Lessons From My Mother’s Purse: A Scholarship In Honor of Our Mother

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Patti Dismukes, WIT Board President and Director of Sales at Cognizant, created the My Mother’s Purse Scholarship in honor of her mother’s legacy.

Opening her purse and examining all the things inside really told me a lot about my Mother,” Dismukes tells us, “Her style, her priorities, her hopes, and dreams. What a blessing I’d been given! What a story her purse told.”

Each year at WIT Connect, this scholarship is awarded to an outstanding WIT Girl in the beginning stages of her STEAM journey.

“My dream is to award this to a young WIT Girl who needs encouragement to go after her dreams,” shares Dismukes.

Read more about the personal history behind Lessons From My Mothers Purse below.

“I recently celebrated a milestone birthday and instead of ignoring it, I decided to embrace it and celebrate it for my Mother. My Mother – Margaret Owens Woodard – died in January 1966 at 32 years old. She was a wife and mother of three little girls 11, 9, and 2 years old. My mother didn’t have the gift of years or the joy of watching her children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren go through the seasons of their lives.

My mother died so young, and we have so few things that belonged to her. A few years ago, I was having dinner with my sisters, and my youngest sister Lisa shared that our aunt had recently given her a coat that belonged to Mother. Lisa was 2 years old when Mother died, so she has virtually no memory of her. Lisa was so thrilled to have the coat and was in the process of having it restored. The restoration probably cost ten times what the coat cost in the 1960s, but it is priceless to her. During the conversation, I suddenly remembered that I had my Mother’s purse.

My mother died so young, and we have so few things that belonged to her.
A few years ago, I was having dinner with my sisters, and my youngest sister Lisa shared that our aunt had recently given her a coat that belonged to Mother. Lisa was 2 years old when Mother died, so she has virtually no memory of her. Lisa was so thrilled to have the coat and was in the process of having it restored. The restoration probably cost ten times what the coat cost in the 1960s, but it is priceless to her. During the conversation, I suddenly remembered that I had my Mother’s purse.

After my Mother’s death, my Grandmother gave me her purse and I had never opened it, I guess because it was too painful. For over 50 years, the purse had always been with me…in the back of a closet. When I told my sisters that I had never opened the purse, they both looked at me like I was crazy. After the dinner and being sister-shamed, I realized that I finally needed to open her purse.

Opening her purse and examining all the things inside really told me a lot about my Mother….her style, her priorities, her hopes, and dreams. What a blessing I’d been given! What a story her purse told. These are the things in her purse and the story each item told me:•

  • From looking at her checkbook, I admired her beautiful handwriting, so neat and organized, and detailed. She obviously paid the bills!  My parents had recently purchased a new home, new furniture…and we were a two-income family. The night she experienced the aneurysm, my parents were shopping for a new car. The future looked promising and exciting.
  • I also found a beautiful tube of lipstick, powder, necklace, earrings, comb, stylish glasses which told me she cared about how she looked. I remember that before her death, she had taken on a new style (hair color, clothes), because the Kennedy administration brought a new sense of style to the country. My Mother was beautiful!
  • Her wallet was the most interesting. There, I found her driver’s license, pictures of my Dad and my recent 6th-grade school picture. I was obviously her favorite. Inside her wallet were three small diplomas replicas from Watkins Institute for completion of advanced typing, advanced shorthand, and bookkeeping. Watkins Institute was a night school in Nashville. Those three small diplomas told me she was focused on learning and she aspired to achieve and do more with her life.

My Mother worked for Wynn & Graff, a materials and upholstery company, in the bookkeeping department. She worked for a female manager – Hazel Eller. Hazel Eller gave my Mother the opportunity to advance with the company and encouraged her to go to Watkins Institute to improve her skills. Hazel Eller and the owners of the company understood and supported the fact that she was a working mother! Mother was supported by her parents, who were our babysitters while she worked and went to night school. Obviously, my Dad was also supportive.

Mother’s purse gave me a great insight into her life. The three diplomas told me that she had dreams and was encouraged, mentored and supported. I am thankful for Hazel Eller and all that she did. Hazel Eller passed earlier this year at the age of 95 years old. She was a good boss, mentor, counselor and friend to Mother. She gave Mother the encouragement and a helping hand when she needed it.

In honor of my Mother, I established a WIT scholarship to be awarded to a graduating senior. My dream is to award this to a young WIT Girl who needs encouragement to go after her dreams. When I opened my Mother’s purse and accepted the story and lessons it told, I made a commitment to help girls and women, to the best of my ability, to achieve some of their dreams. I’ve been able to do that with my profession – nothing better than helping someone find a new job, and through my involvement with Women in Technology. This is how I honor her!” – Patti Dismukes 

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