LEESBURG, Ga. — In 1982, Vince Grace was a first-grader at Martin Luther King Elementary School in Albany, and he was in love with his first-grade teacher, a rookie named Laurie Turner.
"She was very, very pretty," Grace, now an assistant principal at Kinchafoonee Primary here, recalled. "She was fresh out of college, and all the boys loved her."
Fast-forward 30 years, and Laurie Turner is now Laurie Whatley, and she is still a first-grade teacher, now as a long-term substitute at Kinchafoonee.
The major difference now is that the little boy, the one in whom Whatley saw so much potential three decades earlier, is one of her bosses.
"He was a tiny 6-year-old, a great, sweet little boy," Whatley said. "On the whole, all the students were very well-behaved. But he stood out to me because he was very smart and never caused any trouble."
Grace then laughed and said, "That's because my mama (Collis) didn't play around. If she ever got a call from a teacher about me, it was always my fault. There were no excuses, no negotiations."
As the years passed, the two old friends both worked in the Dougherty and Lee County school systems, but this is the first time they have ever worked in the same building.
"I never doubted Vince would be successful in whatever career he chose," Whatley said. "What's funny is he used to call me 'ma'am' and now I call him. 'sir.'"
Grace credits all his teachers — and his mother and grandmother — with helping him get where he is today.
"I come from the projects, but that doesn't mean I didn't have values and goals," he said. "I'd like to be a role model to kids, just like Laurie was to me. The important thing to know is that it doesn't matter where you're from, it's where you are going."
Even if it takes 30 years to get there.