On September 6, Charlton County lost a devoted historian, respected colleague, mentor, friend and mother. Lois Barefoot Mays, 93, died around 6:30 a.m., and she will be greatly missed.
Mays dedicated her life to Charlton County, and she is the reason for many of the town’s greatest wonders. Back in 1976, she helped co-found the Charlton Historical Society (CHS) where she served for 45 years until retirement. According to CHS’s executive director Carolyn DeLoach, the historical society’s files are crammed full of Mays’ research, writing and other projects.
Anyone who visits CHS will find an abundance of information regarding many of the town’s families, public and historical figures and local gems.
Mays continued to work outside of the historical society, and many of Folkston’s residents will remember when she served four terms as the Clerk of the Superior Court for Folkston. Additionally, she also wrote “Queen of the Okefenokee,” “Settlers of the Okefenokee” and co-authored “Charlton County Georgia Historical Notes” with John Harris. Mays’ passion can also be found in historical pieces written for the “Herald” and “Okefenokee Times.”
Here are just a few responses received regarding Mays’ passing:
“When she became bedridden, I tried to visit as often as I could,” DeLoach said. “She would be incoherent or dazed, but the moment I started talking about Charlton County’s history she would become more alert and engaged in the conversation. No matter how uncomfortable or grumpy she might have been when I entered the room, her love for history would take over and we would talk history. A few months ago, I had uncovered some long-lost information and rushed over to her house to tell her. She sat up and said, ‘Ding, ding, ding! Carolyn! You just told me something I did not know!’”.
Mays was the second cousin of DeLoach’s father. DeLoach said their closeness came less from being related and more from their shared love of history. The two women could talk for hours on any historical topic, as long as it related to Charlton County.
DeLoach said she credits Mays for the historian that she is today. Mays always challenged her cousin to dig deeper and stay focused on the topic at hand. She was someone who insisted upon fact-checking and footnotes.
“We were extremely close and had a great deal of respect for each other’s skill in historical research and writing,” DeLoach said. “I guess I can make it known now that she is gone, but very few people know that Miss Lois was my silent partner when I started the ‘Okefenokee Times’ back in 2000...She wrote me a check and when I reached out to take it, she pulled it back and said, ‘You can’t tell anyone I gave you this money. And, you’re gonna pay me back.’ We kept that secret for 21 years, and I paid her back every penny.”
For JoDee Gibson, Mays was her go-to historical source, and she said the two of them held many interesting conversations throughout the years.
Gibson said Mays’ position as the Clerk of the Superior Court put her in a unique position to study, record and oversee details involving Charlton County.
“The passing of Ms. Lois leaves an incalculable void in our community as she was not only a very fine lady, but she was also the depository of Charlton County history,” Gibson said.
Sheriff Robert Phillips remembers how much he liked her as a young man; he respected her immensely. He states that she was an icon of quiet leadership when she served as Clerk of Court for Charlton County. She was not a boastful or ambitious person, she did her job professionally and earned our respect because of her integrity. However, he said that she did have a “latent tendency to have fun at others’ expense.“
According to Phillips, Mays encouraged JoDee Gibson to ride her pony into the courthouse!
Sarah Reynolds moved back to Folkston after 34 years. She finally met Mays after Reynolds’ father recommended it, especially due to Reynolds’ interest in local history.
They first met when Reynolds toured the museum and archives and viewed Mays’ “collection.” That day, Reynolds was asked to help Mays get the historical society up and running again. Afterward, Reynolds said she always enjoyed going to the meetings because she was able to spend time with her friend.
Jim Steeley now lives in Otto, North Carolina, but remembers his time in Folkston when he worked as the chairman for Charlton County’s Industrial Development Authority. Looking back, he also recalls May’s mischievous nature and remembers the pony in the courthouse.
“At times, she coaxed JoDee Gibson, the young daughter of Sheriff Ray Gibson, to ride her pony through the courthouse to the consternation of some of the folks in the courthouse,” Jim Steeley said.
Mays was a special friend to Sarah Steeley, who worked in the courthouse as the Clerk of the Tax Commissioner for a year-and-a-half and then as the Clerk of the Probate Court for 28 years.
“One of my favorite memories was her writing the book “Settlers of the Okefenokee“ and she presented me with an autographed copy when it was published and dated the note April 4, 1975,” Sarah Steeley said. “I was greatly impressed with the compassion she had for her husband, Richard, (Dick), a former Post Master of Folkston, who suffered from a debilitating type of arthritis, but never complaining. They were a great couple and served the County many years in various capacities.”
Mays affected the community far and wide. Her memory will continue to live amongst Charlton County residents, whether through her incredible research or life-long friendships.