2017-08-24 / Front Page

Bea Mitchum shares her story, believes ‘life is about coincidence’

By JANE ELLYN AARON
news editor


BEATRICE K. MITCHUM BEATRICE K. MITCHUM “Basically, my life has been a whole bunch of coincidences – if all of those things hadn’.t.have.hap­pened . in that particular sequence, then I wouldn’t be where I am now.”

Having been a resident of Lincoln County for many years now, and even owning property here since the ’70s, this particular resident understands that life – in all of its inexplicable wonders – may change because of the smallest of decisions, and that sometimes opportunity may even come to you.

Beata Ilona Anna-Maria Kovacs, known as Beatrice Kovacs Mitchum in America, or simply Bea around Lincolnton, was born to Hungar­ian immigrants Lorand Kovacs and Ilona Juliana Constancia von Magyary-Kossa Kovacs (Helen for short).

In the late 1940s, a time where impending war between invading Russia and Hungary was on the brink, Mitchum’s father made the decision to remove his family and so stole a cargo plane from the air force to make their escape. With a sore price on his head for such insubordination, the family eventu­ally immigrated to America to begin a new life with their then toddler, Mitchum.

“They didn.’.t .have .plans .on .com­ing here, they really wanted to go back home to where their family was, but they couldn’t do that, so they said ‘okay,’” Mitchum ex­plained.

Landing first in the Bronx of New York to visit her father’s cousin, the family soon travelled south to live with his aunt in Birmingham, Alabama.

“Dad couldn’t speak English, so got a job sweeping floors, how­ever my mother, with an extensive background in language, got a job translating dental literature at the University of Alabama Medical at the dental library collection,” she said. “In 1952, my mom gave a speech at a Medical Library Asso­ciation (MLA) conference, in which she was talking about foreign dental literature.”

Congratulated on her presenta­tion, she was praised by a well-to-do man who extended an invitation.

“He told her if she was ever in New York, to look him up there, maybe he could find something for her to do, and she thought that that was a job offer, so my parents packed up the car and drove up to New York,” Mitchum said. “It wasn’t a job offer.”

However, Helen was able to find a job in the New York Dental Society Library, and by the time she retired she was at the fifth large medical library in country, according to Mitchum.

Soon grown, Mitchum herself made the decision to study library sciences, enrolling at Syracuse. Fol­lowing her undergraduate career, she then pursued her master’s at Rutgers, and it was there that she received a scholarship from the MLA for her studies.

“That was because of my mother – sometimes it’s not what you know, but who you know,” Mitchum chuckled.

Nearing the 1970s, her life then made a turn upon meeting her now ex-husband at an MLA conference – a decision that swept her up, and landed her in Augusta, Georgia. Though unknowing at the time, a very big part of her future would later stem from being there.

“We owned two Volkswagens, and I finally found a shop that did a good job working on them – It was owned by a guy named Eddy, it was on Bobby Jones Expressway, and it was called Eddy’s Auto Hospital,” Mitchum said. “After our youngest kid went to kindergarten, I started looking for a job so I could get out of the house, so I asked Eddy if he would ever hire a female mechanic trainee.

“He said ‘no,’ so I said ‘why,’ and he said, ‘because you just don’t do that kind of thing,’ and I said, ‘well, if you every change your mind… ,’” she continued. “Three months later he called and asked if I was coming in on Monday, and I told him ‘no, the cars are all fine, I don’t have an appointment,’ and he laughed and said ‘no, to start working,’ so I said, ‘oh, ok.’

At the auto hospital Mitchum was soon promoted from line work, and then taught by Eddy to tear down and rebuild engines, quickly revel­Dr. ing in the black and greasy smudges left behind from a hard days work.

Soon taking a part-time job as a cataloguer at a library, Mitchum would then work at the auto shop in the evenings.

Later moving to work at a medical college library, Mitchum’s departed the auto shop, and her life changed again when she divorced her hus­band – however purchasing property in Lincoln County in-between – and soon found herself enrolled at Columbia University to pursue her PhD by 1980.

As the years passed, Mitchum found that she had completed her education, was recruited to work at a medical library in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and then stumbled upon a teaching position at the Uni­versity of North Carolina.

“On one unusual day I was look­ing at the Chronicle on Higher Education, which I never looked at ever, and I just happened to be look­ing through, skimming for jobs, and there was a job announced for teach­ing cataloguing and other courses at the university of North Carolina in Greensboro,” Mitchum said. “And I got a call from a colleague that day that said I ought to apply for it. Then that night my mom called and told me that she had talked to someone that day and they said there’s a job in Greensboro, N.C., and that I ought to apply for it.

“I felt like the universe was trying to tell me something, so I applied for the job,” Mitchum laughed.

Settling into her new position, Mitchum would eventually cel­ebrate 22 years of teaching at UNC. She was even esteemed by having the alumni association from the school she taught at name its outstanding alumni award named for her, which Mitchum considered “one of the greatest honors I’ve ever had in my life.”

“Meanwhile, about six years later, I received a phone call, and it was Eddy wanting to know if I was married or seeing somebody, and if he could come visit,” Mitchum explained. “Well, it turns out that he is the love of my life, and we ended up getting married in ’94 and we’re still at it.

“He told me – since I was his employee and we were each married to other people at the time – that he couldn’t get me out of his mind,” Mitchum sighed. “It was just the most amazing thing that I’d expe­rienced in my entire life, and it had never occurred to me that that would ever happen – Who’d have thunk it? The mechanic and the PhD.”

She retired to Lincoln Country in 2007, though after the crash in 2008, Mitchum had to search for work again, soon finding a home in church.

“I was lucky enough to get the secretary job for Pine Grove and Bethany Churches. I had also worked a little bit for the public library with Dianne Poteat, which is when we wrote the Lincoln County book (“Images of America: Lincoln County”), and I was really happy,” she said.

More recently, Mitchum was even honored with her own “Bea Appre­ciation Day” at Pine Grove, where member Mamie Reeds expressed, “So now that you’re a part of our family officially, you are no longer NFL, but you are from Lincoln County.”

Deeply honored, Mitchum smiled, “I just have all of these fabulous things happen for whatever rea­son.”

In remembering her first steps onto Lincoln County soil, she also shared, “When the real estate guy was showing us around, when I stepped out onto the property, and when my foot touched that ground, I knew I was home and this peace came over me. I kept that property all these years, because this is where I want it to end. No matter what happens, I’m not leaving that house unless they carry me out feet first, and Eddy loves this area just as much as I do.”

When asked to speak about her life and thoughts thereof, which hap­pens on occasion, Mitchum poses a series of “Ifs.” Ifs that provoke the thoughts of “Where would I be had a different decision been made?” or “Where would life end if it were ending elsewhere?”

Though she expressed, “I’d rather think of it in the positive way than in the negative way.”

For Mitchum, a few points on her “If List” ponder several conclu­sions regarding the twists and turns of her life’s potential paths. It even contemplates life’s beginnings and death.

“If: l My mom hadn’t met the U.S. Army doctor [who helped carry me to term], I might not be here at all. l My folks hadn’t fled Hungary, I wouldn’t be an American. l My folks hadn’t moved from Birmingham, I might not have be­come a medical librarian. l I hadn’t married my ex-husband, I wouldn’t have lived in Augusta. l We didn’t have two Volkswa­gens, I wouldn’t have gone to the shop where I ended up working. l I didn’t teach in Greensboro, I might not have been able to keep the Lincoln County property. l I hadn’t worked at the shop in Martinez, I might not have gotten the call from Eddy. l I didn’t retire to Lincoln County, I might not be here now.”

And as someone who is now considered a member of the Lincoln County family, Mitchum sighed at her travels, reflecting on the deci­sion to make her new home her final destination.

“Life is good,” she said.

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