For more than a decade, residents of Ridgeway had been interested in building a branch library to serve the needs of the rural community in their town. But each time interest ran high, the answer was always the same - lack of money, and lack of strong, willing leadership for such a project. A professional fund-raiser was employed for a capital campaign to build the Patrick County Library and the Blue Ridge Regional Library Board decided this might be the time for Ridgeway to begin raising money with the fund-raiser managing both efforts. With the assistance of the library director, Betty Wooldridge, the Henry County Board of Supervisors was persuaded to purchase a one-acre lot for the future site of the proposed Ridgeway Branch Library.
A feasibility study was made by the fund-raiser, and to the utter astonishment of a Ridgeway delegation attending, he recommended to the library board that the Ridgeway project be abandoned because of a lack of interest in the community. This almost amounted to a death knell for the dream, but as a special favor, the board granted a month's reprieve on the final decision.
A small group of five civic-minded ladies, including Elizabeth Wood Lester, Ruth Pace, Pat Walmsley, Sandra Cox, and Mary McGee, literally took to the streets to put the decision once and for all before the people. In four weeks' time, they were able to convince the board that this time they would succeed. Permission was granted and the campaign began - without the help of the professional fund-raiser!
Dr. Robert L. Mason, public spirited and lifelong resident, (Ridgeway's mayor for 50 years and son of Dr. Drewry Mason, for whom the school is named) gave a major gift to start the drive and the building is named for him. Cheered by his generosity, the workers began calling on businesses and industry but met with disappointment and frustration. The stock market's plummet in October, 1987, caused a downturn in the economy and closed down that sector for contributions. (A number of businesses and industries did support the drive, however.)
Not to be defeated, the group, armed with only a typed sheet describing the proposed building, knocked on doors, talked, cajoled, promised, persuaded, and literally begged families in a radius of several miles to support the project. "I fell in ditches, got covered with beggar's lice, was chased by dogs, almost suffered a heat stroke one hot summer night, and almost froze in the wintertime while canvassing for funds," says Mary McGee who, with two or three others of the committee worked almost every day for two years to raise the $500,000 plus. Mary McGee is still very active and supportive with all phases of the operation of the library. She can be frequently seen tending to books on the inside or the gardens on the outside. She is a former teacher and librarian and currently serves on the Governing Board of Blue Ridge Regional Library.
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