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Oseola McCarty statue unveiled: Washerwoman gave $150,000 yet said “the only thing I regret is I didn’t have more to give”

Television personality Robin Leach speaks with Oseola McCarty at her residence in Hattiesburg, Miss. Wednesday September 18, 1996.
Television personality Robin Leach speaks with Oseola McCarty at her residence in Hattiesburg, Miss. Wednesday September 18, 1996. (AP Photo/ Steve Coleman)

In an age of cancel culture and destroying statues, a heartwarming story came from my alma mater in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, last week. 

A new statue was unveiled at the University of Southern Mississippi honoring an elderly woman who impacted hundreds of lives over her ninety-one years. 

This petite woman was not a war figure, athlete, or political giant—ones who typically receive such an honor. I am sure she never dreamed that, one day, a statue would honor her life. 

What made her worthy of such an honor? 

Memorializing McCarty’s sacrificial giving

Oseola McCarty worked for seventy-five years as a washerwoman in her hometown of Hattiesburg, then donated the majority of her life savings to the university before her death in 1999. 

“When I leave this world, I can’t carry nothing away from here. Whatever I have, it’s going to be left right here for somebody. Some child can get their education, to help them along, because you can’t do nothing now unless you get your education. I don’t regret one single penny I gave to the College. The only thing I regret is that I didn’t have more to give,” she said of her $150,000 gift. 

The unveiling of the statue coincided with the twenty-fifth anniversary of McCarty’s gift to USM for scholarships. The life-size bronze sculpture shows McCarty sitting in a chair, holding her Bible in her lap. An empty chair is nearby, and the university is hoping students will take the opportunity to sit and “visit” with the remarkable woman.

Today, the university presents several full-tuition McCarty scholarships every year with the gift and subsequent donations made by businessmen inspired by her generosity. 

“My secret was contentment”

McCarty’s life reflected her faith and work ethic. 

She was born in 1908 after her mother was raped on a wooded path in rural Mississippi while returning home after tending to a sick relative. 

Oseola lived with her mother, grandmother, and aunt. At the age of eight, she began helping them with their hired work. When her aunt got sick, Oseola dropped out of sixth grade to help care for her and carry on her work as a washerwoman. 

She never returned to school, continuing the laundry work for the next seventy-five years. 

She saved all the money she made by first putting it in a doll buggy, then later depositing in banks in Hattiesburg, never making withdrawals, a feat many can’t manage. “My secret was contentment. I was happy with what I had,” said McCarty. 

She had $280,000 in the bank when she quit her work in 1995 at the age of eighty-six due to arthritis. She decided to give most of her savings away: to her church, three family members, and the majority to USM to help needy students get the education she never got. She kept only what she needed to live on. 

Her past honors show the impact she made by her selfless life. She received a Presidential Citizens Medal from President Bill Clinton, was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey, and was honored with a tribute song by Patti Labelle at Madison Square Garden in NYC, just to name a few. 

Although she only had a sixth-grade education, she received an honorary degree from USM and an honorary doctorate from Harvard.

A life to emulate

McCarty models lifestyles Jesus commended: 

  • “And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (Mark 12:41–44).
  • “‘There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?’ Jesus said, ‘Have the people sit down.’ Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted” (John 6:9–11). 

The widow and small boy gave all they had, and God did the rest. 

McCarty gave sacrificially of what she had, and others were inspired to give, and continue to give. 

McCarty’s creed was simple: “You have to accept God the best way you know how and then He’ll show Himself to you. And the more you serve Him, the more able you are to serve Him.” 

I look forward to going back to my alma mater to visit the statue and sit in the chair by a woman whose life I would like to emulate. 

A woman who found contentment in living simply and working hard. 

A woman who found that giving brought the greatest joy. 

A woman that God would say the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21).

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