By Jennifer Rose Bryant
On a summer day in June 1973, Rappahannock Community College held its first graduation ceremony at the Glenns campus location. Eleven certificates and 40 degrees were presented to the students that day. Audrey Lowery was one of them. More than 46 years later, she says, “I’ve had a very blessed career and wouldn’t be where I am today without the college.”
Growing up in a tight-knit community and loving family in Irvington, Audrey says she felt her first serious calling at age 12. Irvington United Methodist Church was at the center of her childhood, and she knew that missionary work was what she was meant to do. For as long as she can remember, wanting to make a positive difference in peoples’ lives has been important to her.
The Butter Girl
At 16, she had her first job as “the butter girl” at The Tides Inn. It was a good, seasonal job with room to advance, but attending college was a non-negotiable issue to her parents. After graduating from Lancaster High School, Lowery reluctantly left her family and small familiar town for Ferrum College. Although it was only two hours away, Lowery was homesick and didn’t feel that this particular college culture was a fit for her.
Navigating parental expectations, her feelings about college life, and now making decent money seasonally waitressing at The Tides, Lowery found herself at a crossroads. Because she was determined to never leave home again, and there were no colleges closer to her family and beloved hometown, waitressing at The Tides Inn looked to be what her future held.
A Love of Teaching
In 1970, two very important things happened for Audrey Lowery. First, she got a job substitute teaching in a 3rd grade classroom at White Stone Elementary and discovered that she was in love with teaching. Second, her mother learned that Rappahannock Community College would soon open locally.
With her newfound love of teaching and long-held desire to do missionary work, Lowery realized she could fulfill her calling doing local missionary work while teaching children and setting a positive example. Determined to begin this work as soon as possible, Audrey and her mother met with guidance counselor Ed Neal at Rappahannock Community College in 1972, enrolled in RCC, and graduated cum laude one year later. She transferred to Christopher Newport University for a bachelor’s degree and then earned a master’s degree in Curriculum Instruction from Virginia Commonwealth University. RCC gave Ms. Lowery the momentum she needed to push forward.
As a first-generation college student, Ms. Lowery states with conviction, “RCC saved me,” and explains that having a local college provided her and her family an invaluable opportunity. Audrey and her brother, Tim Lowery, also an RCC alum, fund an annual $500 scholarship awarded to a Rappahannock Community College sophomore with a minimum 2.8 GPA, and the promise to graduate from RCC. “I’ve been so blessed. It’s my turn to give back and so I pay it forward.”
One for the Books
In 2017, after a career in education spanning 50 years, Lowery retired from Page Middle School in Gloucester County. “I am married to education and always have been. I love it and want to make a difference.” She is currently passionate about mentoring teachers and editing the final chapters of the book she co-authored with the late Dr. Joan Fulton of VCU.
Lowery is still heavily involved in her childhood church, Irvington United Methodist and can be found every year on the first Saturday of October, November and December working the church’s legendary bazaar. Her parents are gone but the home in Irvington that her dad had built in 1947 for his impending family remains. Ms. Lowery still lives there with her beloved dog Blossom Belle. On getting through tough times, Lowery says, “Listen to that small voice inside of you and ask God for guidance.”
At the White Stone drugstore, a children’s book entitled The Day I Dug Up the Devil, by Audrey Lowery can be found. A testament to the author, who even as a little girl, was determined to get things done.