(pictured above: Dr. Rosalind Fuse-Hall presents Clarence Pitt with his special degree.)
When one thinks of a Bennett Belle, Clarence Allen Pitt isn’t exactly what comes to mind. Yet, he walked away with a degree from the historic black women’s college during its Commencement Weekend earlier this month.
The 70-year-old was astounded when President Dr. Rosalind Fuse-Hall summoned him before the standing-room-only crowd in Annie Merner Pfeiffer Chapel during the May 3 Baccalaureate Service. Between choruses of “awws” from the audience, Fuse-Hall detailed how Pitt – the older brother of Chronicle Publisher Ernie Pitt – had stood steadfastly by his wife, Lydia, as she returned to Bennett after a more than 20-year absence to earn her degree. Once Pitt made his way to the rostrum, he was presented with a BA degree of his own – a Bachelor of Affection in Committed Husbandry – as the exulted crowd stood to its feet.
“It is marvelous thing when you have a help-mate who will help you over many years to attain your dreams,” Fuse-Hall said after joining Clarence and Lydia Pitt in an emotional embrace.
“It was a total surprise to me,” Pitt said of the honor, which he received the day before his wife took home her BS degree in Interdisciplinary Studies.
Last year, when Lydia decided to return to Bennett to earn the degree she started working toward in the 1970s, Clarence did what he thought any good husband would do – centered his life around her dreams.
“I did what I had to do in order for her to do what she wanted to do,” he said.
In his case, that meant being Lydia’s primary motivator, housekeeper and chauffeur. Medical issues make it difficult for Lydia to drive, so her husband drove her to and from the Greensboro school each day, which was no quick trek in the beginning, when the Pitts lived in Kernersville.
Lydia’s a natural artist; she sings, writes songs and stories and pursues any avenue conducive to her creativity. She found many such avenues at Bennett and dove into them headily. The responsibility of shuttling her between meetings, rehearsals, study halls and an internship at N.C. A&T’s WNAA 90.1 all fell in Pitt’s lap.
“Sometimes, he made three or four trips to campus a day,” Lydia said. “There were times when I had to stay on campus to study until midnight, one or two in the morning, and he’d be there to pick me up.”
Back home, between his campus runs, Pitt was Mr. Homemaker – cleaning, cooking, running errands – anything that needed to be done so that his wife could concentrate solely on her studies.
“I needed this type of husband who had this kind of care and concern at this point in my life,” Lydia said.
Ironically, Clarence and Lydia’s love story began at Bennett in the 1970s when Lydia was first enrolled. He was a taxi driver back then and was intrigued by the young woman he often saw standing or walking near the campus.
“There was just something about her; she piqued my interest,” he said.
Despite the 14-year age difference between them, Clarence and Lydia became close friends. They lost contact when she became pregnant and returned to her native Connecticut during her junior year. During the decades that followed, Lydia raised her twins and married. Clarence married too and also had two children.
They had both been divorced for several years in the late 1990s when they were reunited at Bennett. Clarence was working in the school’s public safety department at the time, and Lydia was helping her daughter (who is also a Bennett alumna, move onto the campus.
“This security guard was giving us directions … and when I heard the voice, I knew it was him,” Lydia recalled.
They were married eight months after their reunion and recently marked their 15th wedding anniversary.
Lydia, an ordained minister, doesn’t credit mere fate with all of the incredible, life-changing events that have occurred at Bennett.
“God’s handprint and footprint are in that school,” she said.
Lydia’s future may include a return to the classroom to pursue a graduate degree. She also wants to create an innovative nonprofit to aid the people of Haiti, where she visited last year for a nine-day Methodist mission trip made possible by Bennett. Whatever she does and whatever is required of her to do it, Clarence says he’ll be there to do anything he has to do to support her.
“I don’t think what I did (to support my wife) was anything above or beyond or extraordinary,” he said. “It is something a husband – or a wife, for that matter – should do.”