“When she rang that school bell it was the call to a love of learning and achievement,” recalled the teacher’s former pupil Anna Mae Deming.
When one of her pupils, Billy Haught, wrote his reminiscences he said of this teacher, “She was the greatest lady I have ever known ... Her love and devotion to her students made a profound mark on my life ... She was an unmistakable vision of love. I never got to tell her, but I wanted the world to know what an impact she had on me.”
Her name was Julia Viola Randall, the daughter of George and Rose A. Randall. Her father brought his family to Arizona from Denver when hired to manage the Grand Prize Mine in 1900. When the mine’s company went bankrupt the Randalls moved to Payson and built a two-room adobe house on McLane, just north of Main Street. It was 1912, and George was soon elected town constable, a post he held until his death in 1920. Julia would remain in the family home until her death in 1990.
Her mother had been a teacher in North Dakota and influenced her to also be a teacher. A close family friend, Mae Herron Lazear, had attended the Normal School in Flagstaff, and Julia followed her lead. After receiving her two-year teaching certificate she taught one year in Star Valley, living with the Andrew Ogilvie family. She said, “They gave me a little white horse named Goo-Goo that I rode home to Payson every weekend. He was the nicest horse and would stand still while I picked grapes along the way.”
Next she taught at Pine and after that session taught at the Inspiration mining camp in Miami. Over the years she took advanced courses at the college in Tempe.
In 1923 she began her tenure as the teacher for Payson children that lasted for the next 46 years. By the time she retired in 1969 she had often taught three or four generations of the same family and had herself become an institution. Her teaching included more than the three Rs. She was concerned to teach good citizenship and moral values. On Sundays Julia would gather up several of her students and take them with her to Sunday school and worship. Among these children were some from the Tonto Apache Tribe that was settled just up the street from her, living on Indian Hill. The well at her house became a primary source of water for the tribe during those years. Among the students she encouraged to attend school were Ernest Burdette and Melton Campbell who grew to be leaders in the tribe. They learned English by mimicking the other students, sometimes using profanity not knowing what the words meant. Such mistakes were rewarded by a sharp rap on the knuckles by Miss Randall’s heavy ruler. She believed in tough love.
The records show that every young person whose life was touched by this teacher testified that she blessed them and changed their lives. Nor was her impact on the wider community limited to education. She was a charter member of the Payson Womans (sic) Club, among the first members of the Daughters of the Gila County Pioneers, a charter member of the Presbyterian Church and a powerful force behind local progress. She loved music and often sang at weddings and funerals. She also made sure that she passed along her love of music to her students by teaching them to make music using everything from sticks to tambourines.
In addition to her teaching responsibilities, she cared for her extended family. When her twin-grand-nephews, Ron and Don Gibson, were left without parents at the age of 2, she raised them as her own. Not only did she take in her nephews, but she also often provided food and clothing for needy students.
Julia had a great sense of humor that shown in such comments as this regarding the fact she had never married. “I don’t know whether I never found the right man or the right man never found me, but the effect is still the same.”
Her single status allowed her to devote her full love and attention to her students, and she gained much love and respect in return.
She died in 1990, but not before she had some years of teaching in the new rock school that was occupied in 1933 and later named “The Julia Randall School.”