An uncommon sisterhood of friends

Barbara (Johnson) Wylie, Mary (McGraw) Frink, Ivy (Williams) Randolph, Lillie (Pearson) Adams, and Australia (Ashford) Sloss Hollins | Barbara Ball

FAIRFIELD COUNTY – They’ve been best friends since first grade. They graduated high school together, then went to nursing school together and all became nurses.

The five Fairfield women, Barbara (Johnson) Wylie, Mary (McGraw) Frink, Ivy (Williams) Randolph, Lillie (Pearson) Adams, Australia (Ashford) Sloss Hollins, now all age 70, sat down with The Voice last week to reminisce about their lifelong friendship, the fun they had, the mischief they got into, and what having each other’s back for most of their lives has meant to them.

Born in 1952, the five girls ended up in the same first grade classroom at Kelly Miller Elementary School. 

“We were in the same classrooms every year all the way through high school at McCrorey-Liston,” Australia said.

“That’s because we were all in the ‘A’ class,” said Mary. “Back then the grade level classes were divided into ‘A’ class, ‘B’ class, and ‘C’ class.” We were in the “A” class because we made mostly ‘A’s.”

But the women weren’t drawn together because of their good grades. “I don’t know what it was, but from the start of first grade, there was just a natural bonding between all five of us,” Barbara said.
“And pretty soon everyone saw us as a group. We didn’t live close enough to play together, but we did everything together at school.”

“When Barbara brought a piece of lemon cake to school, we all ate it. If one of us brought a sandwich, we all shared it. That’s how close we were,” Lillie said.

They insist that they didn’t get into much mischief in elementary school. They said they all came from strict parents who kept them in line with rules, chores and schoolwork – and switchings when they failed to adhere to the family rules.

Still, there was the time that Mary wanted to visit Australia after school and rode the bus home with her without telling anyone and without her parent’s permission.

“We had a good time playing until my Momma found out where I was,” Mary remembers with a grimace. Their real mischief manifested itself during high school.

“We didn’t really do anything bad,” Mary said as they all cast glances and smiles at each other.

“Some kids made rabbit tobacco cigarettes,” Mary said. “To make it, you wrapped this weed we called rabbit tobacco in a piece of brown paper, rolled it up and smoked it. I smoked it once, but it made me sick.  I was a lot sicker when Momma found out about it.”

Over the years, the five school girls become known for their loyalty to each other and that they always did everything together.


“When a boy in elementary school made fun of me, Australia and Barbara in the cafeteria line, we decided to take the matter up with him” Lillie said.

The three rode the same school bus as he did, and when they got off the bus at school the next morning, they walked to the elementary side of the school – forbidden to high school students – and caught up to him. 

“He was afraid of us and took a swing at me,” Barbara said, “and I tried to hit him back, but I missed. One of the teachers witnessed the incident and turned us in to Mr. Brown, the principal. The next day, Mr. Brown called all five of us, not just the three involved, to his office.”

“He suspended all five of us for a week!” Mary said, still incredulous. “My momma was so mad and went up to the school to ask Mr. Brown why he suspended me and Ivy since we weren’t involved. He told her he knew how tight us five girls were, and that if me and Ivy had been there we would have been in on it too, so he suspended all five of us. My momma was really mad…but back then the principal was like another parent to us, and there wasn’t anything Momma could do.”

All five women laughed, but recalled how un-funny it was back then.

Barbara, Mary, Ivy, Lillie and Australia

A Sisterhood was born

Such was the reputation of their special ‘sisterhood.’

While the girls were close, each had different interests and ambitions. Lillie was a cheerleader and Barbara was elected Miss Freshman. Lillie and Mary wanted to be teachers; Australia wanted to be a housewife and have six children; Barbara wanted to be a nurse like her mother, and Ivy, the quiet one of the five, wasn’t sure what she wanted to do.  

“At the end of our junior year, each of us only lacked one credit – an English class – and we could have graduated early by attending summer school,” Australia said. “But our families couldn’t afford summer school. So, in the fall semester we all took the English class – together.”

“Our principal, Mr. Brown, was very strict and wouldn’t let us take just one class, so we signed up for an advanced math class and another class. We signed up for the nursing class in the afternoon at the vocational school in Winnsboro.” 

“The math class was kind of hard and we weren’t interested in it – we weren’t doing our best work and were just getting by,” Lillie recalled. “Our teacher, Mr. Beatty, got on our case and failed all of us! But we didn’t care. Failing math didn’t stop us. We still graduated!” she said and laughed. The other four laughed and nodded.

As it turned out, the vocational nursing classes changed the course of the women’s lives.

After graduation from McCrory-Liston, they all continued – together – on the nursing path and took their clinical work at Baptist Hospital to become Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs).

Upon graduation from nursing school, Barbara, Australia and Lillie went to work at Columbia Hospital (later Richland Memorial.).Barbara and Lillie were neonatal nurses. Australia first worked in surgery and later in the bone marrow transplant center. Mary went to work at the Department of Mental Health in Columbia and later became a neonatal nurse. Ivy worked at Providence Hospital, first in surgery, then ICU and later endoscopy. She later became nurse manager over the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at her hospital.

Lillie and Ivy went on to get their bachelor degrees and became Registered Nurses (RNs).

Looking back, the women say it was not just the fun and camaraderie they enjoyed in their unique sisterhood, but it was a safety net, a comfort to know and trust that the others were like family and always had their backs.

“Through it all, we were close,” Lillie said. “We loved each other and, as adults, when we talk every month or so, we always end the phone call saying, ‘I love you,” Lillie said.

“And to this day,” she said, “when one of us sees former classmates, they always ask about the other four girls. We were as close as sisters and everyone knew it. It is a special bond that we have, even today.”


  1. Vanessa Ashford says

    Beautiful Article and a lasting friendship!

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