Memorial Day weekend is often a time for reunions of all sorts. The long weekend presents the perfect opportunity for family picnics and class reunions.
Dr. Gladys Branic, a native Chesterfield County resident, came home this past weekend to celebrate her graduation from high school in Marlboro County 50 years ago.
Branic, now a specialist in preventative medicine who has traveled to 75 countries offering health services, said her taste for success was born here in Chesterfield County at a time when her family didn’t even have running water.
Branic’s friends asked to share her story of success so that other young people in the community may be encouraged to “dream big.”
As a small child, Branic worked on the farm. She hoed cotton, picked cotton, toted water to the house, worked the vegetable garden and went to school.
“At age 10, I could pick 240 pounds of cotton a day, without gloves,” said Branic. “I was paid $2 per 100 pounds.”
According to Bill Ganzel, who has published a historical account of cotton farming, “cotton fields had to be picked by hand three and four times each harvest season. The bolls on the plants would mature at different rates. Growers could not simply leave the early-maturing bolls on the plant until all had matured because the quality of the cotton deteriorated as soon as the bolls opened. So, human pickers would move through the fields trailing 10 foot long sacks that would weigh up to 100 pounds when full. Their hands would end up bloody from the sharp spikes on the cotton plants. And they would have to come back through two or three more times during the harvest season.”
“I was in poverty, but poverty was not in me,” said Branic.
As a young child, Branic attended Orange Hill School in Chesterfield County, a one-room schoolhouse in Four Mile Branch. Her teacher, Anna Hudson, told her she could be anything she wanted to be.
Branic said she could remember the naysayers who would ridicule her for being poor and tell her she’d be having babies soon and go nowhere.
“But I didn’t care what they said, Ms. Hudson had already told me differently,” she recalled.
Branic has earned degrees from various prestigious schools. She has taught at the University of Connecticut in New Haven and at the University of Tennessee in Nashville. She served Fisk University in the 1970s with the Department of Urban Affairs. She graduated from the Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1986, and later received a master’s degree from the University of Chicago. Branic completed her residency in preventative medicine at John Hopkins Medical Center.
“I love life! And hard work didn’t kill me,” she said.
At age 67, Branic continues to live a healthy lifestyle and is on “absolutely no meds.”
Branic believes dancing is one of the secrets to health and happiness. And she said she was able to do plenty of dancing at her reunion last weekend.
When Branic returns to Lakewood Ranch in Florida, where she has made here home for the past 25 years, she will resume her daily 4-mile walk with her neighborhood friends. One of them is 97 years old.
Her advice to the young people of Chesterfield County: “Live life. Live a good and healthy lifestyle, and make a positive difference in yourself and your community.”
Branic often gives motivational speeches, though she prefers to call them “transformational.” The idea is that once you’ve made positive changes in your life, so will those around you.
Branic has one son, Robert Hardy Jr., who has also found success through hard work. You may see his name on the television screen. He is a director for several shows including “Bones,” “Criminal Minds” and “ER.”
— Reach Staff Writer Karen Kissiah at 843-537-5261.