On Mother’s Day 1987, graduating senior and Student Government Association President Debra Gammons ’87 delivered a poignant and candid speech at the College’s spring commencement ceremony.
Noting that her grandmother had passed away exactly one year earlier, Gammons urged the audience and her fellow graduates to cherish time spent with loved ones before they are gone. (Watch the video below of Debra Gammons’ 1987 commencement speech.)
Gammons’ late mother, Hazel Williams Gammons, was still living then. She was immensely proud of her daughter, the first black female president of the SGA, an academic standout and future graduate of the University of South Carolina School of Law.
Gammons, an English major and psychology minor, would go on to build a successful career in the legal profession, working stints in both private and public law. Since 2009, she has served as Distinguished Visiting Professor and Director of Office of Diversity Initiatives at the Charleston School of Law.
In addition to her many volunteer and civic activities, Gammons has also stayed connected to her alma mater. She served on the College’s Board of Trustees from 2000 to 2001 and is a member of the College’s Graduate School Advisory Board and the incoming chair of the Friends of the Library Board.
Gammons was teaching a course in law and society at the College’s Governor’s School, where she taught from 1994 to 2008, when she learned of her mother’s passing on March 8, 2002.
“She was only 64 years old and she had a stroke,” recalls Gammons. “She had a tough life rearing four children on her own. She was not overweight, but she did not exercise or eat nutritious foods.”
A lifelong runner, Gammons has always recognized the importance of exercise in her own life and understood its important role in preventing heart disease and stroke. She hoped that by encouraging others to exercise and educating them about stroke prevention, she could save or prolong the life of someone else’s mother.
“I wanted my mother to not have died in vain,” Gammons says. “I started a run in her name and memory.”
Now in its ninth year, the Hazel Williams Gammons Run for Your Mother 5k, is held annually on a road course in Summerville, S.C. This year’s race takes place at 8:30 a.m. on May 9, 2015. More information is available on the event’s website.
It is truly a labor of love, with Gammons, her three siblings, and her daughter, College alumna Bronwen Gammons ’01, doing the lion’s share of the work to stage the run. There are many details and logistics to address, including obtaining city approvals and insurance, ordering T-shirts and trophies, and coordinating participants and volunteers.
But these are tasks that Gammons is happy to take on.
“My mother did so much for so many people without any credit,” says Gammons. “She needs to be remembered.”