The Crossing Guard
(Camilla, Georgia) It's just before 7 AM and Charlotte Smith is making sure everything is in place...
Charlotte Smith (School Crossing Guard): I wear this for recognition.
Smith: ...making sure she looks the part.
Ms. Smith: All right. I'm on my way now.
Smith: She leaves for work when the streets are still quiet, but soon the traffic builds, the buses come rumbling by and Charlotte is busy on her corner.
Ms. Smith: They'll start piling in, in a few minutes.
Smith: Eighty-three-year-old Charlotte Smith has been helping the school children of Camilla, Georgia, safely cross the streets for 37 years.
Ms. Smith: Just wait a minute 'till I get all these cars stopped for you.
Smith: Thirty-seven years as a crossing guard at the Mitchell school. These days she helps the children of the children of the children who she first helped cross the street back in 1960.
Smith: Do you think there's anybody around here who doesn't know who you are?
Ms. Smith: I don't believe they do. If there is, they're newcomers, because I've been here so long. And I have people that come over and they'll stop and jump out, 'You don't remember me, do you? You used to cross me when I was about that high.'
Smith: And do you recognize them when they're this big?
Ms. Smith: Some of them I do and some of them I don't.
Smith: Thirty-seven years and not a single child hurt, not so much as a scratch.
Smith: You're pretty serious out here.
Ms. Smith: Serious?
Smith: Well, you're smiling now, but when you get out on that street you're...
Ms. Smith: Well, that's right. Well, I have to.
Smith: You know, you got...
Ms. Smith: Let 'em know I mean business.
Smith: Thirty-seven years and never missed a day of work, not one minute.
Smith: Did you ever have a day when you didn't feel like coming?
Ms. Smith: No.
Ms. Smith: You know, I've never been to a doctor since I had my last baby? Never been to the dentist. They won't believe that.
Smith: But Charlotte almost did end up in the hospital a few years back. Principal Todd Bateman remembers a foggy morning when he had to shoo Charlotte off the street to escape a speeding trucker.
Mr. Todd Bateman (Principal, Mitchell School): But, of course, he saw us and pulled over...
Ms. Smith: Yeah.
Mr. Bateman: ...and came back and...
Ms. Smith: And apologized, yeah.
Mr. Bateman: ...and apologized because, you know, she's a fixture.
Smith: Charlotte's days as the queen of safety are numbered, though. A brand new school is set to open in January, and she just doesn't want to drive out there every day. Her six kids, 17 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren think maybe it's time she retired.
Ms. Smith: 'Motheryou ought to belong to one of these old-age groups, you know, and go on trips with them.' I said, 'I'd be so depressed when I got back because they all tend to talk of their ailments and their pills they take and all and...'
Smith: Mm-hmm. You don't go in for that?
Smith: Folks around here will find it strange that day this winter when Charlotte's not stopping traffic anymore, not helping the children.
Ms. Smith: All right, children. Let me through.
Smith: Are you gonna miss these kids?
Ms. Smith: Yes, I imagine I'll miss them.
Smith: Part of the appeal of small towns like Camilla is the familiarity. When Charlotte steps down, it just won't be the same. Harry Smith, CBS news, Camilla, Georgia.
First aired on the CBS Evening News
October 24, 1997