Ever since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was signed into law as a national holiday by President Reagan in 1983, it has taken on a unique character that truly reflects the life and ideals of Dr. King.

The day is often marked with community service projects and activities that better the lives of others. As King once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?

One person who exemplified the spirit of King’s words was a woman named Oseola McCarty. Oseola was born in 1908 in Mississippi, long before Dr. King’s civil rights mission began.

When she was in the sixth grade, her aunt became ill and required homecare. Oseola quit school to tend to her aunt and never returned to her studies. To support herself, she became a washerwoman, like her mother did and continued at her trade until she was forced to quit due to arthritis in 1994.

Oseola made headlines in 1995 after it was announced that she had established a trust that, after her death, a portion would be donated to the University of Southern Mississippi for scholarships for students in need.

The amount of the trust was estimated at $150,000, a remarkable amount given her occupation. How could someone who spent her career as a washerwoman have saved so much money?

As a young girl, her mother taught her the importance of saving money. She opened her first saving account and began to make regular small deposits. She lived frugally; never owned a car, walked wherever she went, refrained from the “luxuries” of subscription newspaper and cable television.

In 1998, the University awarded her an honorary degree, and later that year, President Clinton presented her with a Presidential Citizens Medal, the second highest civilian award in the nation.

She passed away in 1999, leaving behind a legacy that truly personified the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

As we approach the MLK holiday, we at Forest Lawn pay tribute to this great American who set the standard for service to others, and brought hope and equality to millions.