By Aubrey Lee, Guest Author
We are in the middle of the worst health crisis in over 100 years. The entire world has been impacted and deaths due to the coronavirus pandemic continue to rise. King students, faculty and staff left campus and our facilities are being cleaned and locked down. Our administration has acted responsibly and are doing all they can to protect us when we return. But as of this writing, we don’t know when that will be.
The Spanish flu, which is estimated to have killed 50 to 100 million people worldwide, connects with me and my family personally. We, at this point, have no family members suffering illness or death related to the current pandemic. But we lost a close family member in 1918.
My mother, Stella Fay Worley Lee was born on October 24, 1918 in Wyndale, Va. Wyndale is about 12 miles from our campus in Washington County, Va. It is small community by the railroad tracks.
It is reported that October 1918 was the deadliest month in America with some 195,000 Spanish flu deaths reported. My mother’s sister oldest sister, Bessie, was one of those deaths. She died the day before my mother was born. She was engaged to be married and was 19 years old. Her mother, my grandmother, Callie Tate Worley, was not infected with the virus as she gave birth to my mother. She survived and my mother is reported to not have the flu as she was born and never contracted it. My mother’s five other sisters contracted the flu but survived.
My grandfather, Rufus Worley, not infected, is said to have little time to visit with my mother, his new baby girl. He was a carpenter and wood worker and was consumed by building coffins for those in the area who were victims of the flu. It is said that a soldier returning from World War I brought the flu to the area. My aunt Bessie is buried in the Wyndale United Methodist Church cemetery. My grandparents are also buried there but much later as they survived the flu.
My mother was the youngest of seven girls born in the family with only six surviving the flu. My grandmother wanted her surviving daughters to get a better education than was available in that area, so the family moved to Bristol, Va. My grandfather built two houses on Fairview, Ave. just a few miles from the King Campus. He sold one and moved the family in the other.
My grandmother’s effort to allow her six girls get a better education worked. All earned some education after high school. My mother graduated from Virginia High and then went on to graduate from Virginia Intermont College in 1938. She then earned a bachelor’s degree from Emory and Henry College in 1940 and taught elementary school for several years.
So my family had a very personal experience, a tragedy in fact, with the 1918 pandemic. Stories like this are being played out now by families all over the world and our country with our current pandemic. It could be that some of our King family have had similar experiences with the 1918 flu. I’d like to hear them.
I obviously never knew Aunt Bessie, or my grandparents, as they passed when I was too young to remember them. But hearing my mother and my aunts, all of whom are deceased, tell the story of Aunt Bessie’s death makes today’s pandemic feel real and terribly sad to me.
We must all pray for those whose health is being impacted by the coronavirus and our heroic healthcare professionals. And we must do all we can to protect ourselves as recommended. I look forward to seeing everyone when we return to campus.
Aubrey Lee is an Associate Professor in the School of Business and Economics and Technology and chair of the Management Department at King University. He teaches various management courses and Leadership for both bachelors and masters level classes. Aubrey serves as the faculty associate for the King Men’s basketball team as well on the athletic committee. He reside in Johnson City, Tennessee and is married to Dr. Sally S. Lee. He have four children, one grandchild, and one dog-Luke, a German Short-haired Pointer. Aubrey enjoys boating, creative writing, and, most importantly, time with family and friends.
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