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Released April 13 , 2004

By Donna McGuyer

HATTIESBURG -- A diagnosis of cancer at age 33 did not lessen Robbie Cockerham Lightsey's commitment to teaching, nor did it force the Laurel schoolteacher from her classroom. Even while undergoing chemotherapy during the next 28 years of her life, she persevered with a cheerful and loving spirit, retiring from teaching in 2000 with more than 20 years of service. Next fall, a scholarship at The University of Southern Mississippi will continue Lightsey's legacy in education.

The Robbie Cockerham Lightsey Education Scholarship will be awarded to elementary education majors at Southern Miss with preference given to someone from Jones County. It is an appropriate tribute to Robbie's career as a first-grade teacher and to her dedication to her home county.

"Robbie loved children and spent years motivating them as a teacher," said Charles Lightsey, her husband of 42 years. "She was a great witness to her faith and had a great attitude during her lengthy illness."

Robbie touched the lives of more than 500 students during her career, inspiring many of them to become teachers themselves. As she bravely fought cancer and endured the effects of chemotherapy, she continued to teach all who knew her a valuable lesson-a lesson in faith.

A native of Greenville, Miss., Robbie first came to the university one summer while in high school to attend band camp and later returned to study education. Her choice of education was not surprising. Both her mother and aunt had been teachers during the early 1900s.

Robbie served on the yearbook staff and belonged to the BSU, Alpha Delta Honorary Society, Phi Alpha honorary history society; served as president of Delta Delta Delta sorority; and was selected for Who's Who in American Colleges and Universities. She also met Charles Lightsey while the two were students.

Robbie graduated from Southern Miss in 1962, and taught in Memphis, and then at Laurel Christian School in Laurel. She was active in Jones County civic organizations, including the Tallahala DAR Chapter, the Northwood Garden Club and the Laurel Junior Auxiliary. She taught Sunday school at First Baptist Church and volunteered at South Central Regional Medical Center.

"Our years at Southern Miss were some of the best times of our lives," said Charles, a 1961 alumnus. "This scholarship in memory of Robbie is a tremendous way to pass on to others her love of education and of teaching."

Charles Lightsey studied real estate and management at Southern Miss. For 40 years he worked with the Social Security Administration, and retired as district manager in Laurel in 2000. Today he is a disability representative and Social Security consultant.

The Lightseys have two children. Debbie Lightsey McKinley, 39, majored in banking and finance and graduated from the university in 1985. She and her husband, Jonathan, also a Southern Miss alumnus, reside in Laurel where she works as an accountant at Robison Tire Company. The Lightseys' younger daughter, Sarah, 35, works for the Social Security Administration in Mobile.

"Alumni families like the Lightseys play a critical role in advancing the work of the university," said Ben Samel, development officer for the College of Education and Psychology. "Thanks to this scholarship, Robbie's love for education and teaching will become a lasting legacy."

Samel can be contacted at 266-5481 for more information on establishing scholarships at The University of Southern Mississippi.


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM