ALBANY, Ga. -- At a crucial point in her life when it would have been easier to cut her losses and take the easy way out, Jaye Lomax fell in love. And because she did, all of Albany and, indeed, the entire state of Georgia, was given the gift of genius.
Alone in a foreign country with no support system in place, Lomax let her guard down and became pregnant. Facing the possibility of single parenthood with limited income, she weighed her options.
"At that point, I wasn't sure if I wanted to carry my baby to term," Lomax, the director of sales and marketing for the Sleep Inn on Dawson Road, said. "It was a very difficult time in my life. But my baby -- Michael -- made the decision for me.
"I felt him move for the first time, and in that instant I fell in love. I'll never forget the feeling that came over me. Every woman should feel that."
Michael Lomax was born in Columbia, S.C., in 1991, and seven years later the nomadic existence of mother and child, with perhaps a bit of providence thrown into the mix, brought them to Albany, Georgia. The roads -- many roads -- they traveled together were fraught with dangers and hardships at every turn, but Jaye and Michael Lomax persevered. Their efforts were rewarded last spring when Michael Lomax was named the state's STAR student and received a full scholarship to prestigious Yale University.
"I wouldn't want to wish on anybody the responsibility of being a full-time single parent," Jaye Lomax said. "But even through the hard times, I always remembered something my father used to say: 'No matter which way the coin turns -- good or bad -- this too shall pass.' "
With that as her mantra, with the help of some caring people and with a little bit of good luck thrown in for measure, Lomax went about the business of raising her son. Her love for him never wavered, and no matter how tired she found herself at the end of a workday, she still found time to talk with Michael about his day and to read to him.
And while Michael Lomax became perhaps the most celebrated scholar produced by the Dougherty County School System, his success -- both current and future -- will forever be entwined with that first stab of love experienced by his mother.
Jaye Lomax was always in trouble growing up in her hometown near Bombay, India, a tomboy who took pleasure in beating up on the other children. Her father was a businessman working in Africa, and while she and the rest of her family spent holidays with the man who headed their household, it was her mother and her grandfathers who shaped young Jaye's life.
"My mother and father sacrificed a lot for their family," she said of that early time. "Even though my parents were separated most of the time because of his work, they stayed involved in their children's lives. One of my fondest memories is of my mother reading to us at night. We'd go to bed with great adventures in our heads.
"When I got into trouble, my mother punished me by sending me to work with my grandfathers. One was a doctor and one was a lawyer, and while my spending time with them was 'punishment,' I learned a great deal from each of them."
When Lomax graduated college, she and her sister went to Africa to stay with their father. There, she says, she learned a valuable lesson: "It is not the color of a person's skin but rather his or her education that matters most."
It was in Kenya that Lomax met and married her first husband in a traditional Indian wedding. The couple stayed together for a "nightmare two years," during which time she had two miscarriages.
"I'm sure (losing their children) had a lot to do with our relationship ending, but we were too different to make it work," Lomax said of that first union. "Finally, my dad moved to Nigeria, and I went with him."
It was there that a "nice Indian lady who worked at a hotel" befriended the newly-divorced Jaye Lomax. She found hotel work "fascinating," and, to her father's dismay, started work at a vocation that would become her career.
"Obviously, my father didn't approve," Lomax said. "He wouldn't speak to me for a week after I told him I was working at the hotel."
Lomax met her second husband while working in Nigeria, an American businessman she eventually followed to Dallas. It was in the Big D that Lomax became a die-hard fan of the NFL's Cowboys, but it was also there that her life started to unravel. Her new husband, it turned out, was an abuser.
"The first time it happened, he apologized and I forgave him," Lomax said, the memory erasing her ever-present smile. "The second time he put me in the hospital, and the third time I ran for my life."
Alone, Lomax easily found work in the hotel industry. She landed on her feet with a "nice, five-figure salary" as a traveling troubleshooter for a well-known hotel chain. Her new lifestyle afforded her plenty of opportunity for fun, too.
"Even with plenty of money and the freedom to enjoy myself, there were plenty of lonely evenings," Lomax said. "More than anything, because of that, Mikey happened. His father wasn't sure that he wanted the responsibility of a child, and I knew I wasn't in love with this guy. So I made the decision to have my baby alone."
Baby Michael adapted to his mother's work schedule, sitting in on meetings as she traveled from town to town. Mounting costs associated with having another member of the family, however, convinced her to take a management job with a smaller hotel chain in Albany. She came to Southwest Georgia in the summer of 1999 and, except for trying out a few work opportunities away from the region, mother and son's nomadic lifestyle all but ended.
Michael Lomax was a bright youngster, eager to listen to the stories his mother read to him every night. He was athletic, a fast learner, and it didn't necessarily occur to him that his home life was any different than that of his peers.
"I know I've missed out on some of the things my friends had in their lives, but I never let that bother me," Lomax said in a phone call from Yale last week. "I don't know if there was one specific moment in my life when everything really clicked for me, but I remember some time around second grade I told myself that I was not going to let anything that anybody said to me hold me back."
It was while at Albany's Isabella Elementary School that Michael's unlimited educational future almost crashed and burned.
"I didn't learn about this until later, but Michael's first year at Isabella was a nightmare," Jaye Lomax says. "His tae kwon do instructor lived in Moultrie, and it became too difficult to make the trip over there twice a week, so he had to quit. Meanwhile, he had a teacher who was really into black and white, and she called Michael names.
"It got to the point that he didn't want to go to school."
But Michael Lomax tested at the gifted level, and it was in the school system's gifted program that he flourished. The Lomaxes' idyllic existence, however, took a frightening detour when Jaye Lomax took a position with a hotel chain in Chattanooga, Tenn. To say the move didn't work out would be understatement.
"I'll never forget the day Michael and I came back to Albany from Chattanooga," Jaye Lomax said. "That was probably the hardest day of my life. I had no job, no money, nowhere to stay. I had to scrounge for 75 cents to buy a soft drink, and we were given food by some Indian families in the community."
Still, Lomax's ingrained work ethic would not allow her to ask for a government handout.
"I knew we'd have some bad days, but I also knew we'd come out of this," she said. "I could have put my hand out and asked the government for money, but as long as I was able to work, I was not going to do that.
"I came by (the Sleep Inn) when I saw that they had only a few cars in their parking lot, and it turned out the manager was someone I'd worked with before. I got a job, and Michael and I lived in a room at the hotel."
Michael Lomax worked with his mother at the hotel and continued to excel in school. He was named Dougherty County's STAR student his senior year, and later became the county's first-ever state STAR student. The dream continued when he was given a full scholarship to attend Yale, where he's leaning toward studying literature and film.
"When I first learned that I'd been accepted, sure, I was excited," Michael Lomax said. "But once I got here and saw the level of character of the students here, I realized that (earning the scholarship) wasn't such a big deal. Once you get to this point, it's just a matter of taking care of business.
"Still, I know I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for my mother. Parental figures have plenty of influence on their children, of course, but it's even moreso when there's only one parent. No matter what I ever do with my life, I'll owe pretty much everything to my mom. It all comes back to the role she's played in my life."
Michael Lomax was one of 14 students chosen to travel to Prague in the Czech Republic this summer to study film at the country's National Film Academy. He admits that his love for literature and film could turn into a career path as he ponders his future.
"I've thought a lot about how life's moments tend to lead you to be the person you are," he said. "I lived in Mobile (Alabama) for a while and attended a private school, and, who knows, if we'd stayed there I could have ended up being a prep school kid who doesn't care for anyone else. I played baseball when I was a kid in Texas, and I could have ended up being a baseball-playing jock if we'd stayed there.
"But mom and I ended up in Albany, and I was raised there. I am who I am because of Albany."
While Michael continues to flourish at Yale, Jaye is dealing with life alone for the first time in 19 years. She still works hard -- "It's still hand-to-mouth for me," she says -- and she enjoys spending time with friends like businessman Gilbert Udoto, owner of Odyssey Records.
"Jaye is an amazing woman, a unique individual," Udoto said. "I don't want this to sound sexist, but I've never seen an Indian woman like her. She reminds me of Florence Nightingale; she's willing to do anything she can to help people she doesn't even know.
"It says a lot that despite the bad things that have happened in her life, you always see Jaye with a smile on her face. She's one of those people who is a role model. She's someone who has shown the world that a single parent who is willing to sacrifice and not make excuses can raise her children to be successful. She's given Albany and Georgia a special gift in Michael; he's made us all proud."
Barring some unforeseen disaster, it's a given that Michael Lomax is destined for greatness. It's to his credit, though, that he never forgets to praise the woman who taught him how to live life for his success.
"I tried to give Michael everything I could, to teach him everything," Jaye Lomax says, tears brimming from her eyes. "I remember he was staying with one of his friends, and I called the boy's father and begged him to teach Michael how to shave. I couldn't do that.
"But Michael's never complained about not having a father around. He's never said the word 'dad,' but every Mothers Day and every Fathers Day, he always gets me a card."