Carey's Caring Helps Set Aside Racial Differences
February 18, 2005
By David Shefter, USGA
Far Hills, N.J. - Ever since she was a child growing up in Oklahoma, Pearl Carey dreamed of someday helping people.
"I really wanted to be a person who goes to Africa," said Carey. "I really wanted to be a missionary."
Carey didn't quite make it to that continent, but that doesn't mean she failed in her quest to satisfy her desire to assist others. Actually, it's quite the contrary.
|Pearl Carey, with the Joe Dey Award recently, set out to do something meaningful in life. (John Mummert/USGA) |
Much of her adult life has been devoted to breaking down barriers to help make people's lives better, especially youths in her adopted hometown of Monterey, Calif.
Her involvement has run the gamut from serving on the board of directors for the AT&T Junior Golf Association, the local YMCA, Salvation Army, Community Theater of Carmel, the National Council of Negro Women and the United Fund. In 1997, through the help of grants from the USGA Foundation, she founded the Seaside Junior Golf Program.
For the past 11 years, she has served on the USGA's Regional Affairs Committee (formerly Sectional Affairs Committee), with an emphasis on junior golf.
Carey's efforts have not gone unnoticed. On Feb. 5 at the USGA's Annual Meeting in Santa Barbara, Calif., she received the distinguished Joe Dey Award for meritorious service to the game as a volunteer. She became the second female (Adele Lebow was the first, in 2003) to receive the honor and second African-American (Bill Dickey in 2001).
"I hope it's going to increase minority participation and open the heart of more people who are running the world," said Carey. "I just think we are not recognized enough. Maybe we are not recognized enough because we don't take part in everything.
"It's not about me or one person; it's about all of us. If we work together to make it a better world, it's just going to be [better]."
Growing up, Carey couldn't play golf as it was a game at the time that didn't extend itself to people of color. But her father always told her that she had as much right to do something as anyone else and it was those ideals that stuck with her.
As Carey drove around the country while her husband was in the military, she often saw people enjoying the game.
"People looked so peaceful playing and I told myself I just have to play that game," said Carey.
She eventually decided to take some lessons, on the advice of her ill mother (she had diabetes and had lost a leg), in the 1960s. Carey worked hard at improving her skills and eventually lowered her handicap to a 10.
"I never really had any resistance openly," said Carey of being an African-American playing a game that basically was still almost entirely enjoyed by whites. "It's been kind of undercover and I've always been able to overcome that in a way that they saw I didn't think it was right."
Carey certainly wasn't intimidated. She had been turned away for jobs in Monterey, sometimes because of her color and because none of her credits from an all-black college in Langley, Okla., were accepted by potential employers. So she eventually enrolled at Monterey Peninsula College, a two-year junior college, and earned 65 units before graduating with top honors in 1970.
And even though her husband was accepted by his white subordinates as a sergeant in the U.S. Army, their wives often stayed away from her. That's when Carey decided to break down barriers through the kids. She would often invite the white children over to her house where she read to them and helped them bake cookies among many other things. Soon she was accepted.
That kind of kindness carried over to other programs like Head Start, a government-funded program for minority kids. She volunteered to help kids with reading and proper etiquette. When she was on the YMCA board she took kids camping and hiking.
When she joined the board of the AT&T Junior Golf Association, she initiated a program that had boys playing with girls in the same group. While they were not competing in the same flight, just pairing the genders together helped change attitudes.
"At first, they said you can't do that, but eventually they said, 'Pearl, you were right.' At that time, if girls wanted to play in high school, they had to play on the boys' team anyway," she said.
In 1972, she was approached by Harold Firstman to help organize a tournament on the Monterey Peninsula that would feature a unique format: PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, senior pros and club pros playing together. Carey was in charge of transporting players to the different courses and the event is still going today, although it's gone through a plethora of sponsors.
Today, Carey is involved with the First Tee of Monterey County along with her duties at the Seaside Junior Golf Program. Seaside is a year-round program that has some 60 kids involved. They come for two to four days in March, 10 to 12 days in the summer, four days in October and four more days in December. The youths receive instruction from the professional staff at Fort Ord Golf Course in the City of Seaside, Calif., as well as tips on the rules and etiquette, which they must learn before going out on the golf course. The sessions last from 9 a.m. to noon, but Carey arrives at 8 a.m. and won't often leave until 1 p.m., waiting for the last child to be picked up before departing.
"I just love kids," said Carey. "It's one of the things that just came naturally."
Eleven years ago, Carey was approached by then USGA president Grant Spaeth about joining the Sectional Affairs Committee (now Regional Affairs). She accepted, even though she didn't realize she would be the only woman. For someone who had spent a lifetime breaking barriers, this wasn't something that fazed Carey.
"I just like what they did," she said. "I chose [to help] kids [programs] because that was my love."
Recently Carey received a letter from a woman (Kathy Ireland) in Colorado, whom she helped back in 1970. Back then, the girl, who was white, had enjoyed working with Carey selling Christmas trees as part of a YMCA-sponsored program. When Ireland was selected to attend a meeting in Los Angeles, her family told her she couldn't go because of a lack of funds. Carey stepped in and bought Ireland a ticket to Los Angeles.
Ireland, now a lawyer who works on environmental issues, never forgot the generosity or the life lessons she received from Carey. Upon a visit home to Pacific Grove, Ireland saw Carey's picture in the newspaper about receiving the 2005 Joe Dey Award. She told her mom that she needed to write her old mentor.
"It was the nicest letter," said Carey. "She gave me credit for teaching her integrity and fairness.
"For me, the salvation is not really in the knowing, but it's in the creating. [The Joe Dey Award] is really something special. It's something that not only changed my heart, but it's changed the heart of people who run the Association. They can now see that people can all do the same thing. It's something for all of us."
Black or white.
David Shefter is a USGA staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at email@example.com.