When a Columbia woman was strangled in her home Sunday evening, her family came together to mourn her loss – and to honor her legacy.
Alice Tollison, 76, moved to Columbia in 1978 from Camden, where she had lived most of her adult life. When she retired, she threw herself into community service with boundless energy, according to her son, Steve Stevenson.
“It’s our wish she is remembered for her deeds and not her demise,” Stevenson said. “She was the epitome of Southern grace. Her faith was boundless. She never met anyone she didn’t want to help.”
Tollison allegedly was killed by James Heyward, 42, a Columbia man released from prison in New Jersey in June, according to the Richland County Sheriff’s Department. Officers found Tollison’s great-granddaughter tied up in the home after the girl managed to get to a cellphone and call 911. Heyward was charged with murder, burglary and two counts of kidnapping.
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Tollison was known as “the bag lady,” “the hat lady,” and “the knitting lady,” as well as by other affectionate names, her son said. She was a member of the Happy Hookers senior knitting group, and made a habit of knitting bags for seniors to attach to their walkers. Even broken legs couldn’t slow the woman down. After she was hospitalized by a car crash, her son said, she started knitting hats for cancer patients.
She also spent decades helping young girls at the Connie Maxwell Children’s Home in Greenwood, family members said.
“What you and I would consider common items – cookies, juice boxes – they didn’t have them, and she would collect coupons and buy those for them,” said Melissa Stevenson, one of Tollison’s granddaughters.
Tollison also took care of her immediate family, said granddaughter Anna Hiatt. Growing up in a small town, Hiatt said a trip to Grandma’s was always a treat.
“You didn’t get that flashy new toy everybody wanted, but you got a custom gift,” Hiatt said. “You got to pick out what you wanted. (You’d pick) the fabric, the lace, and she’d make us a nightgown. We’d have our Barbies, and she’d pull out a drawer of old hosiery and socks and make clothes for our dolls.”
Her charitable spirit came out in full force during Columbia’s recent flooding, Melissa Stevenson said. The Tuesday before Tollison’s death, the two had loaded up a van with blankets, toiletries and toothbrushes, and dropped off the goods at a local high school.
Even in death, Tollison continues to touch the lives of those who knew her, her son said. Family members from far and wide have come together to honor her memory, after going years without being able to visit.
“It is a family reunion that she tried on multiple occasions to make happen and now she’s got it done,” he said. “I know she’s smiling right now.”
Anyone wishing to send memorials should donate to the South Carolina Baptist Convention’s Connie Maxwell Children’s Home, family members said.