Juanita Goggins had remarkable achievements in her life. In 1974, Goggins became the first African American woman to be elected to the South Carolina General Assembly. Goggins served with distinction for three terms in the South Carolina House of Representatives. Last year, the South Carolina General Assembly acted to name a portion of a highway after Goggins. It was the first formal recognition of her remarkable accomplishment.
One would think that someone like Goggins would have enjoyed the path of an historic figure. One would like to think of her as living out her life as someone honored and respected and engaged in public affairs. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
According to various published reports, including those from WIS-TV and The State, Goggins was found dead in her Columbia home on March 3rd, after apparently dying from hypothermia in her home some days before. The published articles suggest the political pioneer was estranged from people, perhaps suffering from dementia, and died alone and cold.
The death of Juanita Goggins teaches us as much about South Carolina and politics and life as her life did. Politics is a cold game at its core. Some of its players have contributed greatly to life in South Carolina, but are forgotten. Their accomplishments are hijacked by others. Their names are rarely mentioned. Their names and deeds are left to dusty old journals and hard to reach media microfiche that hardly anyone reads.
That brings the lesson of life the manner of the passing of Goggins teaches us all. One never knows who he is really dealing with. When one patronizes or ignores another person, especially an older person, one could be dealing such insult to an ex legislator, ex-political operative, ex-business leader or even a winner of military honors. The old lady you think is a little crazy and keeps to herself could be a champion of civil rights. The old man who you think is strange in the hours he keeps could be a winner of the Silver Star who relives far too much of his youth at times. That is why we should reserve judgment based on surface appearances and treat all of our neighbors with the same respect that we want for ourselves.
The third lesson is that cruel illness, dementia. So many South Carolina families deal with that cruel illness as they watch a loved one slip away. Added to that is the fact that few, if any, outside the family, take a moment to realize just who they are dealing with and the accomplishments the person slippling away had in life. Instead, that person is just another old person, an account number to the insurance company and the utility providers. Any of us can accomplish great things and then spend our last days being little more than someone's file number. It is the age we live in. Such a world compounds the feelings of isolation brought on by dementia.
The manner of the passing of Juanita Goggins should make all of us sad, regardless our political stances. It is sad when any human being leaves this world cold and alone. But, it is especially telling when a political pioneer goes out that way. Unfortunately, there are alot of Juanita Goggins who die every day. Some are war heroes, captains of business, great sports coaches, whatever. But, in the end, they die alone and are to the rest of the world just some file number to be dealt with.