ANOTHER member of the dwindling Greatest Generation has left us. Like many of that generation, Mary Bradford McKenzie knew how to get things done.
According to her obituary in the Rome News-Tribune she was an active member, usually in a leadership role, in a dozen or more of Rome’s civic and cultural organizations.
It also listed some two dozen achievement awards that she had received over the years, including, the Heart of the Community Award, Volunteer of the Year, and Professional Woman of the Year awards, to name a few.
She did all that while pursuing a long, successful career in the banking industry at various banks in Atlanta and Rome, a career that extended (except for a period of time during World War II when she worked at the Bell Bomber plant in Marietta), from the early 1940s until she retired in 1985 as a vice president at Sun Trust.
Not mentioned in the obituary was the fact that in the late 1930s she taught dancing — and was my first ballroom dance teacher. I knew her, then, as Mary Roundsaville.
SHE AND HER husband, Rob Roundsaville, operated a dance studio in Rome. One day of the week, they would come out to Shannon and teach tap dancing classes for children, in the afternoon, and ballroom dancing for adults and teenagers, during the evening. These lessons were sponsored by the Associated Brighton Employees, for the benefit of employees of Brighton Mills and their families. My older brother, Baker, was an employee of the mill, and I went with him to the ballroom classes. I was sixteen years old.
Those dance lessons really paid off for me. Shortly after I came home from World War II, I met my future wife, Bobbie, who came to Rome in January, 1946 to open a dance studio and teach ballet, tap, and theatrical dancing. She needed a ballroom teacher. So I joined her as the ballroom instructor at the Bobbie Roberts School of Dancing. Six months later, we got married. After learning ballet and tap dancing from my wife and at dance conventions, I later taught children’s dance classes in Calhoun and Cedartown.
ONE DAY in the late 40s or early 50s, Mary came to the studio and enrolled her daughter, Bo Peep Merryman, in one of Bobbie’s classes. It was the first time I’d seen Mary since that earlier time. I introduced her to my wife as my first dance teacher. We had a nice visit
At that time, my wife and I were friends with several doctors who were at Battey State Hospital learning how to treat tuberculosis. Among them were Dr. Nichols and his wife from Cornelia, Georgia (they had enrolled their young daughter in one of Bobbie’s classes), Dr. Hernandez and his wife from Costa Rica and Dr. Miguel from Spain, who was unmarried, and several others from Central America. They all loved to dance.
They lived in a converted dormitory at Battey, and on Saturday evenings we’d meet there and dance the rumba, samba, bolero and tango. And Dr. Miguel’s favorite, the spirited Pasa Doble, danced to the song, Valencia (bullring music). Needless to say, Bobbie and I were eager to pick up some of their dance moves.
ONCE, they expressed a desire to go out to a dance. The only thing coming up was the regular Saturday night dance at the American Legion — ballroom dancing alternating with square dancing.
We asked Mary to be Dr. Miguel’s dance partner and date, for the evening. And she agreed.
We danced to the country-flavored ballroom music of Delmas Franklin’s band, and enjoyed watching the square-dancers doing their do-ci-dos and allemandes. .
After the dance, we drove Mary and Miguel to their respective abodes. We dropped Mary off first, and watched as she walked to her front door, unlocked it, waved, and went inside.
We asked Dr.Miguel why he hadn’t escorted Mary to her front door. He said that in his country that would not be proper.
Mary loved playing the piano and organ, and loved flower arranging, reading, working crossword puzzles, studying the bible and spending time with her grandchildren.
While reading her obit, I got to wondering about the secrets of her longevity. There were no quotes, from her, about how to live to 94.
Could it be that it just took that long for her to do everything she wanted to do?
Robert Rakestraw of Rome is an artist and former U.S. Marine.