Mary Sims Gressette – a longtime education and community leader in Orangeburg – died Friday. She was 102.
The daughter of the late Isabelle Wannamaker Sims and James Izlar Sims, Gressette was president of The Times and Democrat from 1972 until 1981. Her late son retired from the newspaper, where he worked as a photographer.
“My great-great-grandfather started the paper. My husband was president, and then he died (Dr. James H. “Toolie” Gressette in 1982),” she told The T&D at her 100th birthday in 2015. “I took over as president with my sister-in-law. Then we sold the paper. … I was used to the newspaper because Daddy was the publisher for years.”
Known for a sharp wit, keen mind and unyielding curiosity in life that remained with her beyond the century mark, Gressette was also involved in many other aspects of Orangeburg.
She was a charter member and president of the Camellia Garden Club, a charter member and president of the Orangeburg Junior Service League, a charter member of the Orangeburg County Historical Society and a member of the Orangeburg Music Club.
While on the Orangeburg County Library Board, she served as chairman. She taught Latin at the former Wade Hampton Academy for a number of years.
She served more than 30 years as the head of the Primary Department at First Baptist Church, where she was a member. She also founded an Alzheimer’s support-for-caregivers group in Orangeburg and moderated it for several years.
During an interview at age 100, she spoke proudly of her family. “The thing I’m most pleased with is my four children. I feel like I did a good job with them. My husband and I were both encouragers,” she said.
She is survived by her three daughters and their husbands: Mary Sims Gué and Thomas Benjamin Gué of Orangeburg, Isabelle (Boo) Sheppard and William Macon Sheppard of Clemson, and Rosa Helen Reid and Samuel Fraser Reid Jr. of Orangeburg. Son James H. Gressette Jr. died in 2011.
“I think family is everything. A close family is a blessing,” Gressette said.
At age 100, she used computer technology to communicate with family, including eight grandchildren and 24 great-grandchildren. An iPad rarely left her lap. She enjoyed FaceTime and having conversations on the Internet using the software application Skype.
“That’s amazing that I can talk to my grandchildren anywhere, and they know me. I was about 85 when I got a computer, and I learned to use it pretty good,” said Gressette, who loved to read and work crossword puzzles.
She was valedictorian of her class at Orangeburg High School and Phi Beta Kappa at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia. She majored in Latin.