When 93-year-old Pearlie Golden was shot and killed Tuesday evening by a Hearne, Texas police officer, her community lost the presence of an older woman who was seen by many as a ‘Mom’ figure, serving as the eyes and ears for neighbors.
Seeing the news accounts on Ms. Golden’s death, I was saddened that this woman – affectionately known as Ms. Sully – who was spoken of as the lady who saw all children as hers to guide, will likely be remembered as a victim or crazy old lady with a gun, and not a hero for her role in the small community.
It will take a good deal of investigation by the Texas Rangers before we know why Officer Stephen Stem chose to shoot the elderly woman multiple times instead of finding a way to negotiate with the her, as she allegedly brandished a gun outside her apartment on Tuesday evening, according to reports.
Multiple media sources report that Ms. Golden’s nephew had called 911 earlier in the day because he tried to take her car keys away from her after the Texas Department of Public Safety refused to renew Pearlie’s driver’s license.
Reports say she brandished a gun and threatened him when he tried to stop her from driving.
What captured my attention was seeing an interview with her neighbor, Phillip Dixon, who recalled Golden as a watchful neighborhood eye, helping kids to stay on the straight and narrow when their parents weren’t around.
"I mean, you were away from home, but you couldn't do no wrong," said Mr. Dixon. "Because if she saw you, she was going to tell momma on you, and you were going to get a whoopin’."
In my own neighborhood, we lost our version of Ms. Golden in August of 2013. Community legend Ellen Virginia Pryor Harvey of Norfolk, Va., 90, died in her home - the way I wish Golden had gone - of natural causes.
Ms. Harvey was the mother of seven, with 18 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.
However, she also parented every child she could see or hear in the neighborhood, and at the local Lambert’s Point Community Center, where she was a fixture at the sign-in desk right up until her death.
“Now you know if any of them acts up you come tell me and I’ll call their mama,” Harvey would remind me each and every Wednesday, when I went to the center to volunteer to teach kids how to play chess. “These children know better and I know they can do better.”
Then her face would soften as a child would come up to say hello, and either tell her of their grades, families, or to tattle on a sibling in hopes Harvey would make one of those fateful calls to “Mama.”
The first community mom I ever met was Betty Bruno.
I was a young mom with two toddler sons, and we lived aboard our sailboat “Gypsy Wind” in the Village of Goodland, Fla.
Ms. Bruno lived in a little pink house, ran a little pink souvenir shop, and patrolled the one-mile-square patch that was “her village” in a pink golf cart with her oxygen tank in the passenger seat.
She came from Washington D.C., where she had been a society lady back in the day, and had settled down to write a weekly social column published in the Marco Island Eagle newspaper.
In her column, Bruno parented all of her neighbors by reporting our successes, foibles, and behaviors that could use some spit and polish.
Back around 1999, she pulled-off the mother of all parenting moves one year after the annual Mullet Festival, which raises money for a fund to help out local mullet fishermen during bad seasons and in case of emergencies.
A dozen locals were scheduled to come out and help her setup the tents, grill, play games, and sell sundry items to help raise money for the local mullet fishermans’ family fund.
It was a scorching summer day in south Florida, and nobody showed to help her, except for me and the paper boy. Together, we pulled it all together in time for the crowd to arrive from all over South Florida the next day.
When the paper came out a few days later, I was sure Bruno was going to skewer all the people who had failed to help her.
Instead, she chose to teach the village to honor commitments by dropping an epic guilt bomb in her column. That guilt still smarts today, according to those who bore the brunt of her critique.
Instead of reprimanding, she thanked them.
Over the course of about 800 words, Betty profusely thanked, by name, each and every man, woman, and child who had failed to do their job just as if they had actually done what they had promised.
Because the event had come off without a hitch, everyone thought their neighbors had done their share.
Worse than that, people from outside the village, on opulent Marco Island and as far away as Naples, Fla., read her column faithfully, and as a result, called those praised by name to congratulate them on their good work.
The following year when it came time to setup for the Mullet Festival, Bruno was queen for the day.
Her iced glass of lemonade never ran dry. Her feet never touched the grass, as she sat enthroned on her pink cart with worker bees buzzing all around her.
Not only did those who had failed her the year before show up, but also a score of newcomers not in on the truth, who wanted to be praised in her next column.
Bruno died in 1998, yet her columns are still online on the Goodland website as if she never stopped watching over her village.
The curvy entrance road to the village is named after her and hers is the first name on the memorial outside the Community Center building in Goodland.
I don’t know if anything in Hearne, Texas will be named for Pearlie Golden.
However, I hope the police department there will make it their new Golden Rule to find alternative means for dealing with an overwrought senior citizen, than the one used to end Pearlie Golden’s life.
I hope the community will find a way to commemorate Golden’s role as neighborhood elder, community mom, and mentor, so her deeds and not her death will be what is remembered.