When Richmond Hill Elementary School teacher Abby Owens walked across the stage at the University of West Georgia on July 26 to receive her doctorate in education, it was an important day for a family that values education so much it has become a way of life.
Her parents are Michael and Cheryl Owens, both retired after teaching at Bryan County High school, and both were there to watch Abby walk across the stage.
Also there on that summer day in Carrollton was Abby’s grandfather, Herbert Owens, 87, a lifelong resident of North Bryan and a 1944 graduate of BCHS at a time when there were only 11 grades at the school.
He was especially proud of Abby, his son said.
Herbert, the oldest of seven children, never got the opportunity to go to college.
“But he knew the value of hard work,” Michael said. “When was in high school, he drove the school bus. He fondly tells the story of the teacher who referred to him as the 10 o’clock scholar because on more than one occasion he was late to school because the school bus broke down.”
And if that wasn’t enough, Herbert also worked nights in the Savannah shipyard while at BCHS. When he graduated, he went into the Army. World War II was in its final bloody year and Herbert was promoted to sergeant. He was first sent to the Army’s finance school, then stationed at Fort McPherson in Atlanta to process soldiers returning from Europe and the war.
When Herbert came home, he married and raised three sons, and went to work.
“He first worked as a furniture salesman in Pembroke,” Michael said. “He had regular route through the surrounding countryside where he called on customers and sold and delivered furniture.”
Herbert then began working for Jack Shuman selling building material, long before the days of Lowes and Home Depot.
Harry soon ran Shuman Supply of Savannah, which eventually became Shuman-Owens Supply of Savannah and finally Owens Supply when Herbert bought the business and ran it until he retired.
“Open every day until 5:30 p.m. and until noon on Saturday,” Michael said. “It was long hours and hard work. He knew the value of hard work and imparted that knowledge to me and my two brothers.”
Now, to Abby’s graduation.
Herbert made sure Michael knew he wanted to see his granddaughter get her doctorate — which is in reading and school improvement.
Reading seems to be a family heirloom for the Owens, something Herbert passed on to Abby.
“I credit my grandfather with my love of reading and with teaching me to read,” she said. “As a little girl, I would often stay at my grandparents’ house. Each morning my grandfather would go outside to get the newspaper. When he came back in, I would sit on his lap and we would read the paper, cover to cover, together.”
That wasn’t all.
“Later on, when I was in elementary school, my handwriting wasn’t great,” Abby said. “On my report card I made a G (good) on handwriting instead of an E (excellent). So my grandfather bought me a composition book and he kept it beside his chair at his house.”
Every day when Abby visited Herbert, she practiced her handwriting, “using the sentence my grandmother learned in her Bryan County High typing class — ‘Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country,’” she said.
“Just like students would type that sentence over and over on a typewriter, I would write that same sentence over and over to improve my handwriting.”
It was hard work and education, all rolled into one. So was her doctorate, earned while she taught second graders full time at RHES.
“Abby had been working on this degree for three years while also teaching school. Long hours and hard work,” Michael said. “It was the proudest moment of my life when she walked across that stage. And it was even more special because my dad was there to see it too.”