Mary Gammill Cimarolli’s favorite childhood memory of growing up in Hopkins County is the freedom she felt to invent her “own games, to daydream, to imagine, to read and to explore.”
Cimarolli was born in Arbala, and moved with her family to the Seymore community when she was six, where she attended grade school. After graduating from Sulphur Springs High School in 1948, she attended Texas State College for Women (now Texas Womans University). She married Marty Cimarolli, a Chicago native, right after graduation from TWU. The couple made their home in the Windy City and had two children, Jim and Maria.
After Marty’s death in 1968, Cimarolli and her children returned to Sulphur Springs. She went back to college, earning a master’s degree in 1972 and her doctorate in 1977. She taught at Richland College for 20 years. She found love again with Jack Robottom, an engineer. Together they have homes in Richardson and Angel Fire, New Mexico.
When she went back to college after her first husband’s death, she took several classes under Dr. Paul Barrus, professor of English, who would eventually become the head of the literature and languages department. Dr. Barrus inspired Cimarolli so much that she stayed under his tutelage, receiving her master’s degree and then her doctorate in the College of Teaching English.
Cimarolli has written a book, “Man of Grace: A Remembrance of Paul Wells Barrus,” about her beloved professor, released earlier this year by TAMU Press ($20).
Her first book, “The Bootlegger’s Other Daughter,” (Texas A&M University Press, $15.95) released in 2004, was a finalist for the PEN/Martha Allbrand Award for the art of a memoir.
Prior to leaving for her home in New Mexico, Cimarolli took time to answer some questions.
News-Telegram: Where were you raised? Who were your parents, siblings?
Mary Cimarolli: I was born to Tice and Katie Gammill at Arbala.
Around the age of five or six, I moved with my parents, sister, Lola Pearl, and brother, J.T. to the Seymore community.
N-T: What are your fondest childhood memories?
MC: So many childhood memories (many of them recorded in my first book, "The Bootlegger's Other Daughter’) Chiefly, I guess the freedom I had is the fondest memory: the freedom to invent my own games, to daydream, to imagine, to read, to explore.
N-T: Where did you graduate from high school?
MC: I attended grade school at Seymore. Annie Mae Whisenant was my first teacher. (I think she is still alive and in a nursing home in SS. I would love to see her again.) I graduated from Sulphur Springs High School in 1948 and began studies at Texas State College for Women (now TWU) that same summer.
N-T: Tell us about your family.
MC: I married soon after graduation and lived in Chicago from 1951 to 1968, After the death of my husband in 1968, I returned to Texas and settled with my two children: Jim, then 12, and Maria, then 9, in Sulphur Springs. Jim has remained there, and he is the owner and operator of Jim's Garage on Broadway. Maria has become an elementary school teacher in Fredericksburg, Va. Her daughter, Christina, my only grandchild, will be a junior at the University of Dallas. She has just returned to her family home in Virginia after a semester’s study in Rome.
N-T: So, you went back to college after your first husband’s death?
MC: I went back to college because I had been helping my father raise vegetables to sell at the Farmers Market in Dallas and I soon learned that I wasn’t cut out to be a farmer. I am one of those people who probably should have waited to go to college. As a mature returning student, I was much more prepared to learn. Although it was difficult to keep house, raise two children alone, and to commute each day to school at Commerce, I was ready to learn. (I have often heard, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears,” and in my case, that is certainly true.) I met Dr. Paul Barrus on my first day at E.T.S.U. (East Texas State University), and I enrolled in one of his classes. I was so inspired by his teaching that I continued to attend school there until I received my doctorate.
N-T: Tell us a little bit about your second marriage.
MC: About nine years after Marty died, I met my second husband, Jack Robottom, a native of Mystic, Conn., in Dallas when I worked on a special project for the Dallas County Community College District in downtown Dallas, the year before I began to teach at Richland College. He was then Director of Development for the DCCCD. Later he went to The University of Texas in Austin to work as assistant to the dean of engineering. We married while he was in Austin and I was in Dallas.
We had a “commuter marriage” for about two years until he was transferred to UT-Arlington. (It was Jack who suggested that I keep the name of Cimarolli when I remarried, “because you have worked so hard for your doctorate, you should receive it in that name.”)
N-T: Tell us about Dr. Barrus.
MC: Dr. Barrus taught tough courses: Latin, History of the English Language, Building Vocabulary, Milton, Emerson, Thoreau, Mark Twain.
He pushed, but never too far. He had a magical way of seeing potential in his students – potential that they never dreamed they had – and he drew that out. He believed in us when we did not believe in ourselves. He saw the good in everyone and knew just how to tap it. Rather a slap in the face than to disappoint Dr. Barrus.
N-T: Talk about your teaching and your stye in the clasroom.
MC: I taught freshman composition and sophomore American Literature courses at Richland College in Dallas for 20 years. I also taught Honors English courses. I guess my teaching style could be described as Socratic. I never lectured for an entire class period. I questioned; my students questioned; we all discussed.
I learned along with my students; they often taught me. Like so many of his students who went on to become teachers, I often found myself becoming Paul Barrus in my classroom.
N-T: Tell us about getting “Man of Grace” from paper to publisher.
MC: After some preliminary searching for an agent and a publisher without success, I decided to go ahead with writing and re-writing and re-writing the story simply because it is a story that needs to be told and I wanted to tell it, using his own words when I could.
I wanted others to be able to know Dr. Barrus, to see that one could have another rewarding life after retirement. (Dr. Barrus became Father Paul in his second career.)
I found an angel in Msgr. Henry Pettter of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish in Plano who urged me to continue with the book and volunteered to cover the cost of printing it.
I found another angel in Dr. Fred Tarpley, emeritus of Texas A&M-Commerce, who mentored me from the first interview to the final editing. Proceeds from the sale of the book will go to the Paul Wells Barrus Endowment fund at Texas A&M-Commerce and at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Plano.
N-T: What is Dr. Barrus’ legacy?
MC: The legacy of PWB will continue as long as one of his students’ students is alive. I cannot imagine his influence going quietly into that good night.
N-T: At the end of his teaching career, Dr. Barrus decided to become a Catholic priest. Do you know if this is something that happens often in the Catholic church?
MC: I know that there are other men who have become priests after retirement from their secular jobs, but I have never heard of one who became a priest at such an advanced age.
N-T: Do you think the death of Dr. Barrus’ mother when he was still a young child led to his fear of being alone?
MC: Oh yes, I definitely think the early death of his mother affected him deeply. He never wanted to “let go” of a friend. He stayed in touch with everyone he was ever close to. I think he was afraid of death because it would mean leaving those he cherished behind.
N-T: What has been the response to “Man of Grace”?
MC: “Man of Grace” has not been widely publicized as yet, (and probably will not be since I am on a shoestring budget) but the responses so far have been overwhelmingly positive.
How do I feel about those responses? Grateful that I stayed with a work which I often feared would never find an audience.
N-T: What are you working on now?
MC: Nothing! I am exhausted. (Actually, I am trying to catch up with my housework.)
Copies of “Man of Grace: A Remembrance of Paul Wells Barrus,” can be purchased from the literature and languages department for $20.
To purchase, please send the amount in check to:
Department of Literature and Languages
Texas A&M University
Commerce, Commerce, TX 75429.
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