One Sunday afternoon about 25 years ago a family friend and avid student of Birmingham history, Dr. Lamar Osment, called me on the phone. He wanted me to know that at the downtown public library was a glass showcase honoring my late mother.
He had just seen it and wondered if I knew about it. I am glad he called because no one else did, and the library never told me about it. You can never assume what people know, even about themselves or their own family. Sometimes they are the last to know.
I did not know about the display in honor of my mother’s many contributions to Birmingham. Since it was already the last day of the exhibit, I, unfortunately, missed seeing it. However, I was delighted to hear about it.
I forgot to mention, one thing special about my mother was that her name was Bill. That should give you some idea that she was not just some ordinary person. Long before Johnny Cash thought of naming a boy Sue, she was Bill. Thus the exhibit about my mother, Bill Rose. How she got the name is another story.
The showcase containing articles about my mother, Bill, centered on one article in particular from the Birmingham Post Herald (of course, that paper does not even exist any more).
“Mrs. Rose rates orchids in her life” was the title, written by Clettus Atkinson, a columnist who wrote People and Things. No one remembers that column today as much as they remember Dining Out, the old campy restaurant reviews, with Dennis Washburn and his wife, Bunny, before there was anything like a Highlands or a Hot and Hot in the ‘Ham to talk about (only Beating the Baptists to Britlings, as I mentioned before, back in January).
But I remember how pleased Mother was at the time with the article by Mr. Atkinson, who recognized some of her accomplishments through the Birmingham Schools, such as starting the Festival of Arts that sent all schoolchildren down to Boutwell Auditorium to learn about foreign countries every year, but even the Post Herald reporter missed some of her contributions, because she did not always tell everything. About that aspect of her personality there are many stories, I can assure you.
With that proviso, hear what Clettus Atkinson said about her, in one of the articles in the Birmingham Public Library display that even I, her daughter, did not know about:
One thing Mr. Atkinson did not know because – just like me vis a vis the library – my mother never told, was that as supervisor of all the music, arts, and drama programs of the Birmingham Public Schools, my mother had the idea that students with special abilities needed a special place to go to school. And that idea through the help of many people became what it is now today, the Alabama School of Fine Arts, one of the finest in the nation.
When my son did a Cuban art exhibition in honor of his grandmother at ASFA, no one at the school seemed to have any idea about his grandmother›s role in founding the school. Just like me with the library exhibit, someone had to tell them. One reason for that is that my mother did not go around telling everyone what she did. She did the work and moved on to the next job that needed doing. That is the kind of person she was, just as Clettus Atkinson described her, though he did not know about ASFA because when he wrote the article that was yet to happen. I remember sitting in the next room while she interviewed James Nelson, who was hired and did a wonderful job as the first director of the school.
But that is a story by itself, for another day.
suffering a long illness, Mother became gravely ill on April 25, 1986
and passed away on July 2, 1986 at my home on Westbury Road in Mountain
Brook. She was in UAB Hospital from April until June, where she received
excellent and alert attention due to the personal interest of the
publisher of the Birmingham Weekly›s then-father-in
law, Dick Hill, who was UAB’s president (also a special person in the story of Birmingham, to whom I remain grateful, and who deserves his own story told at another time before it is forgotten even by UAB – but just for example, he brought Gene Bartow to Birmingham, no mean feat in those days, which I did not hear anyone mention at the great coach’s passing). In addition to the VIP treatment, reflecting Dick Hill’s great respect for her, my mother also received over a hundred floral arrangements while she was at UAB.
In late June, just before she died at the start of July, I decided I wanted to send her something special. When she left the hospital very few people knew she was still very ill and she preferred it that way. Many of her lovely flowers had come from Arrangements, a local flower shop. I telephoned the shop and explained I wanted to send her something different. The thoughtful sales lady said she had just the thing. It needed to be sold, she told me, so she could make me a «special» deal.
It turned out to be an orchid in a pot with eight large white and yellow throats.
Quite lovely and spectacular. Mother always objected to having money spent on her so I had my story ready, thanks to the saleslady, about what a great bargain it was. Gracious as she was, the lady in the flower shop who helped me surely did not know about one of my mother›s favorite articles from the Birmingham newspaper, as floridly titled above, and displayed unbeknownst to me by the library.
When I took it into my mother›s room, she looked up in amazement at the exotic plant with eight beautiful white and yellow flowers all in full bloom (the reason it needed to be sold).
«Who sent that?” she asked. «I did, Mother, but –» I didn›t get to say another word, or even make my excuses.
«Oh, Ann, you will never know how much I appreciate it. You are special,» she continued. «You truly are a special person.» That word again. I could hardly believe my ears. She was the special one who «rated orchids in her life.» She just gave her specialness back to me, to the Birmingham she loved, to all of us, according to her nature.