A teenage Julia Cromartie stood up in Mildred Greear’s journalism class more than 50 years ago, announcing to her teacher and classmates, “I am not the same person I was, because I have had a life-changing experience.”
Cromartie had attended a Christmas function at her church, where the young white people and the young black people were challenged to dance — together.
“They started playing music,” said 94-year-old Greear, recounting the story from Cromartie. “They said, ‘Please notice all you white kids down here, and all you black kids over here. But this is about mixing. It’s not going to be real easy, but maybe if two of you meet in the middle, reach out and touch hands, you will find that it’s warm. It feels like a hand.
“Then maybe you can move your feet.’”
The experience, Cromartie said, changed her life forever. Little did she know, Cromartie would go on to change countless lives in the numerous organizations she would found throughout Hall County.
Cromartie was recognized Tuesday afternoon for her decades of community dedication with the Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia Gainesville Woman of Distinction Award.
“Girl Scouts women of distinction are women who provide inspiration and help cultivate the environment necessary for girls to realize their goals,” said Girl Scout Virginia Hill, 14, who was the mistress of ceremonies at the award luncheon. “They are role models for me and others to look up to and learn from.”
Cromartie has more than 40 years of community dedication to serve as an example to young women today.
In the ’70s, she taught at Gainesville College and Brenau Academy, additionally becoming director of the North Georgia Community Foundation in its early stages and president of the Junior Service League in the early ’80s.
Cromartie was able to identify needs in the community and solutions for them. She was one of the founders of Gateway Domestic Violence Center for women and children, and she continues to serve on the board today.
“She’s amazing,” said Sue Else, CEO for Girl Scouts of Historic Georgia. “She’s been around a long time, helping the community, helping not-for-profits, helping those less fortunate. She’s been very involved in the domestic violence movement, and she’s an environmentalist, active in saving our land and making sure it’s available for the young girls growing up.”
Cromartie helped found WomenSource, a nonprofit that connects women to necessary resources in the community, and was one of five women to found the Elachee Nature Science Center, which today preserves more than 1,900 acres.
“She’s a kind of innovator with STEM, which is huge for the Girl Scouts,” Else said. “It’s one of our focal points — making sure our girls are awakened to all the opportunities in sciences, technology, engineering and math…. Times have changed in Girl Scouting, and we want to stay as relevant as we can for our girls.”
Cromartie was present Tuesday, despite a bad case of laryngitis, and she thanked all those gathered for the honor.
“As Girl Scouts, we try new things we might not have attempted on our own,” Cromartie said. “We learn to persevere. ... I didn’t realize the influence of Girl Scouts as a child, because you just go to school, you go to ballet and you go to Girl Scouts. But it’s just amazing the things you don’t know are having an influence on you.”
The Rev. Bill Coates presented the award to Cromartie and spoke of her many virtues, including “integrity, honesty, selflessness, humility, loyalty and passion.”
He said her ability to identify problems in the community and work to better them reflects the mission of Girl Scouts.
“To hear of these women who are so inspiring, I think it just tells girls today they can do it,” Else said. “They can break that glass ceiling and be whatever they want to be.”
Greear was present for the luncheon Tuesday, and her memories of Cromartie were shared over a video. She commended Cromartie for the work she’s done as an adult and the spirit she held as a child in a journalism class.
“All these years later, I remember her for teaching my class that day,” Greear said.