A hundred dollars changed the course of Ralph Lowe’s life.
Growing up in Columbus the youngest of nine children, Lowe planned to follow his five brothers into the military and attend college on the GI bill after his service ended. Instead, a $100 scholarship through his mother’s position as PTA treasurer sent him to school.
After earning his degree from Savannah State, he earned his masters through a National Science Foundation grant.
“I had three offers when I finished college. One was in Miami, Florida. One, I believe, was in Bainbridge, Georgia. The other was here in Cartersville,” Lowe said. “I think, because I got into coaching with the teaching, I came to Cartersville.”
Lowe began his teaching career at Summer Hill in 1963 before moving to Cartersville High School after desegregation. Eventually an offer from Bartow County schools sent Lowe to the “old, old Cass High.” He would spend a year as the math, Title I and science coordinator for the county school system before taking over as principal at Cass Primary School. He opened Mission Road Elementary School and served as principal until he retired in 1993.
“I guess, back during that time and probably because of segregation, a lot of black kids education was one of the most frequent professions that they went into. It was something that I could do and learn to do, and I could do it with a four-year degree. I always had that option with a BS ... in mathematics I could go in other fields also,” Lowe said. “I ended up teaching, and I ended up liking it.”
Several years after retiring, Lowe went to work as a bailiff in Bartow County Superior Court, where he remains today.
Having served with New Frontier of Bartow County, Boys & Girls Club, coordinated the MLK Day and Emancipation Proclamation celebrations, and countless other committees, Lowe said his most important service comes as a member of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church.
“I think my life has been a family affair,” he said. “My family are Christians and church-going people, so I always made it my choice to be part of the community of believers wherever I was.”
Name: Ralph Lowe
City of Residence: Cartersville
Occupation: Retired educator and bailiff for Bartow County Superior Court
Family: Wife, Queen; one daughter; one granddaughter
Education: Spencer High School in Columbus; Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from Savannah State; masters in math from Southeastern State College in Durant, Oklahoma; fifth-year certification in administration from West Georgia; sixth-year certification in supervision and administration from Jacksonville State University
How did you end up in education?
A: I tell you my plans were after I graduated from high school, a bunch of us guys got together and decided we’d go in the service, and my mom had other plans. She said, “Boy, we are going to try to get you in school.” My plans were to go to the service and three years, come out and go to school on the GI bill. I had five brothers to do it, so I was going to do the same thing.
My mom had been the treasurer of the PTA through nine kids — I was the last one. Believe it or not, they gave me $100 scholarship through her and that $100 got me started doing school. You wouldn’t believe that would you? Let me tell you something even more unbelievable. Tuition, room and board for Savannah State College in 1959 was $628 a year. We paid by the quarter; I think it was $228 a quarter. So I only had to earn $128 that summer before school started in the fall in order to go to college. So I worked with my dad — my dad was sort of a handyman, so I painted with him and he paid me enough to get by on that. I wrote to school and told them in order for me to stay, I had to have a job. That’s what I did ... One quarter to the next, I paid for the next quarter for working. I saw a paycheck one time. I was something like $35 in the black when I graduated, and I went and got the check on the day of my graduation. That’s how I ended up in college, and math was my best subject in school so I decided to make that my major.
How did you end up working in the court system?
A: I was at Cartersville High School; my daughter was in the chorus. I was waiting there on the porch for my wife — I had retired — and the sheriff then, Don Thurman, he had a daughter, I think, that sung in the chorus. He come up to me and asked me did I want a job. Of course I told him I might. Eventually I took it, and that’s been 16 years ago, more than 16 years ago. I ran the service station on the corner of Cassville Road and end of Erwin Street, right there across from the cemetery, for two years. After I retired, I did, had a little barbecue shack in back. ... It’s been about 18 years ago since Don offered me that job. I been down here about 16 years.
What do you like about being a bailiff?
A: Well, learning about the law. I really did. ... It’s fascinating. You get an understanding of why lawyers act as they do and how they defend their clients they have. I even thought about going back to school. At the time, Judge Davis was the judge in courtroom C ... — that was the judge before Judge Nelson. ... I told him that the profession of an attorney was quite fascinating. I told him I thought about going back to school and getting a law degree. He told me I should do that, and he went and got the law book and showed me that, you know, if you retire from one profession, the state of Georgia will pay your tuition to go back to school and into another profession. ... I guess I was too late to get back in the books, thought I was too old to do it, too. I enjoyed learning about the law really.
From classroom to courtroom, what do you think has the biggest impact on a young person’s life?
A: Their home. Definitely the home. The school can do a lot of things, even sometimes if the kids don’t get off to a good start at home with the corporation of the home, the school can be a lot of assistance to them. The home is the biggest factor. Even if the kid is underprivileged at home, the attitude at home makes a lot of difference when they get to school. There’s a lot of stuff they can still learn even though they don’t have a lot of resources to provide them with. The home will always be the first teaching, probably the most important teaching, the kid will ever have.
What was the process of integrating schools here like?
A: Mine was a good one, really. There was some discrimination and still is, but I think the way you approach it yourself. I like to say that I respect people and I like say that I demand that they respect me. Mine was a good one with the kids and with the parents. I always tried to be fair, and I wanted people to be fair with me. I guess sometimes, most of the time I spoke up when I thought something wasn’t right, but I tried to do it with discretion and do it in the right way.
How important is it for you to give back to the community?
A: Just the enjoyment, really. Serving the community and doing things that are helpful — I experienced a lot of help in my growing up, and I guess I was taught, through my parents — we didn’t have a whole lot, but what we did have we were taught to share what we had with others. They were a part of the community ... through the church. I think it’s just a part of my lifestyle and my family’s lifestyle.
What makes Bartow County special?
A: I came from a larger city in Georgia, you know, Columbus. I think it occupied seat No. 4 as far as counties — that’s Muscogee County. For a small town, Cartersville has a lot going for it. They’re an outgoing place. … they have traditions of excellence. Of course that’s true in both our schools and the city and county as a whole, we are an outstanding place to be. I can remember being here in my early years, and I’d say, “I work in Cartersville,” didn’t anyone know where that was. Cartersville is a recognizable name and they can relate that to a lot of good things that are happening in this county and in this city. I guess it kind of fell along with the city and the kind of things that were going on.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
A: Let me see. I think my life is pretty much an open book. I don’t know. I don’t think too much is hid.
What is your personal motto?
A: I know mine would probably be biblical, you know, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.”
What is your favorite meal?
A: Now you going my line; I love to eat. Because my eating is restricted now because of age and physical condition, if I had to be specific, I love vegetables. I love most meats from the pig; I love the pork. ... I love cabbage. On my birthday, I told my wife, “You don’t have to take me out to eat. Do me some cabbage, some cornbread, believe it or not some pork neckbones ... and sweet potatoes, and I’m satisfied.”
Who would play Ralph Lowe in the movie about your life?
A: I don’t know, probably some street kid. ... I sort of grew up in a neighborhood that was not the best, but I had parents that made my experience through the church. I have done some things I shouldn’t have. I think that’s one reason I could related to the kids when I taught is because I didn’t always make the right decision myself and I could understand them making mistakes. You can’t ever tell the impressions you’ve made on a child’s life, you know, at the point. ... Kids don’t get the message sometimes until they mature enough and they can remember what someone said to them. Down the line, they can relate to it, and they can remember, “Well, this guy said this a long time ago.” I had some kids say that to me, “I remember you saying this.”