‘Government girl’ thankful
Ga. native, 94, recalls exciting life that led her to the Valley
HOWLAND — Mary Barson has come a long way from her small hometown in Georgia in her 94 years of life.
“I had a lot of wonderful things in my life that I thought would never happen to me, and so that’s what I’m thankful for,” Barson said.
Now a resident of Shepherd of the Valley Assisted Living in Howland, Barson remembers growing up on a farm outside of Macon, Ga., with her five siblings.
“Oh, it wasn’t too good. We had a panic there. We had flu cases we couldn’t deal with,” Barson said.
“I came from a very small town, and my mother waited for me to graduate high school because she needed to be helped (with money).”
At the time, World War II was raging overseas — which meant the U.S. government was hiring at home. Barson went to Macon to be interviewed for a typist position, where she was told that she got a low score on the test.
“I said, we didn’t get typewriters until Christmas. We were country people,” Barson said.
She said the woman administering the test thought there was “something about” Barson and hired her despite her low scores.
She went to work in a government headquarters in Macon.
“It was a wonderful experience working for the government. I was called a government girl,” Barson said.
She said after working in Macon for a while, a friend asked Barson if she wanted to move to Washington, D.C., where government girls were in high demand. Barson was around 18 years old.
“My mom said it would be wonderful to get that experience. My mom never had a thing like that. She grew up on a farm,” Barson said.
Moving to D.C. landed Barson a job in the Pentagon, where she worked in a headquarters run by a general — an experience Barson calls the “most wonderful” of her life. She said she would do it again today if she could.
“I typed. Typed, typed, typed for a captain,” Barson said. “Every time the general would walk through, everybody got quiet. We were really impressed.”
Barson took her job seriously and dressed for it — wearing nylons and trying to look sharp. She took very good care of her shoes, she said.
“We had one pair of good shoes because they were scarce. The boys in the war had all the leather.”
Barson lived in Arlington Farms, which was “like a big university,” she said. Her place there was called Georgia Hall.
In D.C., Barson met her husband, George, during a dance put on for government girls and boys about to be shipped overseas. The women arrived on buses, and the men waited to ask them for a dance.
“My husband looked at me and said, ‘I’m going to dance with her,'” Barson said. Her would-be husband convinced her to enter a photo contest for the best-looking girl at the party.
“It was a pin-up,” Barson said. “I didn’t want any part of it, but my husband, who saw me get off the bus, told me I had to win. I wound up winning the whole thing, got my picture in the paper,” Barson said.
George Barson had made sure Mary won the contest.
They were married in a Baptist church in D.C. in a ceremony attended almost exclusively by officers, and they shared 54 years together. George never went overseas because the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb and ended the war before he had to leave, Barson said.
Barson’s brothers, who were in the war, all came home safely to Georgia.
Barson moved with her husband to Baltimore, where their first child, Patty, was born. Then they returned to George Barson’s hometown — Warren — and they bought a house with a G.I. bill. Barson has lived in the area ever since, although she made regular visits to Georiga to see her mother for much of her life.
“Every year we made it our business to see my mother. I was real close with my mom,” Barson said.
Now, she is close with her children, daughter Patty and son David, and her grandchildren.
“All the grandchildren send me the nicest cards. I just can’t believe how nice my kids are to me,” Barson said. “I’m going to be thankful for my family first. They never forget me.”
Staff at Shepherd of the Valley say that Barson spends her time “shooting the breeze,” with neighbors from her balcony and sharing old stories. Some neighbors tease Barson for being a good Southern girl. Still, Barson “makes the rules” because she’s the oldest.
“I like it,” Barson said. “I try to like it. Wherever I am, I try to be nice.
“I’ve been blessed. God has been good to me. I saw a lot of the world; I really did,” Barson said. “If you look at the whole situation, you know how lucky you are, when you get to be (around) 100 years old.”