Joan Hollingsworth, 79, a former principal of Bradwell Institute, died Oct. 21 at Coastal Manor Nursing Home. She was known as a great educator who always made it clear that students should be the top priority, and wasn’t afraid to show people some tough love.
Hollingsworth was born in Griffin. She graduated from Tift College and received a master’s and six-year degree in education from Georgia Southern University.
Hollingsworth moved to Hinesville in 1958, and for the next 37 years worked as an educator at Bradwell. She was a teacher, school counselor, assistant principal and then principal at Bradwell.
Hollingsworth’s sister, Jean Johnson, described her as being opinionated and truthful. She said people knew where they stood with Hollingsworth because she was honest about everything. Hollingsworth had no children of her own, and treated all of her nieces and nephews as her own children.
“She was very dependable. She helped me raise my children, and they thought of her as a second mother. She loved them above everything in the world. She thought of my two children as her own. She also loved Bradwell Institute students. She thought they were her own as well,” Johnson said.
A passion for education
Hollingsworth devoted her life to education in general and Bradwell in particular.
“She was one of the most-dedicated educators I worked with. She had the most interest in her students,” said Doris Thomson, a former Liberty County School System superintendent. “Everyone enjoyed being around her. That includes parents, other educators and the community. She was a leader. Her influence will be felt for generations.”
Thomson said Hollingsworth knew how to handle students with discipline problems.
“She was so good at seeing what students needed underneath the anger, and it was amazing to watch. Some of the students who had the worst discipline problems, she had a way with them. Not all the time did she succeed, but she knew what resources to go to for help,” Thomson said.
Edgar Edwards, another former district superintendent, said Hollingsworth did a great job as principal. He described her as a small lady who carried a big stick and a good disciplinarian.
Former Bradwell teachers Paulette Stetzer, Dorothy Scott and Sonja Duncan all called Hollingsworth a great leader who cared for staff.
“For those who never had the opportunity to meet ‘Miss Holly,’ ‘Miss Joan,’ ‘Miss Hollingsworth’ or ‘Joan,’ they really missed a treat! First and foremost, she genuinely cared about her students and staff. She literally dedicated her life to Bradwell — from early morning till as long as it took in the evening,” said Duncan, who is now the school system’s executive director of special programs. “In speaking with another one of Miss Hollingsworth’s former employees, this teacher stated that Miss Hollingsworth reminded her of Sheriff Andy Taylor from Mayberry, in that we all respected her, but she had (and used) common sense when dealing with any given situation.”
Scott said Hollingsworth treated her staff members like family and cared for them as individuals. She expected everyone to work as hard as she did, but have some fun along the way. Hollingsworth created a family atmosphere for the faculty and freely gave to people in need without the assurance of repayment, Duncan said.
“She was a compassionate and funny person. Those are the things we as teachers will remember about her. We knew when she was fixin’ to get onto us, and we knew when she was supporting us. We just trusted her,” Stetzer said.
“She would describe herself as an ‘old school’ educator. But what that really means is that she personally knew her students and their families, and she genuinely wanted every student to succeed,” Scott said.
Hollingsworth was also a good friend. Scott described her as a longtime friend who played a part in educating all six of her children.
“If you were lucky enough to know Joan Hollingsworth, then you know that she was honest, caring, intelligent, loyal and had a great sense of humor. As a friend, she could be counted on to make you laugh and give you advice,” Scott said.
Some favorite memories
One of Scott’s favorite memories of Hollingsworth was when students played pranks during homecoming week. Scott said that on multiple occasions, students would let loose an animal in the hallways, such as a dog or goat. She watched Hollingsworth chase and try to catch the animals so students could get back to work.
Duncan remembers observing the pride Hollingsworth showed whenever she was out and about in the community. Because she didn’t have any biological children, she had a community full of children who would stop her to tell her how much she meant to them. Duncan said she delighted in hearing former students share their accomplishments and discuss their families with Hollingsworth.
Stetzer enjoyed being with her. While Hollingsworth was at Coastal Manor, Stetzer and some friends would visit Hollingsworth weekly. Stetzer said Hollingsworth retained her sense of humor, and they would talk about school and things going on in the community.
Johnson remembers Hollingsworth as being the best sister in the world who liked to boss her around, play sports, ride horses and love her family.
Lessons learned from Miss Joan
Whether it was inside or outside the classroom, Hollingsworth taught those around her. Stetzer said she learned to have courage and never give up.
Thomson learned that a little humor helps in situations — whether laughter, a smile or humor that only that individual understands.
“I have learned that when you are honest and you treat people with respect and kindness, you will almost always get that same treatment in return,” Scott said.
Some of the many lessons Duncan learned from Hollingsworth included: the importance of family; that learning is lifelong, whether formal or informal education; being thankful for the blessings God has given and returning that to others; and treating all people with dignity and respect.
Hollingsworth was described as a great educator, great person, wonderful human being and special lady who will be missed. Currently, there is a group of community members researching information to offer a scholarship in Hollingsworth’s honor. More information will be made available at a later time.
Survivors include her sister, Jean Johnson (Clifford) of Hinesville; brother, James T. Hollingsworth Jr. of Townsend; nephews, Hal Johnson (Lynn) of Macon and James T. Hollingsworth III of Sardis; nieces, Lisa Saitow (Kenny) of Fernandina Beach, Florida, and Sarah E. Hollingsworth of Statesboro; four great-nephews; three great-nieces; and one great-great-niece.
The family suggests that memorial donations be made to Coastal Manor.