Purpose in a Washpot
Oseola McCarty knows laundry. Oseola has spent over 75 of her
87 years washing other people's clothes. She lives in a simple,
wood-frame house on a dusty road in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Day
in and day out she has washed and ironed clothes. And, she saved
In fact, Ms. McCarty managed to save $250,000. Last summer
she donated $150,000 of her life savings to the University of
Southern Mississippi to create a scholarship fund for African
American students. Since announcing her decision, she has enjoyed
a dinner in her honor hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus, a
special reception at the university, an interview with Barbara
Walters and a visit with President Clinton at the White House.
Oseola McCarty never progressed beyond the sixth grade in her
own education. She lives an ultra-simple life among her friends.
She has never lived without purpose. Somewhere along the way, as
she washed those mountains of dirty clothes, she began to dream.
Every stroke on the rub board, every load placed in a washer,
every shirt hung out to dry, every dress ironed and every article
neatly folded for delivery took on new meaning for her. Most
likely, her vision did not come into clear focus overnight. She
just wanted to help others, to make a difference in the world
with her life. She started by saving what she earned. Who knows
when the image of young people in need of more education captured
her heart. McCarty just kept washing and saving and dreaming.
Oseola McCarty is a teacher. Here's what she's taught me
about work and purpose.
- First, every job, every task, every life contains
significance. The challenge is to discover the
significance and release it to the world through hard
work, perseverance, creative vision and constancy. There
are no "menial" jobs, only menial lives.
- Second, everyone can contribute to making the world a
better place. Our everyday choices determine the nature
and value of our contributions. Neutrality is not an
- Third, quantity seldom if ever surpasses quality.
Millions of people who are 87 today have earned much more
than McCarty at much more prestigious jobs. Very few have
endowed scholarship funds. She created her fund with lots
of $2 and $5 deposits into her little bank book. Her
deposits had purpose. Her heart shaped her vision. Small
is not necessarily bad and large is not always good. What
matters is purpose.
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