This Is What I Do, But This Is Who I Am…

HammondA couple of weeks ago an email came to my inbox that hit me so hard I had to stop everything I was doing for a couple of hours. Here’s the scene: while I’m aware we don’t perform brain surgery every day, our little real estate practice is pressure packed and absolutely does not stop. That said, emails from buyers, sellers, mortgage lenders, paralegals, insurance agents, advertising sales folks, other Realtors, and friends (of course!!) constantly pound my inbox, which I then answer or distribute accordingly. Late afternoon on February 6, I rushed back to the desk from a listing appointment and did what most of us do… click the “Send/Receive” button. Well, while I was scrolling up and down I stumbled upon ‘culbreathma2014,’ which was kinda nestled between a bunch of familiar names and RSS feeds. Hmmm… Twitter follower? LinkedIn? Spam? I had never met this person, and had no clue. Go.

“Dear Mr. Jones,
My name is Mary Clyde Culbreath. I am a senior at Hammond School this year, with plans to attend college in the fall. The reason I am emailing you is because of your late wife, Kinsey.

I started my first year at Hammond in kindergarten of 2000, I was however not in Mrs. Jones class but in Mrs. Tuller and Mrs. Keenan’s class. I knew her as well as a 5 year old girl could. She asked me everyday to come home to play with her, and regretfully every day I told her no. I adored and loved her very much. I was held back that next year, and I don’t think it was a coincidence that I was placed in her class. Although cancer had developed that year making her unable to teach, I remember visiting with her in the afternoons sometimes at y’all’s house when she was going through her cancer treatment. The main point of my email is this: because of your wife, I plan to major in education and wanting to make a difference in a child’s life like she did mine. The love she showed me and what she taught me has carried with me these past 14 years during my time at Hammond.I have such fond memories of running to give her a hug each morning before school started and saying goodbye in the afternoons. I think of her quite often as I walk the halls of the lower school or drive into the gates of Hammond.

As a senior at Hammond now, each senior is required to give a speech to the administration, faculty, family, family friends, and entire high school during our assemblies. My speech is not until the beginning of March, but I need to begin writing it. This past year I’ve been volunteering in the 1st grade everyday to get an idea of being in a classroom setting and I also spent a lot of time babysitting throughout the week. With that, my senior speech is on working with the first graders everyday this past year babysitting and how I want to be a teacher. I would like to begin my speech on Mrs. Jones and how she has inspired me to become a teacher. With that being said before I even begin to write my speech , I would like to ask you for your permission to speak on your late wife and how she is the reason I want to teach. If you do not want me to speak on her then that is perfectly fine, my speech can work either way. I just think it would be interesting to share the impact she left on my life.

I will forever be grateful for the impact she left on my life. It was such a honor to know Mrs. Jones. I hope this email finds you and your family doing well. Thank you in advance for your time and for an answer regardless of what it is. Thank you so much. God Bless.
Mary Clyde Culbreath”

What? I mean, what in the world?! As you can imagine, I cried my eyes out. The way my office is set up, I sit three feet from Elizabeth Ross and Amy Ackerman Cartin. While Elizabeth was probably wondering, “What should I do??”, she and Amy handled the scene perfectly and let me have my moment. Actually, it was more like an hour. After reading the email again I immediately called my good friend, Mahalie Davies Moore (who works at Hammond), for the phone numbers of the student’s parents.  I called them both, only to find out they were all in Alabama touring potential colleges.

Fast forward to last Wednesday. The date/time of Mary Clyde’s speech was March 12 at 11:50am at the Hammond Bank of America Theater, which was also the same morning that our team was to be recognized as the #5 Coldwell Banker Team in North America, the highest sales award Amanda and I are likely to ever receive. What I’m getting at is, if they hadn’t announced our award in time for me to get to Mary Clyde, I was leaving the ceremony regardless. In short, I was absolutely going to be at Hammond for this young woman. After all, in my mind, while I love my real estate practice and it’s what we do, what was happening at Hammond is who I am.

I purposely didn’t tell Kinsey’s family about the event for fear their presence might have thrown a nervous speaker off her stride. I jetted to Hammond alone, and sat with Katie Eaddy, Mahalie, and other some other friends that Mary Clyde had invited to listen to her speech.

Getting back to what this is all about, Mary Clyde’s story hit me hard… super hard. After all these years, and I’m talking over a decade, her story is a touching, perfect tribute to a teacher that meant so much to her. To think, this now-graduating senior was only five’ish years old, and has held these feelings in for this long. By the way, my Finley is four years old and I can’t comprehend this. As Mary Clyde remembers it, she was held back to have Mrs. Jones as a teacher. As many of you know, however, Kinsey never made it out of the hospital to teach this class.

Shout out to Amanda, Amy, and Elizabeth for being awesome team players at work. Huge ‘Thank You!’ to Mahalie for ‘handling’ me, and my wife, Jennifer, for being awesome and supportive in a world most spouses don’t necessarily sign up for.

Just to let you know, I sat there in my suit surrounded by teachers, headmasters, and hundreds of students. From the very first sentence I welled up inside with adrenaline and pride. Thank goodness for Mahalie. She held my arm and like a lifelong friend, clinched down at just the right times as to not let my emotions/expressions take Mary Clyde off her game. After Mary Clyde finished, Mahalie turned me loose, whereby I leaned forward and let it go. Mary Clyde walked up the steps to where we were sitting, and my 40-year old a** cried like a baby on a high school senior’s shoulder.

What a testament and tribute to a young teacher’s legacy. I won’t forget Mary Clyde’s initial and courageous email, her story, or her speech.

Thank you, Hammond, for having me.

Thank you forever, Mary Clyde Culbreath.



  1. Dan Rogers says

    Best story I’ve ever read, Franklin!!!!

  2. Amy Faulkenberry says

    Very well said. Thank you for sharing this with us all. Now, could you send someone to my office to help me pull myself together and put my face back on!?!?! Goodness!!

  3. beth cleary says

    Wow!! This is just proof that our actions and behavior are remembered by children! What a wonderful girl and what a wonderful testimony to your late wife..her kindness is the heart of this young lady! Thank You for sharing!

  4. Carla Moore says

    Franklin – This is just….well, what can I say. The story is so special just like you. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Ryan Stribling says

    Great now I’m crying. Awesome testament to Kinsey.

  6. Betty Gabriel says


    I’m sitting here with my tears as I read this article. What a beautiful story about a beautiful young woman. I remember one Sunday when you and your wife sat between your parents and me and I was so impressed by this young woman. Soon afterwards I heard that she had cancer and that you had lost her. That story embodies who she was and the tremendous influence she had on these students. That is something that lives on! Thank you so much for sharing.

    Congratulations to you and Amanda! I’d say you two are “go-getters”!

    With Deep Appreciation,
    Betty Gabriel

  7. Benny Lawson says

    One of the best things inhale read!!! Bless you, Franklin!

  8. Elizabeth Webb says

    Franklin- what a tribute! Thank you for sharing. Mary Clyde has been helping in my daughter Grace’s 1st grade classroom this year. The children adore her. I am sure she is bound for great things:)

  9. Coach Dick Smith says

    Franklin, you can’t be anything but proud ! It’s the little things people do because they are good people like Kinsey. Hold your head up and be proud
    Coach and Linda

  10. Adair Keenan says

    That year with Mary Clyde was my first year at Hammond we all loved her! Kinsey was such a great teacher it was clear that she taught from her heart! She would have taken any of those children home! I was blessed to know her .We speak of her often and her spirit will always be in our hearts. I have watched Mary Clyde this year and know she will be a wonderful teacher because she also will teach from her heart. She learned from the best. Mary Clyde told me how much she appreciated your being there( I can’t imagine how hard it must’ve been) and” she thought you liked it” It sounds like she did a beautiful job. Thank you for sharing!

  11. Franklin,
    I just love this! So sweet that Kinsey lives on through this precious person. I’d love to read Mary Clyde’s speech. I’m sure it was perfect!!

  12. Leigh Ann Birdsell says

    I love this post!! Thanks for sharing “who you are”!!

  13. Donna Snyder says

    What a wonderful testimony and tribute of LOVE and DEDICATION as a TEACHER that Kinsey left. I never met Kinsey but since, I have been in Manning I feel as though I knew her and only the warmest remarks have been made. What a legacy and impact she left for the short time she was here. If we all could be more like her what a wonderful place this would be. I too cried when I read Miss Culbreath’s letter and your response. How wonderful of you to share this experience, it certainly has been an inspiration for me.

  14. That’s awesome

  15. Nice post. I used to be checking constantly this blog and I amm impressed!

  16. Dean Camak says

    Franklin, I am so proud of you for being you! Life is so hard, but we have to remember the good times and, By God’s grace… go on. Kinsey was a precious gift and I will never forget that wonderful wedding. Now The Lord has given you Jennifer, and I can only imagine what a wonderful feeling that is. May God bless you, Jennifer, and all of your family. xoxo

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