Woman remembered for giving back to the community

By Rachel McAuley

February 22, 2014

LAURINBURG — Ninety-one-year-old Willie Gales, a native of Laurinburg, passed away in a nursing home Tuesday, but she will live long in the memories of those she touched as a model for serving others.

Gales served as the crossing guard at Washington Park Elementary for over 20 years and was featured in The Laurinburg Exchange on Feb. 21, 2003 when she received the Rosa Parks Award. Her husband James E. Gales was also awarded that day with a humanitarian doctorate.

“I was very proud of her,” said Valaria Ecclestion, Gales’ eldest daughter who now lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. “My mother was a pioneer. She was a pioneer in her own right. It was like living a part of history.”

Gales, a self-taught seamstress, schooled homemakers in nearby towns Gibson and Wagram how to sew and make clothing with no pattern for guidance. She made the first uniforms for the Washington Park Elementary School band and the choir robes for the children at Jones Chapel Baptist Church.

Gales was married before graduating from the Laurinburg Institute and she and her husband knew that education was important and made sure their children pursued it.

Ecclestion said that Gales was a humanitarian who dedicated her services to the community.

“She took people to the food pantry, she would take people downtown, she would give dresses and blankets to people for free,” said Ecclestion, adding that her parents also kept two gardens, one for their family and one for the community. On Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Gales would assemble care packages containing collard greens, tomatoes, cornmeal, flour and sometimes even pork or chicken, and assign their six children the task of delivering them — and not take “no” for an answer.

Gales was dedicated to helping her family in any way she could. Any time a new addition to the family arrived, Gales would pack up her bags and would travel as far as New York to help take care of a newborn for several weeks. She eventually had 16 grandchildren, 23 great-grandchildren and three great-great grandchildren.

“Looking back on my life,” Gales said in the 2003 article, “I hope to be remembered for the good work I’ve done throughout the community … and the church and the children I see every day and come in contact with. I hope I am an inspiration to them to do the right thing throughout their life.”

The day she was presented with the Rosa Parks Award Gales said that she hoped she could live up to the honor bestowed upon her.

“She was a humanitarian and she loved clothes,” said Ecclestion. “The church family and community was her life.”