A long, storied, and loving life began its next chapter in the early morning hours of Jan. 30, 2017, when Margaret Edna (nee Hill) Lawson McElrath Lynn crossed the River Jordan, hand-in-hand with her Lord and Savior.
For 103 years and 13 days, “Nanny” held fast to very basic life lessons – Love God, Love Family and Love Learning. Her personal motto, which she embraced until her last moments, was “Do something for somebody in some way, if nothing but a phone call or a visit or a nice note, every single day.” Indeed, having donated her body to science, to help advance research in aging, she embodied that message to her last breath. Her wish, had she been given one, would be that each and every one of us had a life so long, and so well-lived.
Born on Jan. 17, 1914, Margaret was the only daughter of Luther Orr Hill and Donie Edna (Ellis) Hill. Of strong stock, she was the first daughter of Texas pioneers, who traveled by covered wagon from Little Rock, Ark., to the family homeplace in Palacios, Texas, a place that Margaret embraced as home even at her last holiday season.
Margaret began the first of many of her careers as a teacher, in 1932 at Prairie Center School. After going to Texas State Teacher’s College in San Marcos (now Texas State University) for nine months, she received her Second Grade teaching certificate and began teaching at 18. She rode to school on horseback each day, and the outhouse, with its Sears and Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogues, was the only plumbing available.
After teaching at Prairie Center for three years, she taught for four years in Collegeport, then went back to college in San Marcos and worked as a dormitory assistant while earning her degree.
Upon receiving her degree in 1940, she took a job as an art teacher at Boling Newgulf Elementary. Back then, Boling Newgulf was the highest-paying school in Texas, offering teachers $120 a month with dormitory living quarters.
During her time spent at college, Margaret met J. Sewell Lawson, who sold insurance for the Great Southern Life Insurance Co. They secretly married in 1941, because at the time it was against the rules for a Boling Newgulf teacher to be married; if the school found out, she would be fired. Margaret resigned from Boling Newgulf when she found out she was pregnant, and became a substitute teacher at a school in Houston that allowed married teachers.
When her only daughter, Edna “Peggy” Allene Lawson, was born in 1942, they moved to the country and built a home close to her parents’ farm. Prairie Center School hired her soon after Peggy’s birth, so Margaret’s mother took care of the baby while she taught, and brought her daughter to the school, to be nursed in the car.
Taking advantage of an outreach program from the University of Houston, Margaret took a job as an art teacher at Palacios Elementary, and eventually earned her second degree in 1953.
Margaret then expanded her influence as the family moved to Bay City, where she was promoted from First Grade Teacher to Pierce Primary principal, after only one year. She continued to serve the youngsters at Pierce for 23 years. There, she was instrumental in establishing a Girl Scout troop and a Special Education program. She was voted president of the local chapter of the Texas State Teachers’ Association, and voted “Outstanding Woman of the Year” in 1961. Two years later, she was voted president of the Texas State Teachers’ Association, District XII, and continued her devotion to the education and excellence of the young people in her community without fail; she lost her first husband in 1971.
In 1976, Margaret “retired,” and returned to her home in Palacios. However, the quiet life of a retired teacher did not sit well with her, and she opted to continue serving her community. Instead, she was voted to the Palacios City Council, held office as Mayor Pro Tem, served on the Board of Equalization, held a municipal judgeship, and eventually earned her legal stripes as a Justice of the Peace.
In the early 1980s, she met and married Richard “Dick” McElrath, a partner in life and in business who left her after four short years, having suffered heart disease. Not faint-of-heart herself, Margaret continued to work, serve and volunteer, wherever and whenever she felt she was needed.
In 1991, at the age of 77 and giving no weight to conventional wisdom, Margaret married Bill Lynn, who she continued to inspire to community service, and with whom she continued to travel, until his health failed in 2001.
She never managed to convince herself to “settle into a quiet life” of retirement; she continued serving, in every way she believed God called her to, until her health prevented her from doing so. She refused to admit, believe, or say out loud that age prevented her from doing anything. Indeed, her age was never an obstacle.
Margaret was preceded in death by her parents; her brothers, Eldon Hill (who lived to a spry 95), and Jack Regan Hill (who was snatched as an infant, as so many Depression-era children); and her only child, daughter Peggy Lawson Pittman.
She is survived by her beloved grandchildren: Sissy (Pittman) Taylor and husband, Brett, Charles Pittman and wife, Rhonda, Rick Daughtery and wife, Sharon, and Karen Pierce and husband, Eddie; great-grandchildren: Nick, Roxanne and Colton Pittman, and Kaci and Kory Taylor; and the step-children and grandchildren from her second and third marriages, who span the country, but have remained active in her life.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorials in Margaret’s name to CureJM.org, Martindale Methodist Church, Friends of the Martindale Community Library, Palacios Presbyterian Church or the charity of your choice.
In keeping with Margaret’s wishes, services for family and close friends will be held both in Martindale and Palacios, and will be announced at another time.
As a family, we offer our sincerest thanks to the doctors and nurses who eased Nanny’s last days, to the friends and family who have offered their prayers, love and support in our dark moments, and mostly to those who refused to let Nanny think of herself as “an old lady.”
James 1:2-4 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
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