A double memorial service was held this past Tuesday at the Church of the Redeemer in Orangeburg. People gathered to celebrate the lives of Gale B. Livingston, 72, and Todd Livingston, 50, her son. After Todd’s death on March 11, his mother died on March 23.
As much as Gale and her late husband took care of son Todd in their home for more than 35 years, she also “took care” of so many in Orangeburg by teaching them the life skill of swimming. She was an instructor here for more than 40 years, teaching generations of families.
Gale Livingston began offering lessons in 1975 with a small group of neighborhood children at the pool in Orangeburg's Oakmont subdivision. It was the beginning of her life’s work.
At one time, swimming was just a neat thing to do in the summer, Livingston said in 2010, and only the rich and famous could afford lessons.
Today she said, swimming is a life skill. Pools are everywhere, and many families now have the luxury in their own yards.
"Can you imagine letting your child spend the night with a family who has a pool and your young child can't swim?" Livingston said. "You tell the children, ‘Don't go near the pool unless an adult is with you.' But there's something about a pool and kids. It draws them like a magnet.”
Livingston’s family is testimony to her success in human “waterproofing” – and taking aquatic skills to another level.
Livingston's daughter, Geri, has returned to Orangeburg after decades in Charleston teaching swimming and training lifeguards. She’s now doing the same here.
Son Todd was also a swim instructor, as is granddaughter Abbie.
"My own children were talking not too long ago about swimming,” Livingston said. “The comment was, ‘Gee, Mom, we don't ever remember not swimming.’ I drug (son) Jason around with me all summer long when he was 2 and 3 years old, and he took every class I taught, whether he had already had that class or not.
"My granddaughter, Abbie, was born on the 30th of May, and by the 4th of July, I had her in the pool -- and she has been there ever since."
Livingston said people paniced when they saw 2-year-old Abbie "toddle up to the side of the pool and jump in."
Livingston was competitive. She coached the Orangeburg Swim Team, which later became the Orangeburg YMCA, for 22 years before her retirement from coaching in 1997. Jason then took the helm.
Jason, who teaches swimming and water safety in Orangeburg and beyond, swam competitively from the time he was 5 years old until he "aged out" at 18. Then he coached for a few summers while in college.
Both Jason and Todd placed in the state swim meets, as well as achieved National Time Standards on their given events.
"Teaching or coaching swimming is a discipline just like football, basketball or any other sport," Livingston said. "If you don't have the passion for what you're doing, you can't be an affective coach or teacher.”
Gale Livingston was effective, and the essential swimming skills she taught to so many are testimony to it.
In her memory, we reoffer her advice to parents of young children:
Get your child exposed to the water as soon as possible. Even if you can't swim, cradle your child in your arms and walk around the pool.
Don't be afraid to let the water get on a child’s head or face. Children deal with it better than you will.
Make your child safe by making sure he or she can swim.