Giving to Others

A True Story

Oseola McCarty was born in Wayne County, MS on March 7, 1908. She had to quit school in the sixth grade to help her family make ends meet and to care for her aunt and grandmother. For income, she took in laundry and ironing at a rate of $1.50 a bundle.

She ran her laundry business for 75 years and served multiple generations of clients. Over the years, her laundry service change increased to $10 a bundle and she was able to save some money. She used what she needed each week and put the rest in the bank. “I put most of it in savings, never would take any out. It just accumulated,” she explained.

In 1967, McCarty was left alone after the deaths of her grandmother, mother and aunt. She kept doing laundry and lived frugally in the home she inherited. She didn’t own a car and walked where she needed to go, including the local grocery which was about a mile away.

In 1995, at the age of 87 and after taking care of her family and other people’s laundry most of her life, McCarty had no one to take care of her. With the help of her banker, she worked out a plan to take care of herself and to provide a small inheritance for a few members of her extended family. She took what was left – $150,000 of her $250,000 life savings – and gave it to the University of Southern Mississippi designated for a special scholarship fund. Having very little formal education, she hoped her money would help talented African-Americans achieve a degree.

Word spread about what she had done and the fund grew from donations from other USM supporters and Americans who were inspired by her gift.

Oseola was recognized in many ways for what she had done. She received the Presidential Citizen’s Medal from President Clinton, an Honorary Doctorate from Harvard and was one of Barbara Walters’ “Ten Most Exciting in 1995.” In 1996, her book Simple Wisdom for Rich Living was released. A review of the book by Newsweek said that Oseola McCarty “reminds us that even the humblest among us can leave the world a better place for having walked on it.”

At the age of 91, Oseola died in 1991 in Hattiesburg, MS. Her legacy lives on through the over two dozen students who attended USM on the Oseola McCarty Scholarship and by the countless individuals who have been touched by her generosity.

In an earlier interview with USM, she had been asked why she didn’t spend the money on herself. Her reply was, “Oh, but I did.”

They who give have all things;
they who withhold, have nothing.”
Hindu Proverb

Photo credit: Daily Finance

There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them. Denis Waitley