by Darrell Huckaby
The contributions Jerry and Lee Aldridge have made to their community can be quantified not in achievements or accolades but in the countless lives they have impacted through decades of selfless service.
I stepped off a Trailways Silver Eagle motor coach on a hot August day in 1968 wearing a 21-day-old beard. I was freshly back from the most amazing adventure of my young life to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico. The first person I saw was Mrs. A.
“Look at that scruffy beard!” she said.
“Wait ’til you see your husband!” I responded.
Mrs. A would be Lee Aldridge. Her husband would be Jerry. As a team, they are two of the most beloved and influential people in the history of Newton County, and as prone as I might be to exaggeration or hyperbole, there is not a smidgen of either in the previous declaration.
Mary Lee Costley Aldridge was born in Porterdale and raised on Hazel Street back when there were coal bins in every backyard. She met Jerry at Young Harris College. He worked in the kitchen, and she served tables. When Lee finished at Young Harris—then a two-year school—she matriculated at Georgia College in Milledgeville, while Jerry went to Georgia Southern in Statesboro. As soon as they both graduated, they married and took teaching jobs in Blackshear, his hometown. This was 1961.
Luckily for the citizens of Newton County, two years later, Principal Homer Sharp hired both of them at Newton County High School, Mrs. A to teach science and Jerry to teach math. The rest, as they say, is history, and what a history the two have experienced—and made—in this community.
Lee became an instant icon at Newton. She loved her students, and they loved her back. She taught biology, served as cheerleader advisor and newspaper and annual staff advisor and worked almost every other job imaginable during an amazing career that spanned almost 40 years. Having been one of the “goony birds” in her classroom and also a colleague who taught next door to her—Hark a lark!—I can testify firsthand to her passion for working with young people, and I am one of thousands of people she has helped to mold.
The same could be said of Jerry, her husband of 58 years, who made the jump from classroom teacher to administrator at a young age, serving as principal at Mansfield and the old and new Porterdale elementary schools. He even served a dual role one year as administrator at Porterdale and Washington Street schools. The fact that he was the only white faculty member at Washington Street made no difference to him, the faculty or the students and parents. While playing such an important role in the lives of other people’s children, Jerry and Lee raised three amazing and successful children of their own: sons Austin and Keith and daughter Cindy Aldridge Norton.
“Jerry and Lee Aldridge are not just good people. They are the best, and we should all be glad they have lived their lives among us.”Darrell Huckaby
The impact that Jerry and Lee Aldridge had during their combined eight decades in the Newton County School System cannot be measured, but it is nice to know that the people have appreciated and acknowledged their service. Both have been named to the Newton County Educators Hall of Fame and were recently awarded the Newton County Board of Commissioners Chairmen’s Medal for meritorious service. The honors were explicitly deserved.
When the Aldridges retired from education, they did not retire from service. Few people have been more involved in her community than Lee. She has worked tirelessly as a volunteer for the Newton County Hospital Auxiliary for more than two decades. In addition, she has been an active member and officer in the Georgia Federated Women’s Club and the Service Guild of Covington, as well as being on the executive board of Julia A. Porter United Methodist Church. She has also served as vice president of the Newton County Retired Educators and been involved in a plethora of other activities. Lee sits on the Covington Planning and Zoning Board, too.
Jerry also has a long list of memberships and leadership roles, including those with the Kiwanis Club and Lions Club. He teaches the Harvesters Sunday School class—Lee is president—at Julia A. Porter, but his real passion and perhaps his greatest contribution to the community can be found in scouting. Jerry has served as Scoutmaster of Troop 222 for more than 30 years and has produced a staggering 64 Eagle Scouts.
However, the long list of achievements and activities, separately or combined, is not what makes these wonderful people so special.
Mrs. A—I could never call her Lee—is special because when my friend’s mother died while he was still in college, he drove home from Dahlonega to sit in her science lab while she grieved with him. She is special because when a former student’s mother was dying, she came to the hospital to visit, bringing a ceramic angel to watch over her. She is special because her home was a safe haven for students who needed a place to be, even if they had rolled her yard a half-dozen times that month alone. She is special because the children of one of her former students did not think it was Christmas until Mrs. A had come to the back door to deliver Christmas books. Now multiply those things by a few thousand.
Jerry is special because he arranged for a kid who had never been west of the Chattahoochee River to travel to New Mexico and see the world. He is special because he has been willing to sleep on the cold wet ground for nights on end and push timid boys toward a goal, teaching them a lifetime of skills in the process. He was willing to mete out discipline and mercy fairly in a tough setting. Multiply those things exponentially.