Captain Coleman stands guard over Heathwood’s front entrance, making sure nobody gets on campus who doesn’t have a reason to be here—and making sure that everybody who does get on campus arrives with a smile on their faces. She’s guarded the gate for eight years. Her nametag might read, “Captain Coleman,” but to the Heathwood community, she’s “Miss Kitty.”
For every car that drives up to our gates, Miss Kitty hops up and gives her trademark smile and wave. “The thing I tell everybody is it’s not what you say, but how you say it. A smile doesn’t hurt anybody at all,” Miss Kitty said. “Mama used to tell me that I was so friendly I could make friends with an animal.
“I love these people,” she said. “What touches me is when I go to the cafeteria these kids all greet me with, ‘Miss Kitty! Miss Kitty!’ I may not have had any children myself, but that means I’ve got a whole bunch of kids!”
The younger children strapped into their parent’s backseats wave at her wildly when they pass by. As they get older, she says they sometimes find it too awkward to wave. Then, when they get their driver’s licenses, they are back to waving again.
“It’s just amazing. I remember when these kids were little and couldn’t wait to wave at me. And now, some of them are driving! I see them come driving by with their licenses and I jump back!” she laughed.
She also coaches them on their driving habits. If they don’t stop at the Heathwood stop sign just because nobody is coming, she calls them on it. “I say, ‘Why did you run that stop sign? If you do that right here, you are doing it out in the real world. Respect that sign, whether a car is coming or not!
“One student came back and said, ‘You won’t believe what happened! I got a ticket!’” she recalled, “So I asked, what did you do?”
“I ran a stop sign,” he told her.
“See what I was telling you?” she reprimanded him. Then she smiled and said, “I love working out here.”
Last year when tenth grader Paul Smith routinely came to Heathwood for a capella practice before school opened, he made it a personal challenge to try to get to school before Miss Kitty made it to her post. “I would always try to beat Miss Kitty and get here while she was walking to her guard house,” he said. “It was fun to say ‘hello’ to her as well as let her know I beat her here!
“It’s really nice to have someone greet you with a smile when you enter school in the morning. It puts you in the mindset that you are here to learn. It’s like in the choir room where we touch the cross when we come in for practice. Being welcomed is a way of centering yourself for learning,” Smith said.
People have written letters to the school telling how much they appreciate Miss Kitty’s enthusiastic greetings. A former head of school received a letter from the mother of student at another school who attended a sporting event here as a competitor. “The headmaster brought it down to me and showed me the letter,” Miss Kitty said. “That was something.” The mother had taken the time to write to say how very special it was to be welcomed and helped by Heathwood’s Miss Kitty.
Miss Kitty knows all of the Heathwood community’s cars and most of the names of the passengers. “The hardest thing about this job is the weather when it’s freezing cold or rain, sleet, snow … that’s the hardest part.”
While it might be cold on the outside, the Heathwood community keeps Miss Kitty warm with expressions of love and care. “The kids bring me candy, and when it’s cold, the parents bring me coffee. And they stock up my little refrigerator (in the guardhouse). We have parents that do just about everything,” she said.
Miss Kitty, who is engaged to be married to Jeffrey Vaughn on December 9 in Columbia, was recently feted in honor of her upcoming wedding. “Heathwood parents gave me an engagement party. My family came from Washington, D.C., Maryland and Charleston. We had a great time—we called it a ‘Kittybration.’ These parents are wonderful. They have helped me through a lot. If I ever hit the lottery, I’m going to take everybody out,” she said.
When asked what her favorite Heathwood event was, she quickly answered, “The Wild Game Dinner. I go every year. And now my sister comes down from Washington, D.C., to go, too. I like everything about it—the music, the duck wrapped in bacon, the dove salad, the oysters,” she said.
“One year it was on my birthday and I got up on that stage and I sang with the band. And I love the dancing, too. Johnny Kelley is my dancing partner,” Miss Kitty said. Kelley is a long-time Heathwood employee, working with Walt Spiegel in the plant and maintenance department.
Miss Kitty was recently named “Employee of the Quarter” by Security Management of South Carolina. “I was surprised. I got a bonus. My hard work and my smile finally paid off,” she said.
“I love it here. There are real nice people,” she said. “It feels like home—it’s my home away from home. I think God sent me here.”