Charlotte Thomas Marshall
Tell us a bit about how you came to live in and love Athens.
Following graduation from Wesleyan College in 1963, I became a traveling admissions counselor for the college and in that connection became friends with admissions personnel from other colleges and universities. In the summer of 1965 Morris O. “Mo” Phelps, UGA Director of Freshman Admissions, offered me the job being vacated by Claire Swann who was resigning to become a fulltime mother. Mo was the first person to tell me about Athens history and share his love of the institution and the town. I had already signed a contract with Wesleyan for the fall, and UGA held the job for me until January 1966. When I arrived, I thought I might be here 2-3 years before moving to Atlanta. I grew up in the small town of Donalsonville and was working my way up to the big city.
Eleven months after arriving I met George O. Marshall, Jr., professor of English, and my life has never been the same since. It has blossomed in directions I had never envisioned. We were engaged in three weeks, married in four months and lived a rich life of sharing for 45 ½ years until his death at age 90½ in 2012. George had loved Athens from the time he transferred here as a junior in 1941, and he kept returning to Athens whenever he had to be away. His first wife, Marion West, was a member of a longtime Athens family, and following her death he had remained close to her mother and relatives, who very generously widened their family circle to include me. They were lovers of Athens history and set about orienting me. Little did I know then that my life would eventually focus on gathering Athens history. It has been an interesting and joyous journey of discovery. Now all of that family are a part of Athens history, and I remain.
You have written books and coauthored books on the topics of Oconee Hill Cemetery and the history of Athens. How did you come to develop an interest and become so passionate and knowledgeable about these topics?
As already mentioned, the West family — Mrs. Henry H. West, Frances West Reid, and their nephew Bucky Redwine – along with my husband were my initial mentors. Through them I became a member of the Athens Historical Society and met many other stimulating mentors, including Susan Frances Barrow Tate, wife of Dean William Tate (who was also a font of knowledge). Mrs. Tate and I soon formed a very special bond which deepened when I was assigned to research the history of the Taylor-Grady House – my first historical research project – after I was invited to join the Athens Junior Assembly (now Junior League). The group had just begun restoration of the house. Previous to that I was an ardent gardener, but I soon learned that one can’t work outdoors and conduct research at the same time. A ride by my house will testify to gardening having receded in priority. Another mentor, Mary Claire Bondurant Warren, stepped forward to open new frontiers to me in connection with the Taylor-Grady research, and she and I became fast friends. Her daughter, Eve Warren Mayes, is an expert researcher and has furthered my efforts on multiple occasions. Many, many people have been gracious and generous in sharing information. I guess I am passionate about my research because I always want to know more – how and why. The late Patricia Irvin Cooper taught us local researchers many valuable lessons, the most important of which was answering “how to do know?”
Through your extensive research and plethora of knowledge on Athens and Oconee Hill, what are a few of your favorite facts that you have learned about the families that built this town?
Athens is different from other towns in Georgia because it was not founded as a trading settlement but as the home of an institution of higher education and its institution, the University of Georgia, has remained here since its inception. Other towns were established for similar reasons – Penfield, home of Mercer University; Midway in Baldwin County, home of Oglethorpe University; and Oxford, home of Emory University – but their institutions moved to cities. The nature of the population attracted to Athens from its beginning in 1801 was educated and geographically diverse, many coming from New England bearing college degrees. They were tolerant of differences, and that characteristic is still a hallmark today. Throughout its first century and well into the second Athens has been fortunate to be led by capable, far-sighted men who were often termed “golden-hearted” in their obituaries because they advocated for the well being of the community as well as their own prosperity. Oconee Hill Cemetery – and other Athens cemeteries – are the final resting place of thousands of good citizens who have made Athens a fine place to live and whose stories can be inspirations to the present and future generations. I love knowing those stories.
What do you believe the keys to Living Well and Aging Well?
Staying involved with other people and caring. It is when people disengage that they cease to live and just exist. While I find much stimulation in research, I get even more from sharing with other people. It is the exchange, the communication, the interaction, that energizes me. And I like to figure out puzzles, whether they are genealogical, historical, crossword, jigsaw, or some other kind – anything that keeps the mind involved.
What’s next for Charlotte Marshall? What are your big arrangements, goals, or plans on the horizon for 2018 and beyond that you are most looking forward to?
I’m presently working with an inspiriting group under the leadership of Milton Leathers to produce a second volume of The Tangible Past in Athens, Georgia. Hearing about their research projects has been fascinating and eye-opening. There is still much about Athens’ past to be put in print and shared. And I’m working – but admittedly not arduously – on the other three volumes about Oconee Hill Cemetery. The manuscript is in my computer, and I annotate occasionally but not as regularly as I should. I do intend to finish because I don’t want to disappoint the families who are waiting. Otherwise, I no longer make big, long-term commitments. I prefer ad hoc projects. I enjoy trouble-shooting with others on their projects and watching them make discoveries. Many people have helped me, and I am trying to honor their help by helping others. We never know what door is going to swing open beckoning us to new involvements and discoveries. I hope to be involved in a compelling project right up to the last breath.
I know you stay busy year round. Tell us about some of the activities, groups, and organizations you most enjoy being involved with.
During the past 52 years I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of many groups, all of which have contributed to my growth and awareness. I am a member of First Baptist Church and have enjoyed researching its history and people since 1980 when the church was celebrating its sesquicentennial. And I have been honored to serve as a deacon of the church. Since the early 1980s I’ve widened my research to many of the downtown churches. At different times since 1967 my horizons and friendships have been extended by my neighborhood garden club, the University Woman’s Club, Athens Historical Society, Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation, Ladies Garden Club, Athens Junior Assembly/Junior League, Clarke Oconee Genealogical Society, and Historic Oglethorpe County, and many of those groups entrusted me with leadership roles. I was the first woman to serve on the Board of Oconee Hill Cemetery and the first woman to serve as president of the Board of what was then the Athens Boys Club. Later I was a founding member of the Friends of Oconee Hill Cemetery. I do stay busy much of the time, but not busy for the sake of being busy. I’m busy because I’m interested in whatever I’m doing – but I can usually stop awhile to help someone else with their project, particularly if it’s compelling!