School of Social Work

No. 28 M.S.W. Program in the U.S.

Chuck Cartledge and Mary Hugh Dotson Cartledge (M.S.W.’78) fell for each other in a big way, and fast. The life they built together came at them quickly, and their love – endearing and enduring – lasted through 45 years of marriage.

Chuck writes in a remembrance of his late wife, who passed away in March 2022: 

“She was my guiding light and my touchstone. She was all the things I wasn’t. … Her passing has left a hole that can’t be filled, and an emptiness that threatens to consume me.”

Seated next to other, Chuck Cartledge smiling and wearing a black tux and bowtie with a white shirt; and Mary Cartledge smiling and wearing a print jacket, black top and pearl necklace.
Chuck Cartledge and Mary Hugh Dotson Cartledge (M.S.W.’78)

They met on a night out in Norfolk, Virginia, in March 1976. “I was all in as soon as she said I looked like her vet,” Chuck says, an important distinction to a woman who loved animals. “She was out of my league. But she was interested in me, and I was all in.” They married over Thanksgiving that year.

Eighteen months later, in May 1978, Mary was pregnant and finishing her Master of Social Work degree at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Social Work. She would drive each week from Norfolk to Richmond, stay a few days and drive back. 

As graduation on May 13 and her due date drew closer, Mary’s doctor gave a blessing for her to drive once more to Richmond for the ceremony. The couple was riding in a Triumph TR7, a low-slung, two-seat sports car usually described as a wedge or doorstop. “You kind of rolled into the car and rolled out of the car,” Chuck says.

‘Oh, my God, we’re parents’

Contractions started on the drive, subsided during the ceremony and continued again on the return drive to Virginia Beach – this time in Mary’s parents’ car. Their son, Lane, was born the next day, Mother’s Day. “It was kind of a blur of going from two reasonably carefree adults to, ‘oh, my God, we’re parents,’ ” Chuck says.

Mother and son shared a special connection. “She’d always tell me that I was the best Mother’s Day gift she could’ve asked for,” says Lane, a pest control technician in Texas who carries on his mother’s love of animals by bringing treats to pets at the homes he services. “I think she would’ve approved.”

Chuck recalls in his remembrance the couple’s early years:

“Our life plan was for her to stay at home for a few months before using her M.S.W.  Plans change. During the 10 years after graduation, she stayed at home, raised our son, picked up a real estate agent’s license, got trained as a travel agent, and made lifelong friends. Training, experiences, and friendships that would make our lives more interesting and enjoyable than if she hadn’t.

“Mary’s nature, training and inclination was to help others. She set up programs to clothe those who were cold and homeless. She worked in public schools with teens helping them through their troubled years. She moved into substance abuse prevention and treatment in Chesapeake, where she worked for several years. Her work and dedication to the underserved in life touched hundreds of families and children over the years. She continued to help others when she retired, connecting those in need with those who could help. Helping others was one of the things she enjoyed the most.”

Memorializing a legacy of helping

Mary’s legacy of helping will be memorialized at the VCU School of Social Work through the Mary Hugh Dotson and Charles Lane Cartledge IV Endowed Scholarship, honoring mother and son. The scholarship will aid underserved and first-generation M.S.W. students.

“The School of Social Work was number one,” Chuck says of their priority to give back. “That was always in the plans. This is for her and for him (Lane). The scholarship is a way to keep her alive.”

Chuck sees the power of providing more opportunity for first-generation students, the power that a college degree can have to shape future generations – and the importance of seizing the moment to pay it forward.

“There’s this really stupid adage about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps,” he says. “You can’t do that, you can’t. So if there is, with the recipient, a strong family bond, and the first-generation student makes it, because of that bond, they are more likely to help their own family members and to help others.

“As you progress through your life, you accumulate some money, you accumulate some stuff, and your will says that these things go to your children. Do you wait until you’ve passed for that transfer to occur? Or do it a little bit early so that you can see how that transfer has benefited your children? This was one of those things, this scholarship was one of those things.”

‘She’ll say I lived her life well and honored her’

Chuck’s remembrance touches heavily on legacy and the unknown of afterlife – and his abiding love for “Miss Mary,” as she was known to all. 

“According to some traditions, everyone dies twice. The first is when the heart stops, and the body grows cold. The second is the last time someone says their name. It is easy to mark the first death; there are professionals to note the date, the time and cause of the passing, and the legal requirements to be met. The second is much harder to mark, and only slightly easier if there are children or children of children. The best any of us can do is plant seeds and hope that some take root and bear fruit long after we are gone. …

And so I continue on. I try to make real the plans she and I made to help and to be kind to others. To treat others the way we would like to be treated. I continue to put one foot in front of the other, hoping that when I pass through the veil, I’ll be reunited with the woman who completed me, and she’ll say I lived her life well and honored her.”


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