My career in education began in June of 1991 at Brentwood Academy, a prep school south of Nashville. In the decade I served there, I learned a great deal from some of the most talented people I’ve ever had the privilege to know. But one of the people I remember most fondly, Miss Maggie, wasn’t on school payroll. At that time, Maggie Speight lived alone in a small home on one of the most valuable twenty-acre tracts of land in Brentwood, a tract adjacent to our campus. Countless developers approached Maggie over the years about selling her land and each time she turned them away. But in 1999, when the school had grown to a point where we needed to acquire her land or consider moving the campus elsewhere, Miss Maggie relented and sold her property to us. Though she didn’t really need the money, she drove a hard bargain that included the right to remain in her home until her death. At the time of that deal, Maggie was the spunkiest 75-year-old, male or female, I had ever met.
Over the years, the campus developed around Maggie’s little house with new athletic fields, a fine arts facility and outside her back window, a new middle school. All the while, she continued to come and go from the only home she had known since the early 60’s. I recall one day someone in the office asked if I knew Maggie was in the hospital. I later learned that she had fallen out of a tree in her front yard – a tree she had climbed to trim a branch. This would have seemed an odd circumstance for most women in their mid-70’s, but with Maggie, it made perfect sense. Among her many interests, Miss Maggie was a master gardener and amateur horticulturist. And though she had ready access to our entire maintenance department who would have been more than happy to trim her tree, Maggie was a woman determined to live life on her terms. She lost her husband, Harley, to a heart attack in 1965 and had been a widow ever since. Maggie knew how to take care of herself and, in fact, I think she preferred it that way. She used to walk the roadways near her home picking up litter and talking to passersby. When asked where she lived, she would reply in a Mississippi drawl, “My name is Maggie Speight and I live on campus.” Time spent in conversation with Maggie was guaranteed to be fascinating and, quite often, inspirational.
Last Thursday, Maggie traded her earthly campus in Brentwood, TN for a heavenly home just one day after her 94th birthday. Her legacy of service and determination has impacted multiple generations and at least three headmasters, myself included. There is a passage in the New Testament book of James that says our lives are “a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” Something tells me the mist of Miss Maggie’s life won’t be so quick to fade away. May it be true for all of us as we seek to live a life of impact and service.
Jim R. Callis
Head of School