Every year when football season starts, Miss Lorraine Paris comes to mind—and once again, I say a prayer of thanks.
Miss Paris was a Winthrop grad, the first woman band director in South Carolina, and director of the Newberry High band program for 47 years. That means she taught about three generations of students, most of them for six years—which adds up to one powerfully big influence in our community.
Miss Paris also was a leader in her profession. In 1996 she was inducted in the S.C. Band Directors Hall of Fame, and over her career she earned every tribute that her peers could offer.
More importantly, she earned the gratitude of countless students whose lives were changed because she cared about them, she challenged them, and she supported them.
Truly, Miss Paris performed miracles in young people’s lives. She instilled in her students the discipline they needed to succeed not only in band, but also in academics. She encouraged her students to continue school after graduation and helped many of us find scholarships. She taught life lessons that have lingered long, among them: punctuality and persistence, teamwork and community, self-reliance and respect.
Respect not only for her, but also for one another.
Before we performed at any competition, Miss Paris would gather us into the bandroom, wait on a respectful silence to fall, and read this passage from First Corinthians…
“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ….And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:… the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.”
Make no mistake. Even as Miss Paris was encouraging us to do our best, she was also making it clear: every band member was important, and whatever the performance, we were in it together.
Thank heavens, Miss Paris directed the band long enough for two of my children to hear her read those words.
Yes, Miss Paris was a rare and wonderful treasure, as even folks “not from here” noticed…
After Miss Paris claimed to be retired, she still helped with the band (of course). When there were competitions here in Newberry, she stayed busy through the day, but her chair was set up below the press box so that she could watch performances when she could.
One year when Munson and I attended, we sat on a top row of the stadium so that Munson might have a chance to speak with her. Seated beside us were two guys from Irmo who considered themselves “Miss Paris groupies.” They talked to us about how Miss Paris was a legend far beyond Newberry, how she was admired by other band directors and had inspired other band programs.
Munson and I had great fun as we shared with them about Blue Brigade traditions: selling barbecue chickens and country fried steak, singing “Let There Be Peace On Earth,” fearing “The Look,” pulling work squads, carrying bricks, working in the fair booth…
All of a sudden, one guy frowned and pointed behind us. There, under the press box, a man was setting up the tripod for a video-camera…directly in front of Miss Paris’ chair.
The Irmo fellow walked over and said gently, assuming the gentleman simply didn’t know. “I’m sorry, sir, but you can’t set up your camera here. That—”
He pointed and spoke reverently, “—is Miss Paris’ chair.”
The video-man scowled. “I bought my ticket. I can set up my video camera anywhere I please.”
“But that is Miss Paris’ chair. Please, sir, move the camera,” his friend said, more firmly.
“Let me tell you one thing. I paid for my ticket, and I’m going to videotape from right here,” he said, just as firmly.
“But—you must not understand—that is Miss Paris’ chair!” someone called out from a couple of rows down.
He snarled again that he had bought his ticket, and we had best leave him alone.
No one said anything more, but I did notice one of the Irmo guys was whispering to some folks who sat a few rows down.
Not ten minutes later, Munson noticed Miss Paris walking toward her chair. He joked, “Maybe she’ll have him carry a few bricks!”
Several folks in the crowd turned to watch, and collectively, we were probably thinking something along the line of “This should be entertaining…”
The video-man was checking his camera, still whining about what he paid for his ticket, people trying to tell him what to do, his son’s band would be marching soon, he had a right to….
Miss Paris listened a bit, looked at her chair, looked at the video camera—seemed stunned for second or two—and did an about-face!
We all watched as she walked away, many of us stunned that she had done nothing more than give him “The Look.”
One of the Irmo guys nodded. “Miss Paris has way too much dignity to get into a shouting match with a visitor. We should have known.”
“But it’s sooo disrespectful for him to put that camera—” I turned and frowned at him, saying “—in front of Miss Paris’ chair!”
He stared and stood his ground.
More whispers were exchanged below…
A few minutes later, when the announcement of the next band was made, video-man cheered loudly and clicked on the camera.
One Irmo guy asked, “Is that your son’s band?”
“Yes, sirree, now you’re going to see how it’s done,” video-man answered.
The Irmo guy shouted, “Now! Now, y’all!”
Several folks, including the Irmo guys, rushed to the press box—and stood shoulder-to-shoulder, directly in front of the video camera.
“You guys, move! You’re in the way of the camera!” video guy shouted.
One Irmo guy turned and smiled over his shoulder. “Oh, but we bought a ticket, and we can stand anywhere we want.”
Video-man shifted the direction of the camera, but that was no help. Row by row, folks were standing shoulder-to-shoulder, so close that no lens could peer through.
He stuttered, pleading, “That’s my son’s band!”
Someone shouted from below, “And that is Miss Paris’ chair!”
Video-guy persisted, “They’re about to start!!”
“Then you’d best hurry, to set up somewhere else,” a voice called out.
He looked into the sea of faces, and every eye—every jaw—was as determined as the next. So it was, the video-guy started scrambling.
Beloved, yes Miss Paris was—and fiercely, as one video-guy from “far off” would surely attest.
All is well that ends well. Video-man did record: a couple of sections down, I saw him, still muttering as he peered into the camera.
All is well that ends well. When Miss Paris returned, her chair was waiting—along with an enthusiastic cheer. She smiled, she nodded, she sat.
Loyalty like that cannot be begged or borrowed or bought. It is earned, day-by-day and hour-by-hour and minute-by-minute, for 47-plus years.
Miss Paris was a great blessing to us all. Now that football season is here, it is good to remember what a difference she made in so many lives.
Yes, the band tradition here is strong. We wish the current Blue Brigade director, Akeem Downs, our best in lifting up that tradition again.
In memory of our beloved Miss Paris: Godspeed.