Waynesville, NC, Spanning almost 96 years, the remarkable life journey of Hattie Best Polk has ended. Growing up on a farm in Galivants Ferry, South Carolina with no running water, electricity, or indoor plumbing, she worked in the cotton and tobacco fields. As a public-school teacher in South Carolina and North Carolina for over 50 years, Hattie mentored many students and teachers.
Her spiritual life began at Sandy Plain United Methodist Church (UMC) where she learned about God’s love for children, a lesson forging her path thereafter. As a teen youth leader, she met her new pastor Reverend Charles Polk. In 1945, she became her preacher’s wife, a very demanding job at which she excelled. Together they served nine churches in South Carolina and many others as superintendent of the UMC Marion District. During the height of the Civil Rights struggle, she stood up and spoke out at much personal risk to insist that the church welcome our African American siblings. By taking this stand, she learned the hard work of loving those who had different perspectives and the importance of peace.
She often asked recently why God had allowed her to live so long. When told her answer was in the Bible, she quickly quoted Esther: “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Our unsettled times have certainly needed the lessons she had learned.
Hattie Polk has been an exemplar for many. She has been an advocate for God’s justice all her adult life. With her faith, she turned every obstacle into an opportunity, every pain into an important lesson, every mistake into a chance to reconcile. It was no surprise that in 1955 she became the first married student to graduate from Columbia College, Columbia, South Carolina when she marched into President Wright Spears’ office asking why a Methodist minister’s wife could not graduate from a Methodist school. Years later that same relationship grew stronger. Both living at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, they began many missions of peace together.
Several important missions for Hattie remain. For God’s work is never done. While Covid has paused critical decisions in the UMC, no one doubts that we will soon see progress in the New UMC that will celebrate and welcome fully ALL of God’s children, made in His image. It will translate into reality our UMC motto: “Open minds, open hearts, open doors.”
As she enters her new life, she will see glorious flowers like those at Lake Junaluska’s Inspiration Point, a spot she has left as a legacy for all. Her parting words are these: “My prayer is that my life has made a difference.” One visitor noted: “I’m sure I speak for countless others as you have touched my soul with your presence.”
“Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
Hattie was a resident of Lake Junaluska, North Carolina for almost 40 years. She was the daughter of Laura May Wingard and Jamie M. Best and is survived by daughter Donna Fisher (Tom) of Lilburn, Georgia; son, Charles Polk (Lessie), of Lexington, South Carolina; grandchildren, Derek Fisher (Jess), Blake Fisher, Jason Fisher, Hannah Polk (Liz); eight great-grandchildren, and many devoted nieces and nephews. She was predeceased by her husband of 55 years Reverend Charles Polk, a daughter, Patricia Gayle Polk, siblings, Edna Earle Lewis, Fred G. Best, Jamie M. (Jinks) Best, Miriam Altman, Pressley Best, and Barbara Shelley.
A funeral service will be held Sunday, May 8, 2022, at 4:00 p.m. at Waynesville First United Methodist Church. A live stream of the service will be available at https://youtu.be/jjk362C79iE . A visitation will be held in the narthex following the service. The graveside interment service will be held at Sandy Plain UMC, Galivants Ferry, South Carolina on Monday, May 9, 2022, at Noon.
The family would like to thank family friend, constant companion, and compassionate caregiver Vicky Burgess. Also, many dedicated caregivers at Smoky Mountain Health and Rehabilitation Center have spent countless hours ensuring her comfort.
Memorials may be sent to Lake Junaluska Assembly, Inc., Inspiration Point Endowment, Office of Development, PO Box 67, Lake Junaluska, NC 28745.
The care of Hattie Polk has been entrusted to Wells Funeral Home of Waynesville.