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  Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Printed September 2, 2002, editorial page.
Re-printed below per permission of Tom Colley (1941-2009), GHS Class of '59
 

Editorial Columns
Keen Mountain Says Farewell to an Icon of Imagination
By: Tom Colley September 02, 2002
Keen Mountain was a tight-knit community in the '50s. Two-lane Route 460 demanded skill at the wheel if you went faster than 35, and if you wanted to join in family chats, you had better know all about mining and politics. You probably wouldn't hear about last night's PTA meeting and you certainly would never hear discussions about poet Robert Frost or Shakespeare's King Lear.
Unless you were visiting the one house in Keen Mountain where Frost and Shakespeare and PTA meetings were always on the agenda. You might have to push aside some student essays, and a pile of magazines and books to find a seat, but the warmth of the heart made the home a palace of knowledge.

It was Mrs. Obra Simpson's house, and the topics didn't fit the typical Keen Mountain lifestyle.

Mrs. Simpson was a teacher. And if you listened carefully, you could learn a lot more than the literary weavings of Shakespeare or Tennyson. She endured the experience of life that spanned more than nine decades, and she liked to talk about it on occasion.

She was buried Saturday in Greenhills Memory Gardens Cemetery at Claypool Hill. She was 94. Her obituary said she was born in Norcross, Ga., the daughter of the late Willie Posie and Eula Lee Stephens Rogers. She was a member of the Delta Kappa Gamma Honorary Teachers Society and a member of the Garden United Methodist Church.

Although she lived and taught in Buchanan County schools for 36 years, her lasting legacy will be her 30-year influence at Garden High School at Oakwood, which is now consolidated with Whitewood High.

I was one of her students. As a Keen Mountain neighbor, I got to know her as a family friend. Over the years, she shared some of her life's experiences in the folksy manner reminiscent of her column, "From the Hearthside," which Grundy Editor Lodge Compton published in his newspaper, The Virginia Mountaineer, for many years.

She loved to talk about the shaping events of her life, and could detail the profiles of my brothers and sisters with impressive insight, including my own youthful insecurities.

Mrs. Simpson liked to remember the Georgia clay of her days as a young girl, and talked about Georgia with fondness.

One day years ago, during a long warm visit by her hearthside, she talked about an episode she experienced as a young girl in Georgia. She said a body was dragged along the dirt street in front of her house and she was curious whether or not her father knew about it. The next day, she rode beside him on a horse-drawn buckboard into town and never spoke a word during the long ride. It was a paralyzing experience for a youngster.

Her vivid memories about her early life in Georgia would have fascinated Margaret Mitchell, and would have made an unforgettable book.

And even though her share of Keen Mountain was very different than her mining community neighbors, she knew all them - perhaps more than most realized. She taught their children, and she knew them well.

It's tough to say goodbye to such a remarkable person. Since the hot summers and snowy winters of the 1950s, much has changed in Keen Mountain. The curvy white-lined 460 was transformed into a four-laned highway in the late '60s, and the architecture of the community changed with it. Familiar faces faded into other communities and other states as opportunities dwindled. A declining school enrollment and shrinking county school budget necessitated a consolidation of the Green Dragons of Oakwood with the Whitewood Indians across the mountain.

Saturday, an icon from an era unique in Buchanan County's history vanished. However, the pioneer of academics and an influence on social development will live on in the memories of those who survive her times.

But as long as the stately old steepled building that once was Garden High School stands, there will remain the echoes of a voice for Shakespeare - and the shaping of imaginations of impressionable young minds.

Tom Colley 9is executive editor of the Daily Telegraph.
Printed Sept 2, Bluefield Daily Telegraph, editorial page.
 
©Bluefield Daily Telegraph 2002

"FROM THE HEARTHSIDE"
by
Obra R. Simpson, published in The Virginia Mountaineer - Thursday, August 22, 1991 - page 5B.
 

"...How Our Garden Grows,"
by Obra R. Simpson, extracted from an article in The Virginia Mountaineer - Thursday, August 9, 1962 - page 1 of Special Edition.
 


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Re-printed from Virginia Mountaineer, Good Olde Days, Feb 13, 2003


 

 


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