Born August 27th, 1923, May Lizzie (Benford)Brown was the 3rd of 11 children born to Martin and Bertha Benford. May Lizzie had a passion for children and a strong belief in family unity. She spent her time gardening and preparing meals for family and friends. In 1987, she organized the first Benford Family Reunion that has continued every year following and developed into the Benford Family Association.
As a child she had to drop out of school in 7th grade to help care for her younger siblings. Losing her mother at age 16, May began working with her father Martin to support her family. Martin was a well-known entrepreneur in Rutherford County and member of the Freemasons. He owned a coal company, service station, and two buses. Martin contracted with the Rutherford County school system as a bus driver and when he was unable to drive May Lizzie took over becoming the first woman driver for the school system. She drove for over 50 years, during which time she employed her youngest sister Marie, whom also drove bus #17 for over 50 years! It’s fair to say they both loved children and their community dearly.
Although May Lizzie was unable to finish her education, she dedicated her life to ensuring that every child got to and from school safely year after year and had the potential to make their dreams come true. Our great-aunt May Lizzie, has been a major inspiration in our lives, acting as a mother figure and mentor throughout the years. Til the day, I still wonder how she made some things possible for us. No matter who you were you could always count on May Lizzie to be there to support you and help you in any way possible. She shows us that no matter what you go through in life, the Great Depression, loss of a parent, segregation, or even World War 2! you must keep pushing forward. She did not let any of the trials and tribulations of her life deter her from living a happy and love filled life. In January 2014, she was honored as an Unsung Hero in Rutherford County. I must say that was one of the best days of my life, to witness her being recognized by the community and her knowing that her efforts were greatly appreciated and never forgotten. She later passed in September of that year at 91 years old. The life and inspiration of May Lizzie impacted so many of our community and that is why we are naming our education center after her and in the dedicated memory of her father Martin H Benford.
Our goal is to ensure the members of our community have the tools, resources, and most importantly the support to reach their goals and live a happy, loved filled life. Our great aunt and great grandfather prove that this is possible,if we come together as a community to uplift and support each other. The May Lizzie Brown Education Center will consist of resources and classes that include financial literacy, health and nutrition, parenting classes, kids after school programs with a STEM based structure, legal counseling, and heritage classes. This will not be an easy journey, but nothing in life worth having comes easy. We that with your help and support we can achieve greatness within our community!