magazine-category: Alumni

‘A Remarkable Life’

100-year-old Alumna Offers Wit, Wisdom, and Humor Worldwide

When one first meets Miss Gladys, laughter is not far behind. Armed with a dry sense of humor, she finds a way to catch everyone off guard and break the ice. Miss Gladys has a brilliant mind; she’s fueled with energy, and she can carry on a dialogue with anyone. 

Gladys Brooks Boroughs, who turned 100 on Dec. 28, 2022, has dedicated her life to living out the Gardner-Webb University mission. She is a former GWU trustee, and she and her husband established a scholarship through the Christian Service Organization. In 2003, she was honored as a Gardner-Webb Distinguished Alumna.

Her daughter, Elaine Boroughs McRae, emphasizes that her mother is a lifelong learner, living every day to the fullest. As an example, Boroughs and her friend, Maida Green Scruggs, are planning a Zoom call so they can catch up and reminisce. Incidentally, Scruggs is the wife of the late Horace Scruggs, brother of bluegrass pioneer Earl Scruggs, who are Boroughs’ first cousins. Horace, who died in 2007, worked in GWU plant operations for 29 years. Boroughs received some of the musical talent and plays piano by ear.

“A finer role model I couldn’t have!” McRae praised. “Her wit and wisdom continue, and I’m so blessed to call this saint, ‘Mom.’ She’s had a remarkable life and made an impact on numerous people both in the church and the (Baptist) association.”

Born in 1922 in Cleveland County, N.C., Boroughs was the middle child with six older and six younger siblings. A child of the depression, her family lost two farms, yet somehow managed to provide a college education to many of their children. Boroughs described one way the family made ends meet, “I remember there was a company in Shelby that sold flour in 100-pound sacks. Mommy would make our dresses out of that.”

Boroughs graduated as valedictorian of her high school class and was also first in her class when she graduated from Gardner-Webb in 1942. While at Gardner-Webb, she lived with her cousins, because their house was closer to the college.

When her grandfather died, Boroughs stayed at home and ran two miles back to Gardner-Webb the next morning to take a test. “The teacher was so understanding,” Boroughs shared. “She said, ‘You don’t have to take the test,’ but I insisted on taking it.”

She majored in English, and after graduating, decided to move to Washington, D.C., because her older sister, Reba, lived there. Boroughs took a job at the Five and Dime until she was hired by the FBI to edit documents during World War II, serving under the FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Even after all these years, Boroughs won’t risk sharing the classified information in the files, but described her work as “defense reviewing.” She saw Hoover a couple of times, but never talked to him. She told a story about a co-worker who was on the elevator when Hoover was about to get on. Without thinking, the co-worker reached in his coat for his handkerchief. Hoover’s bodyguards immediately pulled their guns on him.  

While in Washington, D.C., she met the love of her life, Lewis Boroughs, also a North Carolinian, from Seagrove. He was a professor at George Washington University. After Lewis took the bar exam, he joined Burlington Industries as a lawyer and the couple relocated to Greensboro, N.C., where Boroughs still lives. She managed the household while her husband was away on business in New York city.

The couple had three children, Elaine, Miriam and Kenneth. When the girls were teenagers, Kenneth was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and passed away. “That is when you really saw the strength of family and faith,” McRae observed. “Their faith never wavered.”

Boroughs is known for her involvement at First Baptist Church of Greensboro. Through the decades, she held about every position: Deacon chair, Women’s Missionary Union, Sunday school teacher, and chair of many other committees. When her husband retired, the couple traveled the world, often in the capacity of serving a Baptist mission. In Temuco, Chile, they helped teams from First Baptist Church construct an orphanage. On several occasions, Boroughs preached at the Sunday morning worship service and led Bible studies for the women.

She and her husband were also instrumental in forming the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) in North Carolina. Groups from across the state often met at the Boroughs’ house to discuss the impact CBF could have on outreach and ministry.

Boroughs was also a devoted member of The General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC) and founding member of Sedgefield Woman’s Club. In 1987, she became North Carolina State President of GFWC.

“To this day, her devotionals are still being printed and sold at GFWC conventions,” McRae shared. “What a legacy this little Brooks’ (Boroughs) girl, the truly middle child of 13, is leaving for posterity.”

When asked to expound of a secret to long living, Boroughs noted that “laughter and appreciating humor” provide a prescription that you can get “without a doctor’s note.”

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