On August 20, 2019, Mauldin High School opened its doors to students and teachers, beginning the 2019-20 school year in a typical fashion with one major exception. Pam Savage Mayfield or “Mama May” as she has been so fondly called by her students, would not be there, for she had retired at the close of the 2018-19 academic year.
A 1972 graduate of Hillcrest High School, Pam always knew that her career would involve music in some way because her family loved to sing so much! In college, she contemplated going into church music and even served a 2-year stint as Minister of Music at North Myrtle Beach. However, her Mom and Dad insisted that she take teaching courses as well. Consequently, she graduated from Newberry College in 1977 with a degree in Music Education, having also attended North Greenville University along the way, her specialty being voice and especially choral music. Upon returning to the Upstate and with the help of a dear church friend, she landed her first job at Northwood Middle School in the Taylors area where she taught music for seven years.
In the meantime, Pam married Leland Mayfield and the next few years would see the arrival of a daughter, Erin, and a son, Grant. Though she took a break during this time to raise her young family, Pam continued to teach twenty private students. As she did so, she knew in her heart that her true calling was music education and that, one day, she would return to teaching choral music within a school setting.
That day came in the fall of 1993 when Pam Mayfield arrived at Mauldin High School to teach choral music. She would remain there for 26 years, becoming the Department Chair of Fine Arts and serving as Director of Choral Activities for the high school. During her tenure, she built up the choral group from a mere 34 members to over 200 students per year. Her annual “dinner theater” musicals drew unbelievable crowds, and delighted Mauldin, Simpsonville, and other nearby residents year after year. In addition to community events and festivals, her choral group performed annually at the Rotary Night of Singing, held in recent years at Brookwood Church and sponsored by Golden Strip Sunrise and Fountain Inn Rotary Clubs. She suggested the current format and then helped to develop and organize this yearly event. Typically, crowds exceeding 2000 people attend and proceeds help to fund the purchase of music for the choral programs of the participating schools. Each year, as part of their choral performances, Pam would take her students on a field trip with some pretty exciting destinations—Disney World, New Orleans, and most recently, the Bahamas. In the end, over 5000 Mauldin students experienced the joy of singing and learning under her inspired direction.
Pam says that it is hard to believe how fast it all went by because she had such incredible and unbelievable fun. In reflecting over her 34 years in the profession, she has no regrets about choosing music education over church music. She feels that, in many ways, the school became her mission field.
One day, September 11, 2001, remains etched in her mind, each detail forever in chronologic order. While teaching during first period, Pam received a call from a very close friend. It was so unusual, that she answered that call and heard about the plane having just struck the Twin Towers in New York City. While they conversed, a second plane crashed into the towers. They were able to get the news on TV and soon, her classroom became a haven for the gathering of all 200 or so of her students as the horrific events of the day continued to unfold. They stood in a circle and prayed continuously, comforting each other.
In the end, her career encompassed so much more than teaching high school students about choral music. It centered on relationships. Her students often opened up and talked with her and parents felt grateful their kids had someone with whom they could discuss things. When a student needed correction, she never minced words, but told the truth and shared with honestly and conviction. The students called her “Mama May” because she became both counselor and teacher and they knew that she cared about them and not just about their voices. To teachers, she says, “Invest in the kids. If kids knew I cared about them first, the rest would happen.” To students, she advises, “Enjoy your school time. Adulting is not all it’s cracked up to be and you will never pass this way again. As a Junior or Senior, you try to get so much in, but don’t wish your Senior year away.” She has some wise words for parents as well, “Trust that teachers know what they are doing.” Students need to take care of their own problems and they should talk to the teacher most of the time and not the parents. They must learn to stay calm, express themselves, and handle things on their own.
Pam retired on a “high note,” receiving one accolade after another in the last few months of her tenure. In January 2019, Greenville County Schools approved a request from the Mauldin Community to name Mauldin High School’s auditorium, where her students had shared so many special performances, after her. In the supporting documentation, Judy Eddy, a former student wrote these words, “She is truly a gem and has gone above and beyond that of being a teacher.” On April 4, 2019, she received a Golden Apple Award from Geoff Hart of WYFF-TV News. Then, on May 6, 2019, Ms. Mayfield attended a banquet, honoring the 30 weekly winners of the Golden Apple Award, at Westin Poinsett Hotel in downtown Greenville. There, Geoff Hart called out her name as the winner of the Golden Apple Teacher of the Year. To cap off her bittersweet year, Pam attended a surprise retirement party on May 11, 2019 where current and former students, friends, family, and coworkers celebrated the gift of song and encouragement she has shared throughout her career. She says that she was “blown away” by all these awards and celebrations and went out “with a bang.”
Somehow, one senses that Pam is not through yet! There’s still more to learn and choral music affords her such joy. She says that she is taking off a year for some “me” time to include sleeping late, staying up as long as she wants, working on overdue projects, reading some books, spending time with her husband of 39 years and her precious family, and maybe traveling some. However, then, next fall, she plans to organize a Mauldin community choir, the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. She believes that music brings people together and so many people need that kind of venue and fellowship today. Her vision includes all kinds of music—gospel, classic, fun songs, and showtunes with perhaps two concerts a year, one near Christmas and the other in June with possible patriotic selections. She certainly knows where to find the singers! Pam’s eyes light up when she starts talking about all this and then, she flashes that engaging smile. Mauldin is in for a rollicking good time once Pam Savage Mayfield starts on this project. Stay “tuned” for more details in the future!