CLINE: Volunteer chronicles county history

Todd Cline

Todd Cline

If those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it, what about the ones who do learn? If they're like Alice McCabe, they're destined to chronicle it.

The 88-year-old Lawrenceville resident moved to Gwinnett in 1973, and shortly thereafter took a bus trip hosted by the Gwinnett Historical Society that changed her life. Since then she's become an integral part of the Historical Society, which recently honored her for 38 years of service.

Not bad for a woman who didn't care for the subject while growing up in New Jersey.

"I'll tell you the truth -- I didn't like history in school at all," McCabe said. "But (researching it in Gwinnett) was different. These were real live people I could meet and see."

Though she's met a lot of people through her volunteer job, McCabe made one of her biggest impacts by chronicling Gwinnett's dead. As chair of the Cemetery Committee she worked for 17 years recording tombstone information from Gwinnett cemeteries and also has been a major proponent in protecting those areas. Her tireless efforts combined with those of other volunteers resulted in the book "Gwinnett Deaths 1818-1989."

"That became a passion," McCable said of her work chronicling local cemeteries. "I didn't know I had it.

"We'd go from tombstone to tombstone and copy (the information down). We had two or three eager people to help. It was a lot of hard work. (Even now) we hear about one or another (cemeteries) that were way back in the woods that we didn't know about."

Having that information on record is quite an accomplishment and plays a big role in helping people who might want to explore their family tree. It was while researching his own family that Richard Lux, now the organization's archivist and cemetery chair, first met McCabe.

"On my first visit to the historical society in 1991, I met Alice," he said. "I arrived with limited information, just the initials, last name, and the fact my ancestor was born in Gwinnett County. With her help I left with his full name, birth and death date and the directions to the cemetery where he and four generations of my family are buried. She has assisted so many people in Gwinnett and across the country finding their roots and history in Gwinnett."

McCabe used her journalism background (she began her newspaper work at the Newark Evening News in New Jersey and later freelanced for the Tampa Tribune) to help start and edit the Heritage newsletter and also played a role in proofing all of the Historical Society's publications. She has served in a number of roles for the group, including president, and was honored with the Distinguished Service Award in 1988, the Preservation Award in 1995 and '97 and the first-ever Legends Award in 2001.

For a long time, McCabe could be found at the Society's offices almost every day, but she cut her hours back to Thursdays over the past five or six years. These days she stays in shape by swimming three days a week at the YMCA and visits the office when needed. She says she has no thoughts of ceasing her work with the Society.

It's amazing to think that her myriad of contributions came from a chance bus tour in the 1970s when John Hood, one of the founders of the Gwinnett Historical Society, noticed her taking notes and asked if she'd write something about the tour. She obliged, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Email Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.