UNION — There are all kinds of legacies we can leave in life but the best are the legacies of love and friendship we leave in the memories of our families and friends and the legacies of service to the community we live in through institutions we helped nurture and develop that will continue serving our community long after we are gone.
Debbie Littlejohn left both of those legacies and she, her life, her memory and her legacies were celebrated this past Thursday during the “Twenty-Third Founders’ Day Program” at USC Union.
Family members, friends, colleagues, academic and political dignitaries, and members of the community gathered in the USC Union Auditorium Thursday morning to remember Littlejohn and celebrate her life as a wife, mother, educator, her work in the community, and her efforts to help USC Union grow and develop.
The program presented those attending offered the following biography of Littlejohn:
Deborah Howell Littlejohn was born in Union, SC in 1952. Her parents were the late William and Mildred Howell. Mrs. Littlejohn attended Union County Schools. After graduating from Union High School, Mrs. Littlejohn attended USC Union where she earned an Associate in Arts degree. She continued her education in the University of South Carolina system by transferring to Columbia to enter the teaching program and received her Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education. She later earned a Master’s degree in Elementary Education from Converse College.
For 28 years, Mrs. Littlejohn taught kindergarten at Jonesville Elementary School and was chosen by her colleagues as the Teacher of the Year in 2002. Mrs. Littlejohn was loved and respected by her co-workers and her students. During her career, she served as a member of the Palmetto Teachers Association, SCACUS, and the International Reading Association.
In December of 2002, Mrs. Littlejohn was appointed to the Union-Laurens Commission for Higher Education where she served for over 16 years. She held the office of Vice Chairperson for many years. She also was a member of the University of South Carolina Palmetto College Board of Visitors.
Her love of her community was evident as Mrs. Littlejohn participated in activities such as Relay for life, American Cancer Society, Leukemia and Lymphoma Association and Walk America. Mrs. Littlejohn had been a member of Union First Presbyterian Church since she was 6 years old. She loved her church and was a past Deacon and Elder. She was the second woman ever elected to the Session of Elders and served on many other committees at the church as well. She also served as treasurer for the Net Berry Memorial Fund.
Mrs. Littlejohn was married to James P. (Pat) Littlejohn on August 9, 1974 and they have one son, Patrick and two grandchildren, Asher and Paylen. Mrs. Littlejohn passed away on April 28, 2019 after a courageous battle against ALS.
Littlejohn lived an impressive life, didn’t she?
She did and in living that life she left a legacy that lives on in a growing and expanding USC Union, a legacy that USC Union Dean John Catalano shared with those present attending Founders’ Day.
“This event today is about Debbie Littlejohn and not about the university, but she was one of the first people I met after coming to Union four years ago next month and her position on the Union-Laurens Commission for Higher Education really meant a lot to her,” Catalano said. “She was proud of this campus and I knew her well enough to know that she would have wanted me to tell you a few things about USC Union while I’m up here.
“For eight semesters in a row now we have set enrollment records,” he said. “We now serve 1,156 students from over 100 high schools, from 54 counties, and from 10 states. That represents more than double the 575 students we served in fall 2015. The Commission and Debbie have been a large part of that growth.”
That growth has also been reflected in the physical and academic expansion of USC Union.
“The Commission has added added six buildings, three ballfields — two of them in Jonesville — and several empty lots during that time,” Catalano said. “We joined forces with the Carnegie Library, worked with USC Aiken to be able to offer a much-needed BSN program, seen the addition of three independently-owned student housing projects, and by next fall the Bantams will compete in seven intercollegiate sports.
“None of this could have happened without our Commission and Debbie Littlejohn was an important member of that Commission,” he said. “She is missed.”
Also speaking at the ceremony was Commission Member Lewis Jeter III who said the Commission “is pleased to honor one of its own, Deborah Howell Littlejohn. Debbie is not here in the flesh, but her impact is felt all around us. During her years of service, the university saw tremendous growth in course offerings and in the physical size of the campus.”
Referring to the biography of Littlejohn in the program, Jeter said “it does make interesting reading, as you will read about someone who was selfless in working with others and being a part of her overall community.”
Looking at Littlejohn’s life as a wife, mother, and grandmother, Jeter said “I will tell you that she truly loved and cared for her family. Pat Littlejohn was her all-in-all, that is until Patrick was born. Then Pat had to take a step back. It stayed that way and Pat understood. And then, Patrick had to deal with what Pat dealt with for years when his children were born. She loved them all.”
Of her career as an educator, Jeter said “Debbie loved her job as a kindergarten teacher and the students and teachers with whom she worked.” While he was not completely certain of it, Jeter said he believed Littlejohn was the first kindergarten teacher at Jonesville Elementary School, adding that “5K was the only grade she taught during her 28-year tenure in public school. She was the one that was well-liked by others, teachers, students, administrators, and parents. Believe me that is hard to achieve. But when you understand that when others were discussing other people in her presence, she didn’t take part in those discussions. She heard everything that was said but kept her opinion to herself. In other words, she stayed away from gossip.”
Returning to Littlejohn’s family life , Jeter pointed out that her husband, Pat Littlejohn, had coached football at Jonesville High School “and to date has the only state football championship earned by the school. Debbie went to every game Pat coached. That is devotion.”
Jeter recalled how “in speaking with one of her school colleagues from Jonesville Elementary School,” they recalled how the only time Littlejohn “didn’t have a smile on her face was when her son had some health issues. Only sickness of her son could change her demeanor. She was one of a kind.”
An educator himself, Jeter said he met Littlejohn prior to being assigned to Jonesville School in 1992 and how that after he was assigned there “we became friends, especially when we discovered we had the same birthday. Each year we would wish each other happy birthday and she always, always reminded me that I was older.”
Of his friend, Jeter said “Debbie loved to ride horses, she loved going to the beach, but she was really in her element when she was behind the wheel of her green Triumph TR6 convertible sports car. She loved life and she shared with everyone.”
The decision to make Littlejohn this year’s Founders’ Day honoree was made by the Commission, and Jeter said it was approved without discussion, the vote to do so being a formality to have it reflected in the minutes of that meeting.
“Debbie is missed and will be missed,” Jeter said. “Her voice of reason, the calmness with which she spoke will forever be a part of all who knew her.”
The final speaker of the day was Littlejohn’s husband, Pat, who, together with their son, Patrick, attended the ceremony. His remarks were brief, sharing with those present the memory of how he and Debbie met and where they first met.
Where they did first meet? At USC Union, specifically the first classroom on the right side of the Main Hall where he and she attended History class together. Pat told those present that anytime he is at USC Union he always goes to that classroom and looks in it. He said that when he took his seat in that classroom, he saw Debbie come in the seat in front of him and he said that’s when he knew this was going to be a really great class.
They did not, however, date while attending USC Union. Pat said that would not happen until some two years later when both of them had transferred to USC Columbia and he was nearing graduation. Date they would, however, and soon they were wed, beginning a marriage that would last nearly 45 years and a love that endures to this day and will endure throughout eternity.
In his remarks, Pat thanked those present for this “great honor for our girl,” but most of all gave thanks to “the Lord that Debbie Howell became Debbie Littlejohn.”
Charles Warner can be reached at 864-762-4090.