Recognizing the extraordinary Southern women who are quietly making the world a better place

Mamau with my daughter, Phoebe
Sid Evans

My grandfather, whom we called Little Mac, was the only minister in Memphis who drove a Pontiac Firebird. A former fighter pilot in World War II, he liked to go fast, sometimes frighteningly so, a habit that was made worse when he attempted to change out of his tennis clothes in traffic. He sometimes joked that he spread the Gospel faster than anyone in the state, but that line didn’t seem to work with the cops who were always pulling him over. Or maybe it did. He could charm his way through almost anything, which is probably how he got through seminary.

My grandmother, who’s known in our family as Mamau, was a much safer driver and much quieter about her community service. She used to volunteer for Meals on Wheels, delivering chicken dinners in tinfoil to people who were too old or infirm to cook for themselves. I went with her a couple of times, driving to neighborhoods and housing projects I’d never seen, some with broken windows, sagging porches, and little or no air-conditioning. I still remember the looks on people’s faces, most of whom lived alone, when we showed up at their doors. They all brightened when they saw her, and though I’m sure they appreciated the meal, it was the company that seemed to matter most.

When she wasn’t busy doing Meals on Wheels, she was visiting friends in hospitals or just dropping in on folks who were going through a tough time. My brother, Marshall, once ran into Mamau at a retirement community by chance, and one of the residents pulled him aside. “You would not believe how many people your grandmother visits here,” she said. “She’s like a Saint Bernard—she just shows up when folks are in trouble.”

WATCH: Kim Smith's Class Gives Every Child A Chance To Dance

Most Southern women don’t wear their good deeds on their sleeves, but they’re out there in droves, making the world a better place—even if they’re doing it in their own quiet way. That’s why this month, we’re recognizing five women who are doing remarkable things to make a difference: Katie McClure and Erin Breen with MIRTH, Julie Colombino with Deux Mains, Tasha Holland-Kornegay with Oscar William's Gourmet Cotton Candy, and Kim Smith with A Chance to Dance. We’re calling them Southern Beauties, and every one of them has that relentless Mamau spirit that makes the South a kinder, gentler place. If there was ever a time when we needed more people like that, it’s right now.

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