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A friendship with principle

Kristen B. Morales

January 14, 2019

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The five friends share decades of stories—of sipping tea in hats and gloves, of walking on beaches, of wrangling for hotel rooms and of getting stopped by the Secret Service as they tried to get into Jimmy Carter’s car.

(Yes, that Jimmy Carter. It was an honest mistake.)

What makes the stories so special isn’t the details of what happened or the planning it took as a group to make it happen. Instead, it’s the magic that unfolds as the stories are told—as a group, with everyone contributing their own piece and punctuated with peals of laughter.

“Friendships are so important. The older you get, you realize that,” said Joan Humphries, 75, a former principal of Alps Road Elementary School and assistant superintendent for curriculum and assessment for the Clarke County School District. “We don’t argue…”

“Well, sometimes we might,” broke in June Turnell, 86, with a wink and a smile. Everyone laughed. “But even if we disagree, we love each other through all that.”

Marty Carter, 72, caught her breath and explained. “You hear this laughter? This is how we are.”

This is what happens with a group of friends who have known each other as long as Pat Britton, Marty Carter, Lola Finn, Joan Humphries and June Turnell have. The friends, who call themselves the “PrinciPALS,” initially connected more than 40 years ago as educators in Clarke County schools. While they first found camaraderie professionally, seeking out each other’s advice and encouragement in their leadership roles at various schools, they quickly realized they had a lot more in common than a love of education.

“We started with going out to lunch after a meeting,” said Carter. “But Pat loves to travel and she wanted to show us what she wanted to show us. We complement each other very well.”

Along with a background in education, members of the PrinciPALS also share degrees from the University of Georgia College of Education. Britton, 87, (M.Ed. ’72) has a degree in educational administration and is the former principal at Winterville Elementary School; the school’s media center is named in her honor. Carter (Ed.D. ’84) has a doctorate in educational administration and is a former assistant principal at Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary School. Finn, 87, (M.Ed. ’69, Ed.S. ’74) has degrees in elementary education and supervision and is a former principal at Gaines, Barrow and Whit Davis elementary schools. Humphries (M.A. ’70, Ed.D. ’81) has a doctorate in supervision from the College and led Alps Road Elementary. And Turnell (Ed.S. ’74) has a degree in elementary education and was principal at Oglethorpe Avenue and Whitehead Road elementary schools.

As much as they can, the retired educators continue to be involved in the schools where they worked. For example, Carter still meets regularly with the principal and teachers at Oglethorpe Avenue Elementary. Britton is still a fixture at Winterville Elementary. And while Finn is unable to take part now that she is living in a metro Atlanta assisted-living facility, the friends still make plans to visit her every few months and keep her abreast of their adventures.

Calendars are a must whenever the group meets. Even though the trips have become more local as the friends get older, it doesn’t mean they slow down.

“We used to travel great distances,” said Humphries, listing the Philadelphia Flower Show, Wrightsville Beach and the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and Florida as a few of their destinations. “We once drove eight hours in the car, and it was a challenge to see if we could keep up the conversation—and there was no shortage.”

As a result, there is no end to the stories. There was the time they attended a national storytelling competition in Tennessee and had to enter into some serious negotiations when the hotel lost one of their room reservations. There was the time they went antiquing in North Georgia and shared the ride home with a few oversized pieces in the back seat—which is when they were thankful Britton, their unofficial tour director at the time, had purchased a car big enough for them all to travel with newfound items.

And then there’s the trip to Plains to attend Sunday School taught by the former president. Running a bit late after a wrong turn, Britton quickly pulled the car up to Maranatha Baptist Church ahead of a tour bus about to let out other guests and dropped off the rest of the group. They hurried ahead—not realizing they had cut in front of a large group of invited guests from the Carter Center—and sat down for the lesson.

Afterward, the friends waited for photos with the Carters and then asked Britton where she parked. Britton, deep in conversation with a Secret Service agent, pointed toward the parking lot and what they thought was her shiny new Lincoln Town Car. As they moved in to assume their regular travel seats—Finn, Carter and Turnell in the back, Britton and Humphries up front—Secret Service agents swooped in.

“But this is our friend’s car,” said Humphries, laughing with her friend as she retold the story. It wasn’t; it was President Carter’s car—although it did look the same. They later learned that the list of do’s and don’ts given to churchgoers on Sunday mornings now includes an additional warning: Do not get in the president’s car.

It’s a story they each take turns telling, adding their own perspectives as it unfolds. And it’s clear, as they laugh and hold each other’s hands as they spin the tale, that their friendship is what made the experience even more special.

“We have different roles and sometimes those roles overlap,” said Turnell. “We are very forgiving of each other and have never had a falling out. In fact, it gets deeper and deeper and more special.”

Carter agreed. “The one thing people have told us when you retire is that you’re happier when you stay connected. And we are experiencing that.”