DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – When Ollie Lee Mason was born in 1905, she seemed destined to do great things. Her father was a prominent black doctor who would later recruit other black physicians to the area and together they would open a hospital to serve communities of color—patients that were not welcome at the city’s private hospitals.
Still, in 1937 when Mason McMillan became Parkland Hospital’s first African American nurse, Dallas was a different city.
“You go to the department store and spend your money and buy clothes, but you could not try them on,” says McMillan’s sister-in-law, 91-year-old Eva Partee McMillan, “you go into certain parks and they’d tell you: you’re not welcome here… go away.”
In spite of the racism she no doubt endured, McMillan says Mason never spoke of it—and always carried herself like a lady: regal and refined, yet humble and incredibly strong.
“She was just doing her job,” says granddaughter Leah Young. “It wasn’t about race, it wasn’t about color… it was about caring for others, and that’s what makes me proud.”
Young says she learned so much from the warm and loving woman they simply knew as “Granny”… and only later would learn of her incredible legacy.
“She never thought of herself as a trailblazer, she always thought of herself as doing something that she loved to do—caring for people.”
Ollie Lee Mason McMillan worked well into her mid-80s. After she retired from Parkland, she joined the Peace Corps and worked overseas, helping improve care for premature infants. She died last month at 107 years old.
“I don’t know if I’m crying for joy or sadness, hers was a good life,” says Young, wiping away tears. “She had told me ‘the world owes me nothing! I’ve lived a good life!’”
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