Among great persons who have gone out from Union County and served mankind with dignity and unselfishness, we must applaud Dr. Thomas Jackson Lance, educator and humanitarian, who was president of Young Harris College during the difficult times of the Great Depression Years, 1930-1942.
Thomas Jackson Lance was the first of twenty children born to his father, James Washington Lance (1861-1940). Jim Lance, as his father was known, was a farmer at Wolf Creek, north of Vogel State Park in Choestoe District, Union County, Georgia. The mother of Thomas Jackson, better known as Jack, was Virginia Jane L. Henson (1863-1916). Jack, their firstborn, was born January 31, 1886. It is possible that the young boy had a memory of his grandfather, the Rev. John Lance (1834-1890), who was brutally murdered by moonshiners after returning from a preaching assignment. Jack's father, Jim Lance, spent much time and effort trying to bring the perpetrators of the crime to justice. That story has been adequately covered in Charles Hill's excellent book entitled Blood Mountain Covenant.
Since Jack Lance's family was so large, it seems somewhat of a miracle of the mountains that he was able to get an excellent education and become the shining light among educators that was his calling. After a long and useful life of 94 years, Dr. Thomas Jackson Lance died January 27, 1980. I was able to access the eulogy given at the time of his memorial service by the Rev. Edgar A. Padgett of the Calhoun, Georgia United Methodist Church. From this tribute I learned much about the man whose life was marked by selfless service to others.
Being from a large family, and the eldest of the children, early on Jack Lance learned to bear his weight around the farm on Wolf Creek. His full siblings, born to his mother, Jane, were Juan Bascomb (1888-1958), Lena Mabel (1891-1946), Sarah Theodosia, "Docia" (1894-?), Luther Edgar (1897- ?), Fannie Lee (1900-?), Carter Paul (1903-?), Homer E. (1906-?) and Mary Emma Louis (b/d 1908). Jack's father, when Jack's mother, Jane, died, married Melissa Spiva. Jack's half-siblings from this marriage were Elbert, James C. known as Jay, Auburn, Champ C., Bruce M., Charles F., Johnny W., Donald Ray, Grace Jane and Betty Jean (died as infants), and Bobby Gaynell. From his early life Jack Lance was taught the virtues of hard work, honesty, kindness, good manners, and a love for education.
After having learned what he could in the one-teacher schools of Choestoe, and at the knees of notable teachers and preachers there, Jack Lance went to Young Harris College for further education. The college took him in, giving him work on the farm to earn his way. He was an exceptionally gifted student. He graduated from Young Harris in 1908, with high honors.
From Young Harris, he continued his education at the University of Georgia where he earned both the Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees, and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa National Scholastic Society. His doctor of philosophy degree came later, but the information of where he earned it is not presently available to this writer.
He wanted to teach. His career as an educator included classroom instruction at Hopewell High School, at Richmond Academy in Augusta, at Young Harris College, and then as an administrator for 13 years, serving as superintendent of schools in Waynesboro, Georgia.
His Alma Mater, Young Harris College, having already his record as a student and as a professor there, tapped him as president of the college. He served admirably in that capacity during some difficult years, beginning in 1930 and continuing through 1942. I wish the span of this short article could list all the hardships he faced in keeping the small mountain college above-board financially and operable during some of the darkest years of America's Great Depression. Suffice it to say that his hard work, faithfulness and industry during that span of his career saw him inducted into and honored by the Kappa Phi Kappa National Honor Society for Distinguished Educators.
Of that period of Dr. Jack Lance's career, the Rev. Edgar A. Padgett wrote: "He lived with deficits as his daily companion, but managed to keep Young Harris alive, serving the needs of so many who without it would have had little, if any, chance for a college education… Dr. Lance always found a way to help a deserving student stay in college. Many of our most distinguished citizens of Georgia have testified that they owe their start in life to Dr. Lance who inspired and encouraged them to keep trying, with the assurance of his help."
Thomas Jackson Lance married Annie Rose Erwin who graduated from Young Harris in 1913. To them were born four children: Thomas Jackson, Jr., Robert, Alice Rose, and Thomas Bertram, "Bert." Many will recognize the name of Bert Lance as a cabinet member during the time Jimmy Carter was president of the United States. From Young Harris, in 1942, the Lance family moved to Calhoun, GA and there the children were reared. He was superintendent of schools at Calhoun for two years, 1942- 1944, and then he began a sixteen year tenure with the State Department of Education in Atlanta as a state school supervisor, having as his goal improving the quality of education for every public school student in the state of Georgia.
It was said of Dr. Lance that he had a phenomenal memory, even into his later years. He never forgot a name, a face, a favor, a verse of Scripture, an experience. From his rich well of experience he could recall where he had met people and what they did.
He loved his family, his home, and the classroom. Although many years of his illustrious career were spent in school administration, his first love was teaching. It has been said of him that the "moments of illumination" when a student "sees" through a problem and has an epiphany of insight were, for him, thrilling and emotional experiences.
Considering the "opportunites" this country boy had to become "somebody," they were slender, indeed. But mountains were a challenge to him, and doing good was his second nature. "Lives of great men all remind us, /We can make our lives sublime,/ And, departing, leave behind us / Footprints on the sands of time." So wrote poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. So lived Educator Dr. Thomas Jackson Lance.
c 2008 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published August 21, 2008 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.