This week we mourn the loss of a much-loved member of the Grymes family, Dorothy McDonald Childress Hill Browning, or Dot Browning, who passed away on March 20th, 2016 at Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville at the age of 93. Dot had a long history with Grymes. Not only was she involved in the school’s inception in 1947, but she was also a parent, teacher, GPTA President and recipient of the Distinguished Service Award. The Dot Hill Award is given in her honor each year to the Lower School student who best exemplifies a love of learning, a characteristic that Dot cherished in her students during her years at Grymes.
Last Spring, alumna Susan Strange ‘60 interviewed Dot about her memories of Grymes and transcribed the conversation for historical record. The transcript, which has its home in the Grymes Archive, is a treasure. Reading it is like sitting in on a conversation between friends over a cup of tea, and Dot’s warm, lively personality simply jumps off of the pages.
According to the interview, Dot’s connection with Grymes started over a conversation with Carroll Shackelford after dinner at Emily Grymes’ home many years ago. Carroll, whom many considered a “mover and shaker” in Orange at the time, was putting together plans to expand Emily Grymes’ in-home kindergarten program. According to Dot, Carroll “got the bug” to organize a private school and invited interested parents to meet at Emily Grymes’ home for dinner and conversation about helping to build the school. Dot was intrigued and helped Carroll reach out to families in the community before enrolling her own son Billy in the program (Dot would later enroll all five children, though not all would graduate from Grymes.)
As the school expanded from Emily Grymes’ home to the building behind Mrs. Grymes’ house on Main Street, then to the fire-house on Main Street in Orange and finally to our current home on Spicer’s Mill Road, Dot became increasingly involved in the school. In 1960, after the school’s original third grade teacher, Miss Louise Holliday, retired, Dot decided to teach at Grymes. As she described it: “One day I thought, I’ve put five children through the third grade, I know that curriculum backwards and forwards. Why can’t I teach third grade?” Sure enough, after driving to the home of Nancy Lee Young (who was in charge of hiring a third grade teacher to replace Miss Holliday) and expressing her interest in the newly vacated position, she was hired on the spot. “I said, ‘Nancy Lee, I’ve come to apply for the third grade teaching position at Grymes School.’ And she said, ‘You’re hired. I was just on my way to interview someone for the position.’ So that took care of that.”
Dot taught third grade at Grymes for 25 years, where her curriculum included reading, writing, spelling, arithmetic, Virginia history, some mythology and (to her chagrin) science. Before the construction of a science lab, science was taught in the classroom with just a paperback workbook “and a lot of imagination.” “It was certainly a joy when we were able to have a science lab, a science room and a real science teacher,” she recalled.
Dot enjoyed a long and colorful career as a teacher at Grymes, and even after she retired she just couldn’t keep away. On the very first day of her retirement, Dot found herself back on campus: “I was sleeping soundly. The telephone rang, and I heard a man’s voice and I heard something about substituting… When I came to enough, I found it was my oldest son whose wife was teaching first grade. He was calling me to tell me that Debbie was too sick to go to school, so I’d have to go take her first grade class on the first day of school. But I’d retired. But what could I do but say yes. And then he said, ‘Mom, Debbie has car duty.’ I thought I can’t stand it. So, I go to Grymes and I do the car duty, and of course every door I opened, every parent said, ‘I thought you’d retired.’ I heard later that one of the girls in the office said, ‘Oh look, here’s Dot. Poor thing, she’s forgotten she’s retired.’ [laughing]”
Having touched so many lives at Grymes Memorial School, Dot Browning will be sorely missed. We share our thoughts and prayers with Dot’s five surviving children: William Clayton Hill ‘62 (Debbie Clarke Hill), Rowland Flint Hill IV ‘64 (Gwen Hill), Floyd Childress Hill (Margaret Wilson Hill ‘69), Douglas McDonald Hill ‘66 (Amy Neale ’72), Jennie Hill Robinson ‘67 (Glenn Robinson), step-daughter Alice Browning Daniel, eight grandchildren: Maggie Hill Butler ‘91, Sallie Hill Outten ‘94, Lauren Hill Dowler ‘97, Sterling Hill ‘99, India Hill ‘01, Nicholas Neale Hill, Jessa Hill, Ellie Hill, four step-grandchildren: Amy Lanette Morton, Jennifer Morton Kinnisten, Cherish Alberts and Jordan Robinson and seven great-grandchildren.
Memorial Services will be held at the Orange Presbyterian Church at 3 pm on Friday, March 25th. There will be a reception following in the church fellowship hall. Interment will be private.
All are welcome to visit the Grymes Archive to read the treasured transcript of Susan Strange’s conversation with Dot from April, 2015, and to learn more about the wonderful history of this school. The Archive is located in Carrington House and is open to the public during school hours.