Today’s school secretaries have their hands full, but before Cherokee County Schools had nurses and counselors, secretaries like Dot Gilleland handled those duties, too. You might say one of the job requirements was being able to multitask.
Dot was good at it. She could take a child’s temperature while she notarized a signature. While answering the telephone she might be counting money, giving a child medicine or putting bandages on skinned knees.
In addition to all of those things, she excelled at pulling loose teeth and consoling crying children who wanted their mamas. Occasionally, she mended their clothes, too.
At the same time, anxious teachers were needing help with using the fax machine or the copier that had just jammed. Yet, those coming through the doors of Holly Springs Elementary were always welcomed with a smiling face and warm voice.
Teachers who worked with her remember how often they said to a student or adult when they did not know what else to do, “Go ask Miss Dot.” She was described as the glue that held the school together and as the oil that kept the school running.
She even knew the name of every child in the school and whose room they were in.
Perhaps it was because of her own early years that Dot related so well to children. I found it hard to believe when she described herself as a mean little girl. If so, she sure got over it.
She was born just outside the city limits of Waleska. After her parents realized she was not learning to speak plainly, they took her to see Waleska’s doctor, Dr. R.M. Moore. He put something under her tongue to be sure she was not tongue-tied. She was not. But it was years later before her speech “cleared up.”
She and her husband, Ben, met when they were students at Old Canton High School. He was from Lathemtown and rode what the Old Canton alumni still call the “long bus” to school.
When Dot was 18 and Ben was 20, he kept asking her to set a date when they would get married. For some reason, she kept putting it off.
Things changed when Ben announced that if she did not set a date soon, he was going to join the Army. Dot did not want that to happen, so she did set a date and they got married. Soon afterward, Ben was drafted.
In the meantime, they had started building their house on Univeter Road in Canton. They hastily “dried it in” before he had to leave for Fort Jackson, S.C., and later Fort Sheridan, Ill. Dot went with him during his Army years.
Luckily, he was not sent out of the country, but he did come close. Once he had been given his shots and was at the airport when the word came that his group’s orders had been changed.
After coming back to Canton, Dot and Ben finished building their house. Ben worked at Bradshaw Supply and Colonial Stores before becoming Cherokee County director of Roads and Bridges. Dot worked as a secretary at Gold Kist and bookkeeper for Johnny and Mary Sparks’ furniture store.
After the Gillelands adopted their children, Molly and Joey, Dot became a stay-home mom. She and Ben were regular fixtures at Canton United Methodist Church, the children’s ball games, school functions, etc.
One day, Dot got a call from then-Holly Springs Elementary principal Gene Norton. The school secretary, Bea McCurley, was resigning.
Gene asked Dot to do him a favor. He wanted her to help out temporarily in the school office.
Twenty-five years and four principals later — Gene, Corky Jones, Robert Wofford and Dwight Woodall — Dot decided she had done that favor long enough. She announced her plans to retire.
Now the Gillelands, with the exception of Ben’s health problems, are living the good life retirement often brings including time with their six grandchildren.
Dot Gilleland was an icon at Holly Springs Elementary. At her retirement, then-Holly Springs Mayor Paul Van Haute declared it “Miss Dot” Day.
As someone wrote, Dot more than filled the position. She filled the hearts of those around her.
Marguerite Cline is the former mayor of Waleska.