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Welcome home, ‘Ms. Pearl’

Posted: May 5, 2016 5:26 p.m.
Updated: May 6, 2016 1:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/

C-I WEB EXTRA: Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews presents a gift of a glass cross from him and his wife, Heather, to Pearl Brown during a ceremony Wednesday celebrating the receipt of her new home replacing one destroyed by arson in November 2014. Brown lives near Lugoff-Elgin Middle School where she worked as a custodian for many years. For 71 years, she lived in her old home which had stood for 114 years.

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“I thank everybody,” Pearl Brown declared after cutting a ceremonial ribbon in front of her new home in Lugoff. “And everybody is welcome to go inside and take a look around.”

Exactly 18 months after an arsonist set fire to her home on Richardson Court in Lugoff and another nearby, Brown celebrated the gift of her new house with about 30 friends, neighbors, family members and community leaders. Her new home is right across the street from the site where her old one was destroyed. The KCSO determined Brown’s home was mistakenly targeted by someone who thought they were setting fire to someone else’s house. She and another family member were inside at the time.

Camden High School Principal Dan Matthews, who was assistant principal at Lugoff-Elgin Middle School where Brown worked as a custodian for many years, led the short ceremony in her front yard. Matthews said the arsonist burned down 114 years of Brown family history, including the 71 years Pearl Brown spent living there.

“Today, you helped good conquer evil. I can tell you, (Brown) was so much more than a custodian to us. Ms. Pearl was a mother, a grandmother, an encourager to students and staff alike. Just what kind of impact did she have? I think you can tell by looking behind me,” Matthews said, gesturing at the new home, “at what kind of impact she had.”

He said former students and staff worked together to donate money, time, effort, service and household items to getting Brown into her new home. Matthews singled out Leslie Outten and Nikki Keels for starting a GoFundMe page to help raise more than $15,000 cash and a lot of household items to help with the effort. He introduced United Way of Kershaw County President Donny Supplee, who read a letter to Brown from Kershaw County Council Chairman Julian Burns, who could not be present.

“It’s kind of to you,” Supplee said to Brown, “but it’s also to a lot of people here. ‘On behalf of the entire county, of my teammates … I write to you and thank you and recognize the efforts of so many who have made today possible. We recall the horrific and shameful arson fire that destroyed Ms. Pearl Brown’s home in the fall of 2014. Everyone knows her as Ms. Pearl and the community came together. Today, that grievous wrong is restored through the efforts of so many.’”

Continuing to read from the letter and on Burns’ behalf, Supplee recognized several Kershaw County government departments, the Kershaw County School District and the “uncounted private citizens and organizations” led by a volunteer group of local leaders, as well as companies which donated furniture, household items and various services. He also noted students from the Applied Technology Education Campus built the steps to the house.

“‘Kershaw County is the great place and it is because of its people and its heart for giving to others. I commend you all and thank you for your example of amazing hospitality and generosity. We are proud of you,’” Supplee read as he finished Burns’ letter.

Matthews then introduced Haile Gold Mine General Manager David Thomas. Although Haile Gold Mine is located in Lancaster County, the company heard about Brown’s loss and decided to help out. The company paid for Brown’s new home and for it to be moved from Lancaster County to Lugoff.

Thomas had another gift for Brown on Wednesday.

“We’d like to honor Ms. Pearl with a golden horseshoe which is a symbol of luck around the world -- obviously, we go on faith, not luck, but it’s never less important. It has ‘Haile Gold Mine’ on here and this commemorative horseshoe (represents) our largest deposit, the Horseshoe Deposit at Haile, one of our significant deposits. So on behalf of Haile Gold Mine, we provide you with the golden horseshoe,” Brown said as he handed it to Brown.

Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews (no relation to Principal Matthews) spoke next, saying he met Brown while campaigning to be sheriff. More than two years later, he heard about the fire and told his wife, Heather -- who put together Wednesday’s ceremony -- “we need to do something.”

“She’s a legend in Kershaw County,” he said. “So, we took a few steps, but, ultimately, the community of Kershaw County stepped up in this terrific time of need in a huge, huge way for Ms. Pearl. I firmly believe God is always at work in everything. Sometimes we don’t understand why bad things happen to good people, but we can always trust that God has everything under control because he is, ultimately, in control of everything. In the midst of this tragedy, it took two years, but Ms. Pearl is receiving a huge blessing from it. And I think the people who have contributed to this entire effort have also received a blessing.”

Sheriff Matthews then presented another housewarming gift to Brown: a glass cross.

As the ceremony ended, Dan Matthews spoke on Brown’s behalf.

“She wanted me to thank everyone who’s made this possible. ‘You have turned tragedy into triumph,’” he said for Brown. “‘And you did it with a giving spirit. 1st Peter 4:10 says “As each received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s great grace.” I think he would say to each of us, well done my good and faithful servant. If not now, then when. I think it’s time we cut that ribbon.’

“Ms. Pearl, I think it’s time to cut that ribbon and go home.”

Brown held court in the front yard for a while after cutting that ribbon, hugging family members and friends, and smiling the whole time.

 

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