(VIDEO) Royalty was a career educator and Lubbock’s oldest World War II veteran.
Texas Tech University alumna Catherine Royalty was a world traveler, a book lover and a spunky lady.
Visiting campus in September 2018 to share her life story with a room packed full of students, there was a telling moment in which university President Lawrence Schovanec knelt by Royalty's chair to hear her over the crowd noise. She immediately quipped, "Mister President, you don't have to kneel to me. I'm not that kind of royalty."
A queen, apparenty, she was not – but the list of what she was is much longer than the list of what she wasn't. Royalty, a career educator and Lubbock's oldest World War II veteran, died May 15 at the age of 105. At the time of her death, she was also the oldest living graduate of Texas Tech.
"I think one of the things I loved most about Catherine Royalty was, she was so absolutely honest and steadfast," said Aliza Wong, a history professor and associate dean of the Texas Tech Honors College. "She reminded me of the mythology of the grittiest, most resilient Texas women. The Ann Richards, Molly Ivins kind of woman that was strong, that was forthright, that was honest, but could also be gentle and kind and compassionate in the best of all possible ways. She was just one of those women who would call it like it is, but she also had the tact and the sensitivity to hear what other people were saying, even as she was speaking the truth."
As one of the Women Who Shaped Texas Tech, Royalty sat down last spring with Lynn Whitfield, archivist for Texas Tech's Southwest Collections/Special Collections Library, to record her memories in an oral history interview.
Born Feb. 17, 1915, Royalty was the daughter of Walter "W.W." Royalty, who owned one of Lubbock's first car dealerships, Royalty Motor Co., and Lyda May Royalty, the city's first court reporter. She witnessed Lubbock's early days, before the beginnings of Texas Technological College in 1923, on what was then open ranch land.
"Catherine was so lovely to interview," Whitfield said. "She reminisced about being a small child riding her bicycle up and down Broadway while the brick streets were being laid, and how the community of Lubbock pulled together in a bid to win the site selection for the new college in West Texas. Lubbockites spruced up their homes and front yards, she recalled, and cleaned up around town in order to make a good impression on the Locating Board, who would decide where the college would be situated.
"She beamed as she described her parents' participation in chauffeuring the Locating Board members around town and how both she and her mother would attend Texas Tech together more than a decade later."
Upon graduating from Lubbock High School in 1932, Royalty attended Texas Technological College. She earned her bachelor's degree in English and journalism in 1936. Finding no vacant teaching positions in Lubbock schools, she went to Post, where she taught English and served as the school librarian for four years before an open position in Lubbock enabled her to move back.
After Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Royalty decided to enlist in the women's branch of the U.S. Navy, the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES). She worked in the post office, keeping up with where all the ships were located so important messages could reach them.
Discharged from the Navy in February 1946, Royalty returned to Lubbock. While teaching junior high school, she earned her master's degree in journalism and education through the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly known as the GI Bill of Rights, which provided free university tuition and living expenses for returning veterans.
She taught English and journalism at J.T. Hutchinson Junior High and W.B. Atkins Junior High, in addition to O.L. Slaton and Central, which became Carroll Thompson Junior High. In 1957, she helped create a journalism handbook for junior high students.
Royalty retired from teaching in May 1977, but she never lost her love for education. Her students, apparently, never lost their love for her, either. On her 100th birthday, a group of them sent her flowers and visited her in her Lubbock retirement home.
"Talking about journalism, Catherine Royalty was it; she trained half the people here," Wong said. "She inspired them to write, to start asking those really difficult, probing questions that are so necessary, given what's going on in our world right now. She believed in First Amendment rights, she believed in journalism as the Fourth Estate, she believed in journalists as the vanguard of democracy and the protectors of democracy, and she trained thousands of students to believe that, and to learn how to write, to think critically about the world, to ask questions."
In March 2019, Royalty threw out the first pitch at Texas Tech's Military Appreciation Softball Game. In December, the Francis Rainey Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and Quilts of Valor Hub City Freedom Quilters presented Royalty with a handmade patriotic quilt in honor of her service.
"My strongest impression overall of the interview was how much Catherine loved living in Lubbock and watching it develop," Whitfield said. "She loved being a teacher, and she was extremely proud to be a Red Raider. Her association with Texas Tech meant so much to her."
Indeed, Royalty maintained her connection to Texas Tech throughout the long years of her life. After presenting her life's story to university students in September 2018, the avid reader gleefully joined a book club hosted through the Honors College.
"She was very specific about the kind of books she wanted," Wong recalled. "There were not enough books in the library for her to be able to read, but she wanted no smut, no bad language – they had to be honest, virtuous, truthful books that were principled, I would say."
Royalty, all who knew her agreed, was the kind of person who touched others.
"I only spoke with her twice, but she made a lasting impression on me," Whitfield said. "She was such a lovely, gracious lady. The Lubbock and Texas Tech communities have truly lost a treasure in Catherine's passing."