech. I think we
should end right with yours." On a special game, she will ask me to talk. I try to
inspire them before they go on the court. Athletes are very temperamental, you
know, just like everyone, I guess. Sometimes they play great and sometimes they
don't. I told Carol after one practice, "They were pretty rotten today." I didn't
say it that way, but I don't want to see it on this tape the way I said it to her
because I wanted to make her feel better so I made it funny. She laughed and
said, "You've made my day. You've expressed exactly what I'd like to say."
We didn't have any luck this year. I went to Tallahassee with them. I went to
Georgia with them to Athens, and I went to Wisconsin with them. At Wisconsin,
it was the NIT Tournament. This is the first year we didn't make the NCAA
Tournament. Our best players were injured and they had just gotten back in the
game, but they weren't as good as they usually are. Now, our point guard,
Brandy McCain, who was so badly hurt, is again playing for the United States
team, and I'm sure someday she'll be on the Olympic team. She's very good,
very tiny (5' 3"). Alicia Milton, who is the first freshman I met, is on the Olympic
Team now, but she's tall, big. She plays forward and sometimes center.
In the NIT Tournament this year we had to make impossible trips. I didn't go
because it was going to be too hard for me. They left here by bus, went to
Jacksonville, flew to Atlanta, and then flew someplace in Ohio. They played
Dayton, Ohio. They left here at 11 o'clock and got there at 11 o'clock at night
and then had to play the next day.
When the finals came, after we had traveled to California and every game we
traveled, we had to play Wisconsin, and they had never traveled. That's because
they have huge crowds. The night we played them they had 13,000. I was afraid
our girls would be awed by it. We talked to them about just playing basketball.
Don't pay attention to that crowd. Their team was on the side at one end and we
were on the other end, and their band was right by us.
B: I think there's a purpose to having the band there.
E: Yes, and our little handful of cheers, people who had come to support us, was
right down by the band. We couldn't even talk to each other. Our cheerleaders
were set down where we couldn't see them. Wisconsin cheerleaders just took the
floor. I was very upset that they would treat a visiting team that way. But you
see, it was NIT. Anyway, they got ten points ahead of us and it bothered me
because I thought we had the better team. After the half, the girls made all that
Interview with Mary Myers Elliott 27
July 10, 2000
up. They got settled down and the crowd didn't bother them so much. The crowd
did waves all the time and that band I'll never forget it. So we were down to the
wire and one point behind, and our best shooter had a chance at a shot she loves to
take, and she missed it. Then one of our girls grabbed the ball, and she missed it.
The game was over and we lost by one point.
B: A heart breaker.
E: Oh, that was a heart breaker, a real heart breaker. Well, I was there. While I was
there, I had my 96" birthday. We came home from dinner and one of the girls
said, "Let's get some ice cream." I said, "Oh, Wisconsin has all these cows so it
will be good, so I'll go with you." She said, "Well, we have to go down this hall
and we'll just get a little dish of ice cream." I said, "No, I'm going to get a big
We opened the door and there seemed to be a thousand people who roared
"Happy birthday." One of the girls said, "I thought for a minute, Mrs. Elliott, that
we'd made a mistake. You just looked shocked." I said, "Well, I was shocked."
They had a big cake and we had a lot of fun for a while and then they went to bed.
That was before the game.
Working with the young people in Ypsilanti and with the young people here in
Gainesville and then with the basketball team have been the highlights of my life
outside of my family.
My son was here. He went to the University of Tennessee because they took
second semester medical students. When he left Virginia because of his father's
health, that meant he had one semester and most medical schools only accept
students in September, but Tennessee would take him, so he went there and
graduated in medicine. Then he came here and did a residency and he met Dr.
Schiebler, who has been very prominent. Dr. Schiebler and Larry became like
brothers. They wrote a book together, which was called "The Bible of
Larry is named in several books as one of the best doctors in the United States.
Our University presidents honor former graduates of the school and they become
honor graduates, and Larry was honored here at the University of Florida. After
he became a doctor, he was honored at Tennessee the same way. One of the boys,
who was first in the class, said, "Larry, you weren't first in this class, but you
were first as a doctor." I thought that was very nice.
My daughter was in the 5th grade when we came here, so is quite a Southerner.
She was young. She was a dancer, a beautiful dancer. She and a girl by the name
of Wilson were always little feature dancers here in their dance class. I sent her to
Interlachen at Michigan that big camp. She went up there a couple of years and
then after she became a much better dancer, I sent her to Connecticut to the
Interview with Mary Myers Elliott 28
July 10, 2000
Martha Graham School of Modem Dance, and she went up there for two years.
She was doing that while she was in college. She graduated and married right
after graduation. She married a young ROTC and he became the student head of
ROTC. They married and went out to Waco, Texas, and he became a navigator in
the B-52. That's a very dangerous job. There were several times when he could
have had terminal accidents, but I think he had one of the best pilots that came out
of World War II. They had some very scary events but he was an excellent pilot.
I asked Tom recently what was the most dangerous thing he thought, and he said,
"It's when we have to get down to 500 feet, dive down to get under the radar.
That big ship is dangerous." They you know they were fueled in the air. I've
watched that on TV and it just seemed to me it was impossible. But Tom went to
Vietnam. Leeanne and Tom have two children, and when the second one, the
boy, was born, Tom left for Vietnam when he was just a few weeks old. When he
came home, Tommy ran to meet him; he didn't know anything of his son's first
year. He didn't like that so he decided he would get out of the Air Force and go
to law school. He did. He got a lot of honors and he practiced law for a few years
while Leeanne taught. She became a teacher right away. As they moved around,
she would teach.
B: What subject does she teach?
E: She teaches English and speech. When he went to law school, he stayed in the
reserve. Of course, they have to do quite a lot. After several years as a lawyer, he
became a judge. He was appointed, I believe, by Bob Graham. Anyway, he was
appointed a judge. That was a county judge. I don't know who appointed him to
that. It was Bob Graham who made him a circuit judge. He was in the reserve all
that time and he became a brigadier general, which is quite an accomplishment.
He is a general in the Air Force, and he is the one who has had the cancer
operation recently but he is getting well. After he had the operation, he was home
on leave, and they called and asked him to come to a luncheon, and he said, "Aw,
I don't think I'll come," but they kept insisting, so he and Leeanne went and they
gave him the highest honor a judge can get in this state.
B: Which circuit is he in?
E: He is Thomas Eugene Penick, Jr., who became a judge in St. Petersburg by
appointment, but since then has never been challenged. When election comes
around, he has never had an opponent, so now he is going to retire in four years
and has never had to run. He has prostate cancer, which he thought was terminal.
He knew nothing about cancer, but he came to Shands to a team up here and
found out that you can be cured and he's in the process now. I think I mentioned
that he wasn't going to a luncheon they were giving in St. Petersburg, but after so
many people said you need to get out of the house, he went. That's when they
presented him with this honor that they have given just four times in fifteen years.
Years go by, and they don't present it, but Tom said he was shocked to be put in
Interview with Mary Myers Elliott 29
July 10, 2000
the category with the men who had been selected. I understand that because the
first one is now a Supreme Court Judge.
What I wanted to put on the record is that Tom was a probate judge for ten years.
That means he took care of the old people. He was shocked, I'm sure, and
certainly I was, at how many lawyers that are supposed to be taking care of the
older people are robbing them. Professional men. They take the money away
from these old people and sometimes leave them stranded. My daughter,
Leeanne, his wife, said, "I'm so afraid one of those lawyers will kill him." He
and the lawyers have been taken home in flak jackets during some cases because
they were afraid they would be killed. That's right down in St. Petersburg. I was
there once when Tom came home in a flakjacket. The Mafia is very close there.
They not only have the Italian Mafia, they have the Greek Mafia. It was the
Greek Mafia that they thought would kill the lawyers and the judge because
someone heard them discussing it. I want people in the state of Florida to know
that older people need better protection from shyster lawyers, not good lawyers.
B: We, the people of Florida, are fortunate to have Tom as a judge.
E: Well, after ten years Tom said, "I'll help, but I just can't be the head judge on that
any more because I'm just worn down." Now he's on jury cases. Now that he
has this prostate cancer, which he didn't understand and thought it was a death
sentence, but my son and Dr. Schiebler got him in Shands with the good team that
they have on that type of cancer, and he's in the process of getting well.
B: That's wonderful that he's getting a good prognosis.
B: Would you like to tell me a little about your grandchildren?
E: First, I would like to say Larry's wife, Betty Lou Hawkins Elliott, has been
instrumental in helping Larry achieve his success. Betty Lou was a nurse. She is
very pretty and talented. While she was in Gainesville, she was an active member
of Junior League and taught children the value and care of animals and snakes.
Larry and Betty Lou have two daughters and a son. The older daughter graduated
from Duke. The two girls were excellent horse riders. They rode over obstacles
such as fences, but Laurie was at one time a top-rated rider in this area. That
included Atlanta, the SEC area. When she left to go to college, of course, riding
was out. She graduated from Duke and became a teacher. She married a young
man that is a lawyer in one of the biggest firms in Atlanta. She lived in an
apartment house and was doing her laundry when she met him. It has been a very
successful marriage. They have four children. Their children are, I guess,
unusually bright because they go off the charts when they examine them. Laurie
taught computer at Pace in Atlanta. Then they had a little accident and another
Interview with Mary Myers Elliott 30
July 10, 2000
child came along, and he's the one I showed you the picture of. The children are
now 14, 11, 9, and 3, and Laurie stopped teaching because she said this one would
be neglected if she didn't. Well, he's not neglected!
Mary Beth, the second daughter, was also a great rider. She won many trophies.
In fact, the house was filled with trophies. She got her Ph.D. recently. She's
married but she has no children. She's the one at Wake Forest. She married a
young man who is a very fine amateur golfer. He attended the University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill on a golf scholarship. He is currently employed as
a sales representative for the John Deere Company.
The son, Larry, went to Georgetown Prep School, and then he went to Richmond
University. He was a runner. One day when he was a youngster he looked up at
the girls' trophies and he said, "Someday I'll have trophies." He got them
running because he was very good.
The girls, of course, were teachers. Mary Beth still is. Larry isn't married. He
went from college into the Army. He wanted to be a detective, and he became a
detective in the Army. He served in Germany for I don't know how many years,
but then the Army gave a whole group the opportunity to get out if they wanted
to. I don't know why, but Larry opted to get out. Now he's a policeman in
Atlanta because he can't be a detective until he has been a policeman for a length
of time, so he's working back to being a detective. He's 6'3", slender, a runner,
and a very nice youngster. The teachers always said he was so good.
B: Does Leeanne have children?
E: Leeanne has two children. Mary Jo graduated from Stetson. Leeanne was a Tri
Delta here, and Mary Jo is a Tri Delta at Stetson, and she was their President. She
had a lot of honors that colleges give. She's a good student. Then she came up
here and lived with me for two years and got a Master's from the University of
Florida in Environmental Engineering. She has worked for EPA (the
Environmental Protection Agency) for ten years in the Atlanta area.
B: That's a wonderful field.
E: She has a good job. She lives in Atlanta and she has a lot more money than the
teachers! She married a young man whose father owns not a factory but where
they sell electrical motors. He worked for his father a long time but now he's
gone into something with computers. They have one little boy, who I think is
very, very smart, and so cute. Great-grandmother talking! Now she's going to
have a girl in October. Mary Jo and her mother I shouldn't say this but they're
both very pretty. They look so much alike that in pictures I have to look twice.
Betty Lou, Larry's wife, is a Mississippi girl, and she's very attractive. She was
talking to Leeanne in the living room. Then she went through the hall, and she
met Mary Jo, and she said, "How could you do that?" Mary Jo said, "What?"
Interview with Mary Myers Elliott 31
July 10, 2000
She said, "I was just talking to you." She said, "Well, I'm Mary Jo." You see,
the hall wasn't as light, but they do look alike. People think they are sisters they
look so much alike.
Leeanne's son, Thomas Eugene Penick, III, works for a pharmacy company while
he is going to college in St. Petersburg. He is noted for his thoughtfulness and
keen sense of humor, and he is a great cook. He married a lovely girl who is an
operating room technician but is still going to school to become an RN. I love my
grandchildren, but I am very fortunate to be able to like them also.
B: Well, you certainly have a wonderful family.
E: I tell you. I started with wonderful parents. I didn't tell the story of my mother,
but her mother died of tuberculosis when my mother was between eight and nine.
Her mother kept her by her bedside for a year a little girl learning to sew and
iron and cook. "That year," Mother said, "I didn't see daylight. I was by my
mother." My mother could do anything with a needle. She was an expert. After
she married Dad, just for fun, she took tailoring, so for a long time I was the best-
dressed girl in the state of Kansas. My mother could do anything. She'd make
me suits. She copied. She didn't need a pattern. She could make a pattern. Now
it seems like my clothes are so cheap.
B: I know you were the envy of your friends.
E: I was. When I went to a drama contest in Northwestern when I was in college, I
was voted the best-dressed girl there. I remember one of my suits was a gray
satin dress and a navy blue coat, lined in the same satin as the dress, and it had a
fur collar. Everyone thought I had bought it at great expense. I'm not sure
whether I told them Mother made it or not because after I was voted the best
dressed, being a kid, I'm not sure I told them. I hope I did.
Wherever they lived, my parents took care of the people, Dad being a doctor and
Mother his wife. I remember girls that couldn't have prom dresses, Mother would
take my old evening dresses and make them over for girls. I went back once and I
said, "You know, Mother, I want a certain dress." She said, "I'm sorry. I made it
I was taught by my parents that you take care of people. I hope that's what I've
been doing through my life. I believe that the only way to have a happy life is to
be more interested in other people than you are yourself, but you must be
interested in yourself, of course.
I had a good start. While my cousins got acres and acres of rich land, I got an
education. During the Depression, some of my cousins lost their land. That
Depression was terrible. I was teaching at the university when the Depression
was on. I fed many highly educated engineers or some other types on my back
Interview with Mary Myers Elliott 32
July 10, 2000
porch. I would make sandwiches. They were traveling to get jobs. Here I had a
job and my husband was in school getting his Ph.D.
B: I was very young, but I remember the Depression.
E: You see, I just got started working during the Depression. It was hard on
everyone. No one paid the doctor.
B: Oh no, and in our area if they did, they paid them with produce.
E: Yes. We were kind of like the minister. They would give us something to eat.
About that time, frozen food came in. We didn't have individual freezers at
home, but they had stations where you could take your chickens and things, and
they would freeze them. I know we would have a quarter of beef and hams and
chickens frozen in those places. Later we learned to freeze vegetables. Even
myself during that time, I would can as much as 100 quarts of tomatoes a season.
I fixed one-time 80 quarts of string beans. I never canned peas. They were hard
to keep. I canned cherries and peaches and apples. I lived in Michigan part of
that time, and we'd go pick cherries. Just put your hand up and you'd come back
with a handful. In Kansas and Michigan, the fruit was wonderful.
B: Aren't you glad you came to Florida?
E: Yes, I've lived here since '48, which is over half of my life. I've watched
Gainesville grow, and today if anyone asked me where I wanted to live I would
B: Are there any particular hopes or wishes that you have for the Gainesville
community or the University of Florida?
E: Yes, I wish we could quit quarreling over cement plants. The University has
become a great university. When we came here, I would say it was mediocre;
now it's great. I just wish my husband could see how it has developed because so
many things he told me would happen have happened.
I think Gainesville is proceeding very well, but I think the dying of the downtown
has been hard on the city. The mall is so important, and they're trying to build up
the downtown and I think they have a plan for the depot area. My granddaughter,
who works for EPA, was down here when they had that conference. I didn't get
to talk to her, but she said it was all about building up that area. She said it looks
as though the plan is very good. She said many cities have done what we're
going to do.
The main thing that worries me right now is roads for transportation. We don't
have enough crossroads, especially north and south.
Interview with Mary Myers Elliott 33
July 10, 2000
B: When the University opens in the fall, we're very much aware of that.
E: One thing that distresses me is the students. When I moved on this street, there
was Dean Grinter, Dr. Dell, Professor McDonald of the law school, and my
husband a professor. It was a short little street here, but all educators, and we had
such a good time. We had parties. Now the students are moving in. I lived by a
student house for twenty years before a professor bought it again. The Davies
owned it. She was a music teacher, who taught out at Santa Fe later a great
musician but she's dead now. This great street, of the original people, I am the
only one left. Dorothy McDonald, who lived next door for years and whose
daughter Kitt is now a lawyer in town, died very recently, so that left me the only
original inhabitant of this place. 2226 is my number.
B: I'm sure you're considered the historian then of N.W. 4th Place and this area,
which is so near the University and so ideal for housing for the University faculty.
E: I hate to see the student houses pushing us out. That worries me. Not long ago
there was an article in "The Alligator" about why did you build so close to the
University. My goodness, it was considered a great place to build. I've had many
offers for my house because of its location. We thought we were getting back
after the student house next door was bought by the professor, and we have except
for one house on the end. It's full of students. I don't dislike students. I dislike
their parties. The students that lived next door to me had a party every football
game, and the next morning Dr. Dell and Mary Elliott and a few others were out
picking up dozens of beer cans. We don't have that near me now. If the city can
manage its growth, it is still going to be a great place to live. I wouldn't want to
live any other place now because it's still small enough, but I'm not satisfied with
some of the places for the elderly. That's why I cling so to my home. That isn't
just a Gainesville problem; it's a national problem. I think Gainesville probably
handled it better than some places, but we have to admit that the University is the
center of town. What did your husband teach?
B: He was in agriculture. He was actually the State 4-H Club Leader and Chairman
of the 4-H Department when he retired in 1972 from the University of Florida.
E: At one time, the agricultural department was the most prestigious department on
B: It is very large and it's still such an important part of the University. You know,
the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is still most important and
E: Gainesville has a great many advantages.
B: I think it's a wonderful place to rear children.
Interview with Mary Myers Elliott 34
July 10, 2000
E: Regardless of what the paper says, the schools here are very good. I know
Buchholz High School is good. I have been out there to help one of the drama
teachers. When I taught at G.H.S., I thought it was a great school. Of course,
Larry just went to G.H.S. one year and that was way back.
B: Eastside has a very good reputation.
E: They have a program for talented children. Regardless of what people say, this is
a great educational center.
B: Mrs. Elliott, it has been very interesting to talk with you. We did not get to talk
about the organizations that you belong to, but I know that you're very active in
the American Association of University Women. I appreciate your sharing this
book with me that contains inspirations that you have given at their meetings. I
am so pleased that you're going to let me place one of these books in your file at
the Matheson Historical Museum. I know that people who read your file will
certainly enjoy getting to share those inspirations.
I also wanted to mention the award that you give to the Lady Gator basketball
team each year. Is this awarded to individuals?
E: Yes, it is awarded to the individual who is a very good player but has not been
recognized by the press. It's the Mary Myers Elliott Unsung Gator Award.
B: Could I just read it in full?
B: It says, "Lady Gator Basketball In honor of your enthusiastic support, countless
words of wisdom, and dedicated spirit, the Lady Gators designate the Mary Myers
Elliott Unsung Gator Award to be presented annually to the athlete who best
exemplifies those outstanding qualities." The date on the plaque is April 21, 1996
and it's done annually at the annual banquet, and it's a wonderful tribute to the
team and to Mrs. Elliott. It's wonderful that you have done this.
I want to thank you very much for the opportunity that you have given me to
come to your home for this interview. It has been most interesting, and I know
that it will be enjoyed by many. It will be available at the Matheson Historical
Museum. Thank you very much.
E: Thank you. It has been very pleasant to meet you.
Interview with Mary Myers Elliott 35
July 10, 2000
E: After reading the above manuscript of the July 10, 2000 tape, I realize it is
impossible to include all the important things in ones life, but I have forgotten
several things that are very important to my story.
Before I add some things about myself, I want to add some things about my
husband and our children.
My husband wrote a High School Physics Text Book for McMillan and Co. It
was a pioneer in the use of color.
My son, Larry, wrote several medical books that gave him a great reputation
throughout the world. His first book was dedicated to me. He has given me
copies of each of his books. In the first one, the following inscription was written
by and signed by him:
"To my mother who by superior example and continuous love and
dedicated love and support, stimulated an ordinary man to academic
heights and achievements never dreamed possible."
Leeanne is an excellent writer, but she does it just for fun. She is very talented in
crafts, gardening, interior decorating and painting. I am attaching a copy of the
beautifully framed poem, "That Woman Is A Success" by Barbara J. Burrow. It
was given to me by Leeanne ready to hang on my wall, where I enjoy it each day.
My children are more talented in art than I am. Thank goodness! They are both
talented parents and grandparents. Their grandchildren, my great grandchildren,
seem to be very good students and very good athletes.
I think it is time for me to tell a little more of my civic life in Gainesville. In
1989, I was honored to be chosen a Woman of Distinction. That is considered a
great honor in Gainesville. I'm not sure I deserved the honor, but, of course, I
didn't turn it down. Every place I have lived I have joined clubs that work for the
community. In Gainesville, I joined Daughters of the American Revolution, the
Gainesville Woman's Club, the University Woman's Club, the American
Association of University Women, the League of Women Voters, the United
Nations, the Great Decisions Group, etc. I helped establish Tri Delta Sorority on
the University of Florida campus. On August 8, 2000, I received a national honor
from Tri Delta as an Outstanding Alumni. I belong to Delta Kappa Gamma, an
honorary teacher's sorority. I was president of that against my will. I have held
other offices but I prefer to work uninhibited. Early in 1950, I was president of
the Alachua County Teachers. That was a hard job, but Virginia Leps was a
tower of strength and made the job worthwhile. We did a lot for the teachers. We
hired a lawyer, Osee Fagan, to attend School Board meetings for us. The
meetings at that time were held in the afternoon, and we could never attend. At
Interview with Mary Myers Elliott 36
July 10, 2000
that time, the black teachers did not meet with the white teachers. Virginia and I
made it possible for the black teachers to have access to Mr. Fagan's information.
I'm afraid Virginia and I were considered very radical, but the teachers of today
think we were very tame. I was president of the County English Teachers. My
experience in school politics was interesting, but that story is too long to tell here.
I am still distressed by the meager salaries that teachers make.
Now my big interest, as I said earlier, is in Lady Gator Basketball. I have great
respect for Coach Carol Ross's program, and I love working with her and her
I think it is time to end this discussion. I love Gainesville and I hope I have done
a little to make it a better place to live.
My primary interest is my family. I am so proud because they are all caring and
responsible people. My greatest honors have come from my children. Yes, the
fact that my children love, admire and respect me is the highlight of my life and
that includes my grandchildren, all their spouses, and my great grandchildren.
Interview with Mary Myers Elliott 37
July 10, 2000
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