They say as long as you are spoken of, you never really die. If that’s true, Mary Shivers warrants immortality. Though she left this Earth while Pope Francis was still known as Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the then-Archbishop of Buenos Aries would surely be smiling if he had known the life lived by this selfless South Carolinian of the highest order. In fact, this lifelong Baptist’s life story could be ripped from the pages of Saint Francis of Assisi ‘s “Guide To A Better World”,had he ever paused long enough to pen one. Mary Shivers was preceded in death by another notable Franciscan-follower: Mother Teresa. Three years ago, I wrote an op-ed piece for The State Newspaper in an attempt to pay tribute to Mary Shivers– the South Carolina Saint– by comparing her to Teresa of Calcutta–the Saint-In-Progress. I hope an updated re-publication this piece is warranted today. Happy Birthday Mary Shivers: Pope Francis would’ve been proud.
Lower Richland County, S.C. is a far cry from Calcutta, India; however, they share an extraordinary commonality: Each has lost an Icon who personified altruism. Both Icons were ladies from poor upbringings yet self-motivated. Both women testified to have specifically felt the call of God at age twelve. The obvious half of this equation is Mother Teresa. The less obvious, Mary Shivers, would have turned 86 today.
Like the early Mother Teresa, Mary Shivers was unconventional. She rose to action without prompt. Took the initiative. Stepped boldly before the Throne in an effort to help those less fortunate. Unlike the established Teresa of Calcutta, Mary Shivers did not receive her orders from The Holy See; rather, she created, from scratch, an intricate network and an innate sense of “Community” in Lower Richland County, South Carolina that could – at a moment’s notice – console a new widow, clothe a needy child, feed a hungry family, open up a shut-in, fund a lifesaving operation or, in my experience, elect a public official.
Twenty-six years ago, I faced an uphill battle as an unknown, inexperienced, unconnected, anti-establishment write-in candidate for House District 80. Blowing in to my makeshift campaign headquarters after an unproductive morning of fundraising, I was delighted to see the message light flashing on my machine. “This is Mary. I have a Beauty Salon. You don’t know me. We don’t know you. I got your letter. It’s O.K., but we’re pretty upset out here and you might want to stop by the shop to talk about it.” “Oh yea, it’s on Terry Street. You’ll find it.”
Before the answering machine reset, I was out the door. Within five minutes, I was sitting in a single-wide, amongst six animated, big-haired women convening for their weekly “wash-and-sets.” The only thing more pungent than the chemicals in the air was the realization that I had stumbled into what can only be described as a “central nervous system” of public opinion. In over two decades that have followed that first meeting at Mary’s Beauty Salon, I have faced some tough times and rough audiences, but none surpasses this fundamental initiation into politics. Five hours later, I emerged from the single-wide, a little dizzier and LOT savvier than when I had entered it.
At Mary Shivers’ visitation and funeral on January 10, 2011, you only needed to look around the crowd to see that my political rite of passage was just the first of many to follow for Richland County politicians:Darrell Jackson, Gary Watts, Jimmy Bales, Leon Lott, Joe Neal, Tony Mizzell, Bernice Scott and many more elected and non-elected politicos punctuated the standing room-only celebration of a life well-lived.
But to describe Mary Shivers as a mere political influence should be classified as a Class-A Felony!
I truly think it fair to say that no person breathing air on this Earth could live a MORE God-centered life than Mary Shivers. Race, creed, color, national origin, orientation (party or sexual) were of no consequence to her. A charter member of Temple Baptist Church and the proud mother of renowned Evangelist Frank “Brother” Shivers, Mary had a strict moral code, which, incidentally, would never include casting judgment on others: “I hate the Sin, but love the Sinner.” She was also quick to admit her own weaknesses: “Don’t judge a book by its cover; don’t judge a Preacher by his mother!” I can close my eyes and see her saying it to this day.
Mary Shivers was blessed with an energy that few mortals share. She was impossible to keep up with. The Capital View Homeowners’ Association, Order of the Eastern Star, Richland County Sheriff’s Department, Lower Richland Ruritan Club, Red Hat Society and Camp Longridge were just a few of the organizations whose lifeblood pulsed through her veins. Additionally, Mary was a near full-time caterer who assigned every dime of revenue to charity. All this while working full-time as a licensed beautician since 1963.
Albeit not by her design, Mary received accolades during her lifetime from her community, her church, the Richland County Council and Sheriff, the South Carolina House and Senate and the Office of the Governor. But, it was SERVICE, not honors or accolades that drove this Lady.
Nearly everyone whom I have come across in life selfishly houses some want in return for his efforts. I am no different. I worked hard for my District when elected, but I selfishly wanted my constituent’s vote in return. At my law office, I work hard for my clients, but I selfishly want to get paid for my services. This is where Mary Shivers stands alone. With the unparalleled, gargantuan workload this one woman consistently maintained throughout her 83 years, she never held a selfish want for a single thing. Ever. It was always about others.
There’s no doubt that Mary Shivers was a second mother to me. Just like two weeks ago, back on January 10,2011 Columbia was blanketed with a beautiful cover of snow. As I sat in my Florida Room enjoying this novelty with my own Mother, I suddenly noticed that my brand new Christmas wristwatch had stopped at 3:30 pm. As had the clock in my living room. As had the clock on my bedroom wall. All stopped at exactly 3:30 pm. I knew Mary Shivers was ill; I was just not allowing myself to accept how ill.
As I drove Mom home, I feared what I was to learn an hour later. Mary’s daughter Linda called to tell me she had died. At precisely 3:30 pm.
In her own way, Mary was telling me goodbye. I hope that this forum, while unconventional, is an appropriate place for me do the same. God bless you, Mary Shivers. Mother Teresa, Welcome your Sister.
James “Bubba” Cromer
Former Richland County House Representative, District #80
Reading Clerk, S.C. House of Representatives
Attorney, Cromer Law Offices, LLC
Originally Published in The State Newspaper, March 1, 2011