David Lauderdale

Why the Chicago Cubs’ Jason Heyward sent $20K to a women’s group in Beaufort

Beaufort celebrates Memorial Day

Highlights from the Memorial Day parade and the ceremony at the Beaufort National Cemetery held in Beaufort on Monday, May 30, 2016.
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Highlights from the Memorial Day parade and the ceremony at the Beaufort National Cemetery held in Beaufort on Monday, May 30, 2016.

What’s $20,000 to a man with a $184 million baseball contract?

In the case of Chicago Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward, it’s a lot.

It’s a lot because of what it represents.

The donation from his Heyward Family Fund represents his own family’s deep roots in Beaufort, but also America’s story.

The donation to the nonprofit Fred S. Washington Women’s Relief Corps No. 1 of South Carolina was made to honor his “Grand Mommy,” Louise Washington Hearon, president of the corps before her death in 2009.

Corps members are best known for their Memorial Day weekend ceremony at the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. They wear tan dresses and sing “Nearer My God To Thee” as they walk to the sea wall to throw flowers into the Beaufort River honoring those who lost lives their lives at sea in battle.

Current president Alice Washington, Louise’s sister, said they work to support veterans and plan to do more in the future for the Montford Point Marines.

They are part of one of the strongest threads in the history of Beaufort, and America — its commemoration of Memorial Day, or Decoration Day, dating to 1868. The women helped pay for the Grand Army of the Republic Hall built in 1896 on Newcastle Street and helped care for veterans of the Civil War.

The group’s namesake, Fred S. Washington Sr., was Jason Heyward’s great-grandfather. Fred and Sheldonia Haynes Washington had seven children in Beaufort. The least educated of them holds a bachelor’s degree. One of them, Kenneth Washington, was on Coach John Wooden’s first two national championship basketball teams at UCLA.

Fred S. Washington Sr. was a driving force, even for Jason Heyward and his generation. He earned the highest rank possible for an enlisted man in the U.S. Marine Corps. And the master gunnery sergeant ordered his children and their children to put books before sports and to remember that “good manners will take you where money won’t.”

To prove his point, Fred Sr. went to night school to get his high school degree — not a GED — after leaving the Marine Corps.

“He preached it. He preached it,” said Jason Heyward’s father, Beaufort native Eugene Heyward. “He was very intelligent. He taught us well. You said, ‘Good morning,’ ‘Good afternoon,’ ‘Good evening’ and ‘yes, sir,’ ‘yes, ma’am.’ “

From that family have come lawyers, doctors, engineers, social workers, community leaders, and a number of athletic achievements in addition to Jason Heyward’s 10 years in the major leagues with one of the game’s grandest contracts.

His “Grand Mommy” Louise did accounting work. His father, whose Beaufort bona fides include working at Six L’s tomato packing houses, earned a degree in engineering from Dartmouth College, where he played basketball. He married a girl from New York City, and they would raise two boys near Atlanta, with many trips to the Lowcountry for some home cooking.

“Beaufort is paradise,” Eugene Heyward said.

When Jason was drafted by the Atlanta Braves, his hometown team, it was a dream come true. “J-Hey” was considered a boy wonder, known for power and fielding, but also for being respectful to others.

His father called it the “American dream.”

Born in Beaufort.