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Dr. Daisy Alexander spent life teaching math and helping people

Posted: April 3, 2014 5:38 p.m.
Updated: April 4, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Dr. Daisy Alexander could do fairly complex mathematical calculations in her head. That might not be a surprise to the thousands of students she taught during her 40-year career in Kershaw County schools, but how she used it might.

Dr. Alexander, who passed away March 28 at the age of 94, liked to travel, according to her daughter, Audrey Barksdale.

“She would take students on trips every year in the late 1960s and early 1970s,” Barksdale said. “She would get three Greyhound buses to Washington, D.C. When Disney World opened, she would take them there every year until her last year at Camden Middle School. And she never had any trouble from those kids.”

She also took adults on trips to different parts of the United States.

“She would do her own route and take it to the bus station,” Barksdale said, adding that her mother was firm about the price.

Alexander would perform her own cost calculations, based on the miles to be traveled, stops along the way, the number of people on the trip, gas costs and more. In one case, a company gave her a different estimate than she had come up with. Barksdale said her mother fought for her price, going through the calculations with the company.

“When they asked her how she did it, she said, ‘In my head,’” Barksdale said.

Alexander retired from teaching in 1979 after teaching at the Boykin School where she was also principal, the Carver School in Bethune, Jackson Elementary and Jackson Junior High, all predominately African-American schools. Her last assignment was with Camden Middle School. She served as, not surprisingly, a math teacher at Jackson Junior and Camden Middle schools. She then tutored and taught for an additional eight years at Morris College in Sumter.

Her career began before America entered World War II.

“Most of her students came to school after their morning chores. At the end of class they would collect wood for the next day and then go back home to do more chores. She told me that three-quarters of her students worked in the fields,” Barksdale said.

At one point following the passage of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, Alexander’s job entailed pushing a cart of math materials from class to class instead of teaching in a classroom setting.

“She said kids can’t learn like this,” Barksdale said, explaining that her mother believed students need to see and work out examples on chalkboards to learn math. “So she went to the superintendent and said she couldn’t do it anymore and got back into a classroom. She said the goal is to really educate children. It didn’t matter what class they were in -- lower, middle or upper -- she wanted them to learn equally. Even if she felt someone wasn’t meeting their potential, she would teach them so that they learned something.”

Barksdale said her mother was also a tough disciplinarian.

“Her old students respected Mom, but she also had compassion for her students. She would say, ‘You know you’re wrong. You know what to do,’ and try to make her students feel good about themselves,” she said.

Dr. Alexander taught so many students for so many years that many of her old students have grandchildren now. Some became lawyers, doctors and entrepreneurs. Not all, though, but Barksdale said that didn’t matter to her mother.

“Two years ago, she saw a man on the street who was halfway high,” Barksdale said, explaining that her mother recognized the man as a former student. “She gave him a hug and said, ‘You can do better than this.’ He said, ‘I’m sorry,’ and she said, ‘That’s OK, I still love you.’ No one was too clean or dirty for her to love.”

Her compassion extended to the community at large. According to Barksdale, Alexander served on the board of trustees for Morris College and the Wateree Community Actions board, helped originate the Kershaw County Council of Aging, was president emeritus of the S.C. Baptist Educational and Missionary Usher’s Auxiliary, was supervisor of the Mt. Moriah Baptist Association Usher’s Auxiliary, was vice president at large for the National Baptist Convention USA Inc., Black Caucus, was a member of the NAACP and Order of the Eastern Star, and was “mother” of Sanders Creek Baptist Church.

Going back to traveling, Barksdale remembered that her mother even put together a senior citizens group called “Young at Heart” for a trip to Virginia Beach for a week.

“One time, in the early 1970s, she put together a trip to California for 16 days. They stayed in Las Vegas at the Hotel Tropicana and then in Los Angeles for three nights, and went to Disneyland and the Petrified Forest. She tried to find all kinds of different educational landmarks and have fun, too,” Barksdale said.

Alexander managed to have each person only charged $300 for the entire trip and had a whole year to pay that amount.

“She always said, “Let me plan it so everybody can go.’”

That trip also included another Alexander touch: not coming back the same way to South Carolina. That way, Barksdale said, participants would see different things on the way back.

Barksdale ended up following in her mother’s footsteps to a great degree. She retired as a Kershaw County music teacher after 30 years in 1999. Like her mother, she also worked at Morris College after retirement for nine years.

She noted that her mother graduated from high school in 1936.

“A few years ago, she said she was the only of her class left from Jackson School,” she said.

Barksdale said her mother went on to attend Voorhees Junior College for two years, received her B.A. in education from Allen University, her M.A. in Math from New York University and continued with further studies at Morris College, the University of South Carolina and Benedict College.

Alexander’s life, her daughter said, was filled with helping people, whether it was teaching them or helping them in the community.

“She loved doing things and she loved helping people,” Barksdale said. “She didn’t care who they were, just made sure that they got what they needed. I’m proud to say she was my mother. She loved her family, especially her grandchildren.

“She just believed in people and loved people. You could call her late at night and she would say, ‘If I can’t help you, I will make phone calls until I find someone and get back to you.’ It was the way she was brought up: ‘Don’t think negative, always be positive.’”

Services for Alexander, 94, will be held Saturday at 1 p.m. at Sanders Creek Baptist Church with burial in the church cemetery. Visitation took place at Collins Funeral Home on Thursday from noon to  7 p.m. and will continue today from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and one hour prior to Saturday’s service.

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