BE’s oldest alum tells tales from the early years

CHARLESTON—At 101 years old, Mary Agnes McGorty Pattillo is the oldest living graduate of Bishop England High School.

One year older than her alma mater, Mrs. Pattillo is scheduled to be a guest of honor at the upcoming Mass to celebrate the school’s 100th anniversary. She is hopeful she can attend, but is still recovering from a heart attack and was just released from hospice.

Joking, Mrs. Pattillo suggested she could make it if she had a helicopter to carry her there and back.

Sitting on a flowered sofa — which has its own story of being rescued after Hurricane Hugo — Mrs. Pattillo’s smile lights up her face and eyes. Although she struggles with her hearing, the centenarian is still sharp and notes that she has all her teeth and doesn’t wear glasses.

BE-alumni-scan-webHer daughter, Carole Darling, reminisces with her mom, recalling memories from high school and all the years after. Mrs. Pattillo — Mary Agnes then — graduated with the class of 1932; a teenager during the Great Depression.

“Nobody had any money,” she said. In those days, Bishop England didn’t have lunch options, so everyone brought what they could afford — usually crackers or bread. But Mrs. Pattillo loved going to school. As the only girl in a family of seven boys, she looked forward to being with her girl friends, even putting up with the hated school uniform, which in those days included a blue skirt, white blouse, heavy black stockings, and a black tie.

Bishop England later switched to Irish green.

Stories abound about the nuns and priests, some especially well-loved. One of her favorites was Father Joseph L. O’Brien, the school’s first rector, who would sit on the desks and chat with the students.

Mrs. Pattillo also recalls the room where the nuns stored their habits. One day, a classmate snuck in, put on a nun’s veil, and stood in the glass door making faces and entertaining students. “We thought it was so funny,” she said.

It was a much different time. Mrs. Pattillo said few people had cars, so when she visited friends on Folly Beach or Sullivan’s Island, she had to walk to the ferry (there were no bridges) and then hop a trolley to the designation.

One of her closest friends was Dorothea Blanchard, future mom of the novelist Dorothea Benton Frank.

Another fact that may be a shocker to Southern sports fans — where football is King — was the non-existence of Friday Night Lights then.

“We didn’t know anything about football,” Mrs. Pattillo said. “Everybody played baseball and basketball.”

Mrs. Darling said she only recently discovered that her mom played high school basketball and was described as a pretty good player. Mrs. Pattillo waves her hand dismissively at this. She said her most vivid memory of basketball is getting the flu at an away tournament. She was so sick, she had to stay with a host Catholic family until she was well enough to return home on the train.

During this same time frame, her brother Thomas was on the Bishop England team that won the National Invitation Tournament in Chicago in 1929 and had their photo taken with President Herbert Hoover.

After high school, life was especially busy. Mary Agnes McGorty married Francis Edward Pattillo and they had five children. A product of the Depression, she always worked hard, first from home and then as a proof reader and typesetter for the News and Courier; retiring in the mid-80s.

If she can attend the 100th anniversary event it will be the second recent honor she’s received for her accomplishments, joining the papal blessing from her 100th birthday and maybe earning a spot beside the framed photo of herself with Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone.