“... Her husband is respected at the city gate … but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” -- Proverbs 31
Ask any member of Statesboro’s black community if they’ve ever patronized a Donaldson establishment. They’ve most likely been serviced by Donaldson & McCray Barbershop, Donaldson's Convenience Store & Laundromat, Gayla’s Gift of Beauty Salon, Bobby Donaldson’s Bail Bonding Company, or Bigma’s Soul Food Restaurant.
“... where he takes his seat among the elders of the land …”
Family patriarch, the late Robert “Bobby” Donaldson laid the foundation. As a 1957 William James High School graduate and the fifth child of the late Gussie and George Donaldson Sr., Bobby attended Savannah State University where he studied business administration before following dreams that would lead to the level of master barber and beyond. The entrepreneurial seed was planted in 1957 when he and business partner, Harold McCray, leased space from the late Gordon Lovett to open a four-chair establishment that thrives as a community landmark and is the place where countless barbers would be trained and licensed.
Former city councilman, Gary Lewis, was a 12-year-old bat boy for the Statesboro Bulldogs, a community baseball team coached by Donaldson.
“I’ve known Bobby for 39 years and I can’t tell you how many people I have personally seen him help. He would give you the shirt off his back and think nothing of it.”
Donaldson had such a positive influence on the community that in 2011, Lewis (as city councilman) worked to have the street on which the Donaldson’s home resides, changed from Cotton Ave. to Bobby Donaldson Ave.
First African Baptist Church
A faithful member of historic First African Baptist Church for nearly 50 years, Donaldson loved studying the Bible, was a church deacon, Sunday school teacher, president of the junior and senior usher boards and a lifetime member of the NAACP.
When members of the community found themselves in trouble with the law and low on funds, Donaldson’s generous spirit often emerged.
“For years, dad bonded people out of jail for free. One day, Sheriff Arnold Ray Akins made a comment to dad about the bail bonding business. The rest is history,” explains daughter Gayla, who currently manages Bobby Donaldson’s Bail Bonding.
“… She brings him good, not harm …”
Bobby wed high school sweetheart, Almarita Tremble in 1958. She was a cheerleader at William James High School where Bobby excelled in sports. Almarita (affectionately known as “Rita” and “Bigma”) the fourth of six children born to the late Luther and Leola Tremble, would mother five children: Wanda, Gayla, Robert Jr., Tammy and Demetrius. In 1972 the power couple purchased what is now Donaldson Square. At that time, the property consisted of the barbershop, a laundromat and convenience store. Bobby managed the barbershop but also drove a school bus and worked part-time at the (white) American Legion.
“... She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness...”
Rita managed the family businesses. After opening the store each morning, the self-taught accountant balanced books, paid bills for all the businesses, made deposits, maintained inventory and oversaw the laundromat. In spite of working 10 or more hours outside the home (in the capacity of Chief Operating Officer/Chief Financial Officer), Rita never ceased to be the mother that her growing family needed. She woke the children for school, prepared breakfast, worked in the store, went home to prepare dinner and, when Bobby worked his third job, she returned to the store to help close and lock up for the night.
As the Donaldson children began to graduate from high school, spaces were made available for lease in Donaldson Square. Rita began working at the Central Savannah River Area (CSRA) Head Start Program as a lead teacher before being promoted to center director. There she worked for over 34 years until retiring in 2008 to care for her ailing husband. She continued to work as a community representative for Head Start even after her retirement.
Current Head Start Center Director Ammie Robinson Hodges fondly recalls, “I attended Head Start here when I was 4 years old and Mrs. Donaldson was my teacher. After graduating GSU, I became a lead teacher under Mrs. Donaldson’s guidance. She was an amazing mentor.”
Jeanette Collins, lead teacher at Head Start, worked under Rita’s leadership for more than 30 years.
“Mrs. Donaldson did not just sit behind that desk. She was in classrooms advising teachers and interacting with children. She made sure every child had Christmas toys. She had a big heart and her legacy lives on through her children,” she said.
Rita volunteered for countless committees during 40 years of faithful service at First African Baptist Church. She was also church clerk, deaconess and head of the kitchen committee. She is listed as a member of Club Rho Nu, the Elk's Lodge and the NAACP.
“... Her children arise and call her blessed …”
Bobby and Rita’s successors are products of a household where they learned the importance of responsibility at an early age. Eldest daughter Wanda remembers the work ethic with which they were reared.
“Mom and Dad required us to work in the business when we got out of school every afternoon. That’s when we learned the importance of public service. Some of the soft skills they instilled in us were to treat customers with respect, do it right the first time, and your word is your bond,” she said.
These pearls of wisdom are the cornerstone of the family’s professional philosophy. This work ethic has propelled Wanda to technical director of AT&T, Robert Jr. through service in the U.S.Navy and U.S.Postal Service; Robert Jr., Gayla, Tammy, Demetrius and grandchildren as they serve the community and embrace the Donaldson legacy.