After earning an undergraduate biology degree at Furman University in her hometown of Greenville, S.C., a master's in forest pathology at Clemson and a Ph.D. in botany at North Carolina, Harriett Lipscomb came to Milledgeville in 1968 seeking a "MRS." degree.
She earned that degree when she married Fielding Whipple in 1972. Along the way, Dr. Whipple taught almost 50 years at Georgia College. She was involved in various groups all over Milledgeville, including Lockerly Arboretum, the Milledgeville Garden Club, the Boys & Girls Club, and the Baptist and Episcopal churches.
"You're got to be involved in different things," Whipple says. "Diversity keeps life interesting."
She is perhaps best known for helping to decorate the Governor's Mansion and Lockerly at Christmas.
Whipple was making grapevine wreaths she'll use in a program for the Episcopal Church Women when we talked.
How long did you teach and what did you teach at Georgia College?
I think I retired after about 40 years, but I continued to teach some. So I'd say about 50 years in the classroom. I'm still on the payroll as a consultant.
I taught general biology, all kinds of botany courses, horticulture, I taught just about everything. And I was always involved in teacher training.
We'd have teacher training in the summer, that included history, music and science. Bob Wilson (former Georgia College history professor) used to help me teach them. Those teacher training workshops were innovative and really ahead of the times in the education field. When you get to go out in the field and see things, you remember more.
And I taught a course for elementary school teachers that was a combination of biology and geolory. Sort of a natural history type course.
How many students did you teach and who are some of the ones you remember?
It's hard to add them all up. I used to have these big lecture classes and have 200 students. I'd teach whenever I could, sometimes all four quarters when we were on the quarter system. So I'd say many, many students. Thousands. It's so wonderful to see your former students. They'll say, "Hey, Dr. Whipple." And I don't always remember all the names but I'll say, "Oh yes, I remember you. You used to sat right in the middle of the room." And they'll say, "Oh, yes."
Marion Nelson (retired from the DNR) was one of my favorites of all time. He and Harriett met in my class and got married. They were two of my best. She's one of my best botanists who ever came out. Harriet had a love and passion for plants, flowers. She has one of those beautiful gardens. They say she (Harriett is recovering from a serious cycling accident) was out in her garden the other day.
And I remember students such as Ross Sheppard (who's involved in historic preservation), and Evan Karanovich (who is the lead advisor to the chairman and CEO at Chick-fil-A.) The students in a class make a class.
And I remember students I was able to help a lot. I used to advise students, which is what I really enjoyed. You could really work with them.
The first student I met was Sherrill (Crowell) Jones. I was coming here to teach and they wanted me to talk to her because I was going to be her advisor. Now, she's in my Garden Club and helps me decorate at the Mansion. She used to be the principal at Northside.
Tell me more about your grapevine wreaths.
One of these I call the Flannery O'Connor wreath. We had to call and make sure we got the colors right. See the peacocks on it. It'll go on the grave of Josephine King (in Memory Hill), who was a Flannery O'Connor scholar at the college. Then every Christmas, Kathy Fuller and I put out 35 to 40 wreaths with a big red bow on them on graves of people who wouldn't have anybody to do it for them. Kathy's a great historian. She keeps up with cemeteries and does so much for everybody. She got it started. She's got the list. She's fast. She drives and gets out to put the wreaths on the graves. I ride along and do the bows and check off the list.
What about helping at Lockerly?
I've been involved in education programs out there for a long time. I got that started for them. I did it so I could use my students at Georgia College in outdoor experiences. We'd invite grammar school and other students and have a nature day. College students would show the younger students around. The program has really grown. I'm proud of that.
Your late husband ran Fielding Office Equipment Company in downtown Milledgeville for many years.
Fielding and I used to go to the Huddle House every morning for breakfast. He always got the same thing — bacon, eggs and grits. They named it the Whipple Special and you can get it for $3.99. They put up a picture of him. We'd get there at 9 or 10, whenever we could. We made some really good friends there. We'd see some of the same people there every day — the cooks and others. That's one of my favorite groups of friends.
Who are some of your other groups of friends?
I've got my church friends — my Baptist friends and my Episcopal friends. I've got my Georgia College friends. I've got my pool therapy group at Georgia College. I've got my friends at Trish Ann's (Restaurant) in Haddock. That's one of my favorite things to do. I have a seat right by the front door so I'll sit and eat and watch my Milledgeville friends come in.
I try to be in different kinds of groups, from different walks of life, and that makes it fun, the diversity.