Rose Gardener: Maldonia’s Story

“The fragrance always remains in the hand that gives the rose.” — Chinese proverb

With the John and Maldonia Fullwood Family Reunion coming up this summer and my dad’s birthday this week, sentimentality and family pride have been stirred. The portrait below is of Mary Maldonia McGimpsey Fullwood, my great-grandmother who was born 132 years ago. She died before I was born, yet I have always felt a deep connection to her because of my father’s profound affection and memories of his grandmother, as revealed in the story that follows. Maldonia was a mother of 10 children and I recently posted stories about some of them here, as well as a story about her dad here.

Mary Maldonia McGimpsey Fullwood, circa 1945

Mary Maldonia McGimpsey Fullwood, circa 1945

by Allen Fullwood
A story from Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists

Cherished times grew plentiful on the front porch of my grandmother’s home. My sister, cousins and I spent a large share of our childhood playing up and down Bouchelle Street and around Mama’s house. Mama Fullwood is what the other grandchildren called her, but to me she was always just Mama.

Mama’s porch was a beloved gathering spot for extended family while I was coming up. During the long stretch of summer in the South, you could find Mama sitting in her favorite chair, uncles and aunts perched on the banister and visitors often overflowing to the lawn. One too many cousins and I usually pressed our luck to sit snugly together in the porch swing that hung by a slim chain. As passersby neared the house, Mama would invite them to come up and sit a spell. Unless something was pressing, refusals were few.

At the corner of the porch sprung a beautiful rosebush that bloomed bountifully around Mother’s Day. It was sort of a tradition for neighbors along Bouchelle to stop by Mama’s house Sunday morning or the day before for a red blossom clipped from her rosebush. This simple gift was emblematic of her generosity, and I can picture her smile as she graciously gave each rose.

Monetary wealth was not found in our family, yet Mama earned a reputation for being a generous woman who loved her family deeply, served her church devoutly and gave to all freely. Her manner of treating people provided lessons everyday about giving of yourself, your time, your energy and a kind word. When called to give material objects including money, she taught us to give ungrudgingly.

Mama cared for her family like she tended her rosebush. She exposed each of us to the light of church and faith, rooted us in tradition, nurtured us with encouragement and was prompt to prune us when we grew unwieldy and wild. Her good deeds were a trellis during our upbringing. She likely smiles among the clouds as she watches the seeds of her generosity blossoming today.

Seven Generations and One Hundred, Ten Years Ago

Christian and Riley McGimpsey with family and friends, 1903

Christian and Riley McGimpsey with family and friends, 1903

This is a story about Riley R. McGimpsey (28 Mar 1845 – 20 Apr 1934), my great-great-grandfather, as told to me by my elder cousin Nettie McGimpsey McIntosh for my book Giving Back:

Despite common perceptions, Black men have long been industrious. And evidently my grandfather Riley was as hardworking as men of any race come. I call him a Black entrepreneur, but back then industrious is the word people used.

I archive and keep our family’s history. I have scoured over family artifacts and Census data. Some time in the mid-1800s on the McGimpsey farm in Burke County, North Carolina, a slave named Clarissa gave birth to a son she named Riley. While born into slavery, Riley eventually became a sharecropper who sold his part of the produce—corn, wheat, molasses and such. Documents I have come across show his products sold as far away as Mullins, South Carolina, which was hundreds of miles from the farmland of Fonta Flora. He even owned one of the county’s few reaper-binders and loaned it out to others.

Fondly remembered and respected by people all over the county, my grandfather prospered in farming and with various small enterprises. He grew well known for giving away fresh produce and all kinds of things to community people, regardless of color. Riley was born a slave, but died an entrepreneur and philanthropist. Don’t let a meager start or scant resources limit what you do in life.

The portrait above is on display at the History Museum of Burke County. Riley is seated on the far right and his wife Christian V. Moore McGimpsey is seated next to him. Their daughter Mary Maldonia, who is my great-grandmother is seated on the far left.

Fast forward one hundred and ten years: There will be a family reunion this summer, kicking off at the History Museum of Burke County, with five more generations—the far-flung descendants of Maldonia McGimpsey and the man she would later marry John Wesley Fullwood. Cannot wait!

— VF

What They Prize Most

“Children must early learn the beauty of generosity. They are taught to give what they prize most that they may taste the happiness of giving.” — Ohiyesa, Native American physician, writer and change agent

Photograph, from the 1980s, of my late grandmother and her sisters featured in the Morganton New Herald

Photograph, from the 1980s, of my late grandmother and her sisters featured in a Morganton News Herald story on giving.

My cousin Britt recently shared this photo as our family prepares for a reunion this summer. The original photograph was taken in May 1983 at my great-aunt Annie’s wedding anniversary party. It features my grandmother and four of her sisters: (l-r) Annie, Esther, Laura, Goldie and Evelyn, known to me at Nanny Evelyn.

In 2007, the Morganton News Herald ran an article in its Faith and Values section about the Fullwood sisters’ “old-fashioned kindness of yesteryear.” At the time this piece ran, they all had passed on except Aunt Annie, who is still with us and is profiled through portraiture and storytelling in Giving Back. The article laments how “communities are losing a generation of good citizens.”

Referencing my great-grandparents, the writer observes:

“John and Maldonia Fullwood aspired to teach their children the goodness of serving and sharing with others. Having parents that believed in family and putting into practice the old mission of being good to and helping your fellowman was just natural.”

I am a fortunate heir to a prized legacy of giving. And I believe that a spirit of generosity prevails in my generation and in younger ones. Generosity does, however, need nurturing in children, and oftentimes adults too, through example, expectation and opportunity. The book Giving Back stands as a centerpiece of the Giving Back Project, which ventures to ignite a movement of conscientious philanthropy by empowering a generation of Americans to recognize their power and responsibility to give back. Along with others igniting this movement, I want to fan the flames—with my writing, my public speaking, my creative and artistic endeavors, my social media interactions, my giving and my life.

So grateful that Fullwood family members, generation after generation, showed me their values and told me clearly through their deeds, girl #getyourgiveon

— VF

Christmas Past

The sweetest memories are contained in this photo of me and my sister, one Christmas morning. What a wild and wonderful flashback!

Chistmas Past

Children must early learn the beauty of generosity. They are taught to give what they prize most that they may taste the happiness of giving. — Ohiyesa

Much Given, Much Expected

“To whom much is given much is expected. This biblical passage from the Gospel of Luke conveys a belief that I and many of my African American family and friends hold dear. Many of us recall a defining moment or childhood lessons that influence our philanthropic giving.”

I’ve opened with these lines from Giving Back to say thanks to many of the people who gave their time, talent and treasure during the development of the book. The word cloud below is yet another way of giving props….as was done here too.

Of Fathers and Philanthropy

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Creativity swirling around in my mind definitely comes from my dad. He’s imaginative, hilarious, an unconventional thinker and a constant writer. Even though our being too much alike predictably results in occasional friction, our conflicts never eclipse our respect, pride and love for each other.

My father’s philanthropic spirit has been a substantial force in my life, too. For as long as I can remember, he has shown profound compassion for people experiencing struggles. I suppose then it makes perfect sense that his background is in social work and that much of his employment and community service have focused on enhancing the lives of the mentally ill, the developmentally challenged and the marginalized.

During the entirety of his life and mine as well, Daddy has served in the church and for community causes. He was active in the Jaycees before I entered kindergarten, and some of my earliest memories are of the family taking part in his community service projects and fundraising events. Throughout my school days, he served on the school board and even led it as board chair. As little kids, Diatra and I helped with his campaigns each time an election rolled around. Daddy later became a trustee at the community college and eventually president of the National Association of Community College Trustees. He has always loved community service and in each instance poured himself and his resources into it and brought along his family on every pursuit into philanthropy.

In his retirement, Daddy remains active on nonprofit committees and still supports education by leading his local NC Central University alumni chapter. He volunteers so frequently, it’s often hard for me to keep up.

Daddy’s imprint on me is undeniable and quite obvious to people who know us both. My book Giving Back reflects the creativity he passed on and then nurtured within me. The book’s focus on philanthropy is the result of beliefs bequeathed to him and then handed down to his daughters. In recognition of philanthropic fathers everywhere and the power they possess to change the world through their children and generations yet unborn, below are excerpts from Giving Back about or from fathers and grandfathers. — VF

“Treat giving like tithes and getting your hair done.”

Daryl Parham (portrait with one of his three daughters shown right)

“I never consciously associated Granddaddy’s life with one of a philanthropist…I just thought that was who Granddaddy was. But, now I get it.”

Marcus Littles

“I have always admired how he overcame obstacles to blaze trails in business and eventually become the Raleigh region’s first African American owner and operator of McDonald’s franchises. While my father made an indelible mark in business, his servant spirit in giving defines his legacy.”

Reggie Pretty (shown left)

“My father is a deacon and he believes in taking care of the elderly and the widows. My father did shift work. I can remember him getting off graveyard, coming home to eat breakfast, and then, he and I would go out into the community.”

Lyord Watson, Jr.

“I feel obligated to give regularly like I am paying my monthly bills.”

James Mitchell (my late grandfather, shown right)

“My father modeled giving. His generous spirit touched everyone he met. And I came to realize that giving begins with belief – belief that the smallest gift can make a difference; believe that everyone is worthy of a chance and that each of us can provide that opportunity.”

Ruthye Cureton Cooley

“‘Give a youth a chance’ is almost a cliché, but as Dad’s mantra it is so much more than that.”

Lisa Crawford (her father John Crawford is shown left)

“Monetary wealth was not found in our family, yet Mama earned a reputation for being a generous woman who loved her family deeply, served her church devoutly and gave to all freely.”

Allen Fullwood

Ninety-One Years

Aunt Dora, a great aunt, indeed. Photography by Charles W. Thomas Jr.

My muse and great-aunt, Dora—whose hands provide evocative imagery for the cover of my book Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists—celebrated her 91st birthday last week. What a blessing!

When I called Aunt Dora with birthday well-wishes that night, she told me about her day. She began with a swim and water aerobics class. Then she had lunch with the friendly faces at Our Daily Bread, the soup kitchen she founded over 20 years ago. She delighted in the steady inflow of birthday calls and cards from folks around the country. And she wrapped up her special day with a family dinner at her favorite seafood restaurant.

If I’m granted 91 years on earth (or anywhere near that many), I hope each one is filled, like Aunt Dora’s, with a fair share of faith, health, family, friends, passions and purpose. May your year and every one to come be filled with the same. — VF

Mr. and Mrs. Jones

“Light glorifies everything. It transforms and ennobles the most commonplace and ordinary subjects.” — Leonard Misonne, photographer

One of the stories featured in Giving Back pays tribute to Carlotta and Johnnie Jones—ordinary people with an extraordinary philanthropic spirit. Faith and long family traditions provide light for their path of generous giving. The Jones’s firm beliefs and lifelong example inspired their daughter Melandee to share her story for the book.

Their enlightened family legacy lives on. Melandee serves on the boards of Arts For Life, BDPA and Citizen Schools. She also is member of New Generation of African American Philanthropists, a giving circle that gives back. — VF

MISTER JONES | Charles W. Thomas Jr., photographer

The Best Luck

Charles W. Thomas, photographer

The best luck I’ve ever experienced in life is my beautiful mother. Continue having a Happy Birthday Week, Momma! 

“I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life.” — Abraham Lincoln


A Good Man in Asheboro

Charles W. Thomas Jr., photographer

A year ago today, my grandfather James Mitchell departed this earth after eighty-six years of a beautiful life. I had the fortune of being with him in Asheboro when he passed on and, earlier, to have collected his story and portrait for the book Giving Back.

To commemorate his passing, today I’m sharing the tribute that I prepared with my sister and presented at his funeral.

Below is the tribute:

I’ve read ‘a good man is not a perfect man…but rather a good man is an honest man, and one who is faithful to God and doesn’t hesitate in responding to the voice of God in his life.’

And my grandfather, James Mitchell, was a good man. When I was a little girl I was convinced he was a rich man…in fact, the richest man around. Whenever I got a glimpse of him peeling off bills from a wad of money to pay for gas or groceries or candy for Diatra and me. I was convinced he was a millionaire. Who knows, looking back it could have been wads of one-dollar bills.

In any case, the good man that he was, he left us millions of beautiful memories and lessons about living a good life.

Diatra and I were talking the other night and we were flooded with the sweetest memories of Granddaddy. They ranged from the BB Walker shoes he bought us when we were little girls and that we proudly sported at church and school to the BB King concerts we attended together because he was Granddaddy’s favorite musician.

Our memories are plentiful and include…

The smell of Cashmere Bouquet soap in motel rooms on our family vacations to Atlantic Beach, where Granddaddy would swing us into the ocean waves,

The sense of adventure in riding shotgun in H-5—the big transfer truck he drove for decades at Harrelson Tire Company,

The charmed life we lived during our summers in Asheboro with Granddaddy chauffeuring us around town in one of his many faithful and well-waxed Oldsmobiles or in the back of his Ford pick-up truck. Diatra was particularly fond of stops at the Quik Pik convenience store where he bought her stashes of assorted Now & Later candies.

We remember…

Playing in the front yard, and in yards up and down Franks Street, in the summertime while Granddaddy sat watch from the front porch with a Mason jar of ice-cold water nearby.

We remember…

Music filling our grandparents’ house as he played his jams from his beloved record collection.

And when we were really little, his teaching each of us to dance while standing on the tops of his gigantic shoes.

We remember…

Sitting at the kitchen table studying maps and atlases as we “helped” Granddaddy prepare to hit the road for Harrelson. We were really good students too and years later flipped the script and had him getting out maps to find where in the world we were flying off to next.

We remember a really good man who shaped so much about who are today.

A passage from Ralph Waldo Emerson expresses what Granddaddy’s legacy embodies:

‘To laugh often and much. To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of one’s critics and endure the betrayal of false friends.

‘To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better, whether a healthy child, a redeemed social condition, or a job well done. To know even one other life has breathed easier because you live. This is to have succeeded.’

James Mitchell, we will forever love and remember you well.

— VF