Published Wednesday, January 30, 2013
By W. WINSTON SKINNER
Kathy Hooks and Annise Mabry were students at Newnan High School at the same time.
Hooks graduated in 1993, and Mabry was in the class before her, but ended up graduating from high school in south Georgia. The two women have a number of mutual friends, but they had never met until Hooks, a reporter with The Rockdale News in Conyers, went to interview Mabry about the horrific experiences her daughter had in a Rockdale middle school – and the outpouring of support that took place when the Oprah Winfrey Network covered Mabry’s story.
In fact, Hooks became part of a cadre of neighbors who have stepped up to offer support to the Mabry family. “She lives right around the corner from me,” Hooks said.
“We were at Newnan High at the same time,” Mabry said. “We never knew each other.”
In addition to Ally’s bullying traumas, Mabry herself has chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy. Mabry’s son, Niles, has Asperger’s Syndrome.
At the time the OWN filming began, Mabry was having great difficulty walking – using both leg braces and a cane. “When we were shooting the show, there were days I couldn’t get up to walk,” she said. The OWN producer asked Annise Mabry about support – if there was anyone she could call when she needed a little help. Mabry explained that the family had moved to Rockdale from Coweta County and that she did not know any of her neighbors.
The OWN team began going door-to-door in Mabry’s neighborhood, asking people if they would help a neighbor in crisis if they knew about it. Everyone said they would, and soon the neighbors were being connected with Annise Mabry and her family.
Laura French was outraged that Ally Mabry was having to spend almost all her time in her room – taking lessons online – instead of being at school, because she had been bullied. It horrified French that Ally “was not able to interact with people because children were mean to her,” Annise Mabry said.
French began working to find a way for Ally Mabry to attend Eastminster, the private school near their homes. French and other neighbors worked with school officials – putting together a four-year scholarship for Ally “in a matter of 72 hours,” Annise Mabry said.
“Laura and I are really good friends now,” Annise Mabry said.
Annise Mabry grew up in Newnan – attending Western, Elm Street and Ruth Hill as an elementary student. After Evans Middle School, she went to Newnan High.
Al Henry, the NHS counselor, and longtime math teacher Mary Cronbaugh encouraged Mabry to apply for an exchange program that sent her to Australia for her sophomore and junior years. “It was so much fun,” she said.
With the OWN experience behind them, the Mabrys are looking forward to birthdays. Both Ally and her brother, Niles, will be celebrating in February. She will turn 14, and he will be 8 years old.
Annise Mabry has made many, lasting connections with her neighbors. She and Hooks also made a connection that went beyond interviewee and reporter. Mabry’s neighborhood does not have leaf pickup. Her children had filled large pumpkin bags with leaves for Halloween, but they had been sitting on her curb for weeks.
When Hooks asked if she could help, Mabry mentioned the leaves.
“I’ve got a truck,” Hooks said, and soon the leaves were taken to a drop-off site.
“It’s little things like that” which are making their new life – with neighbors – so enjoyable for the Mabry family.
Annise Mabry likes the new situation, and it reminds her of what life was like when she was growing up in Coweta County.
“It was a very different time,” she said.
“Now we have so many people who move in, move out and move around that we really don’t know our neighbors,” Mabry reflected.
Except now, she does.