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Margaret Hightower, One of a Kind! (February 2019)

Margaret Hightower, One of a Kind!

By Deborah Burkett

Cherokee County Historical Commission Born February 2, 1927, in Frankston, Texas, this high energy, accomplished business woman has been witness to many of the defining moments in Jacksonville's history. I was pleased when she consented to meet.

"You look like a million bucks!" I uttered as she opened her door for our interview. There she stood…with a brilliant smile, dressed in a turquoise ensemble replete with eye catching turquoise jewelry. She explained that she "gets dressed like this every day". As we proceeded throughout the afternoon I learned that looking good was a trait that went hand and hand with her business acumen as she pursued several careers.

Margaret is well-known for her association with the Liberty Hotel, a once thriving Jacksonville business located on the corner of Woodrow and South Main Streets.

When asked how she first went to work at the hotel in 1951, she explained, "I was in charge of the cosmetics counter at Wood Drug when Mr. Seymour approached me and said, 'I'd love to have you come to work for me at the Liberty Hotel, as a hostess in the dining room.'

She continued, "So I made an appointment, went to see him the next day and he hired me immediately. I greeted all the guests, handed out menus and visited with everyone…"

Soon Seymour promoted Margaret to the front desk. Part of her duties included the switch board…the old plug in telephone variety. To illustrate the many important people who she either met in person or connected via the switch board, Hightower shared, "Once I connected a hotel guest with Mamie Eisenhower at the Whitehouse…"

Margaret assured me she didn't listen in to that conversation but was tempted.

Next she shared, "Lyndon Johnson stayed at the hotel once; he had broken his arm…for dinner he ordered a steak, so I had to carve it for him…"

Yes, the Liberty Hotel was the place to be. It was the scene of special social events and a meeting place for civic clubs. During the tomato season it was the headquarters of tomato industry officials, along with prominent visitors and travelers.

Hightower would eventually be named manager of the hotel and establish herself as a leader in terms of working women in Cherokee County. In 1986, as President of the Jacksonville Business & Professional Women's Club she accepted a proclamation from Mayor Pro-tem Harold Alexander declaring October 19-25 as National Business Women's Week.

At one point Mr. Seymour sold the hotel. The new owner couldn't make a go of it, so he put the hotel up for auction. The owners of the Grand Dee Motel did the same. Note the photo of Hightower holding a brochure for both to be auctioned.

Hightower recalled in the hotel she had a two bedroom apartment, with kitchen and fireplace. Her boys, one a high school senior, the other a junior became spoiled. Each morning the main dining room cook would prepare their breakfast in the kitchen and deliver it to the apartment.

With sadness in her voice she remembered, "When the hotel burned March 8, 1972, Mr. Seymour and I stood there, watched it burn and cried."

Marion Seymour had owned and operated the Liberty for 30 years-from 1933 to 1963. It was called the Liberty because many cashed in their Liberty Bonds after World War I and bought stock for the new structure.

Marion's son, Alex, a Business Administration graduate of Stephen F. Austin was at one time employed at the Conrad Hilton Hotel in Chicago. In 1966, he would be named hotel manager at the Blackstone Hotel in Tyler, Texas. Note photo of newspaper clipping of Alex Seymour and Margaret Hightower. Both were recognized as managers in the hotel business.

Later, Hightower would hold the position of Secretary in the Lon Morris College Admission's office for 8 or 9 years. When asked what her job entailed, she said, "I did more mail than anything else…we had a list of every high school in this part of the country…I mailed letters to perspective students…"

She spoke of Dr. Peeple's fondly, "He was a wonderful Christian man…Faulk Landrum was the very next best thing…he filled Peeple's shoes well…"

"I still hear from former students occasionally, not long ago I heard from one who had worked in the office with me..." In closing, Margaret, remarked how ironic it was for her to be so closely connected to two iconic institutions that are no longer a part of Jacksonville.

Note: This interview is just one of many recorded by the Cherokee County Historical Commission. Contact Deborah Burkett if you know of someone whose memories should be preserved.

Daily Progress, Oct. 1986, Mrs. Margaret Hightower and Harold Alexander, Jacksonville Mayor Protem

Margaret Hightower, during history interview, photo by Deborah Burkett