Bill Dufford says that 25 years into retirement, all he does is go to reunions and funerals.
And, sure enough, when we talked Friday he was looking forward to a weekend with the Beaufort High School class of 1964.
Their principal, now 86 years old and living in Columbia, was to be joined during festivities Friday and Saturday by faculty members Grace Foster Dennis, Adelaide Von Harten Fletcher, Gam Glenn Foster, Sonny Foster, Dutchin Hardin, Brenda Ruckman McLeod and Edith Smoak.
That turnout symbolizes the tone set by Dufford, said one of the reunion organizers.
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"He would call every student by name when we walked down the hall," said Maureen Boyd Hijar of Sun City Hilton Head. "The atmosphere was so accepting. It was a wonderful place to be."
On Thursday, Dufford accepted the Governor's Award in the Humanities for helping communities in South Carolina deal with racial integration.
He was introduced at the Columbia luncheon sponsored by the S.C. Humanities Council by a former recipient, author Pat Conroy of Beaufort. In several books, Conroy has told the world how he was shaped into a man by his unusual principal.
Dufford still has strong feelings about integration, something that happened after he left Beaufort High in 1965.
But he said his change from a Jim Crow upbringing to an open-minded man happened in Beaufort. Some of the lessons came from the young students who still adore him.
William E. Dufford was reared in a grand, old, 6,000-square-foot home in the heart of the Upstate college town of Newberry.
His father lost both his parents by the time he was 8 years old. When he had children of his own, they were drilled in the values of hard work and education.
Dufford's mother raised eyebrows when, in 1948, she chose a project for her year as state president of the American Legion Auxiliary that smacked of socialism. They helped poor, international children through UNICEF.
Years later, Dufford would describe the process that changed his own worldview.
First came television, with high-impact images of dogs attacking peaceful civil rights marchers in the Deep South.
"Now we could see what was happening in the world, and not just sit in our own little cocoon in South Carolina," he said.
Then, a Beaufort High graduate became one of the few to befriend Vivian Malone when she broke the color barrier at the University of Alabama. Dufford said a girl named Sandi Metzler reached out to ease the tension created by then-Gov. George Wallace's defiant stand in the school doorway.
"That was a tough decision, but it was the right decision," Dufford said. "It began to make an impact, on me at least."
He said he attended a Ku Klux Klan rally in Beaufort, not as a participant but as an observer.
"I heard the hate speech and it was chilling," Dufford said.
But the "nail in the coffin" came when his Lutheran church refused membership to a young Marine and his family because they were black.
"This reawakened in me something I had been taught since childhood," Dufford said. "We all knew that God loves all people, and that the church is God's house."
Dufford was there when Roland Washington walked in, alone, using the freedom-of-choice option to integrate Beaufort High.
"He was brave. Very, very brave. And a great kid," Dufford said.
Washington found himself in a school that had no written rules under Dufford, yet turned out 20 times the national average of National Merit Scholars. One class had seven finalists, Dufford said.
"It was a treasure, those years I was in Beaufort," Dufford said. "We had great parents, great support and great kids."
He left Beaufort to get his doctorate, and then was hired to oversee integration in Sumter and York County public schools. He served as a consultant to the Boston school system and worked for the Center for Integrated Education at the University of South Carolina. He finished his career with 10 years in the classroom in Columbia schools.
Dufford did not even know his outstanding fellow principal in Beaufort, W.K. Alston at the all-black Robert Smalls High.
"The amazing thing is how we lived two separate lives," Dufford said of that era. "That was a sad situation. We were all Americans, but there were two Americas."
Last year, Newberry College hosted its first Dufford Diversity Week.
And the old educator again found himself teaching life's lessons.
"There's always this thing of separation," Dufford said. "We've got to get over that."
Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.
Related content:The S.C. Humanities Council