My mother grew up in Macon. Her family had a farm outside of Macon—very rural Bibb County. Her father, Ovid, drove an ice truck and a school bus. He dug wells and ran a farm. My grandmother stood on her feet all day long working in a tile factory. You know the people you see on the side of the road with the vegetables on the back of the truck? Well, that’s them.
Grace, age one; photograph courtesy of Nancy Grace
My grandmother Lucy, who I named my daughter after, helped raise me while my mother worked all day. My father worked a swing shift, a night shift, on the railroad. My first memory was Christmas; we were not allowed to ever ask for anything in the grocery store, but one time my mom bought us these coffee mugs: They were Santa, and when you moved them, their eyes would look up and down.
At three, my grandfather and my uncle built a house for my mom and dad, not too far away. My grandfather dug the well for it. We grew up on a red-dirt road, with a tree growing up in the middle of the road, right in front of our house. It was so far out. The bookmobile would come, and we did not have air-conditioning, so I would sit in the bookmobile for hours. And finally they’d go, “Well, we have to go back now.” The ladies were so sweet to me. I’d never seen anything like it.
I remember standing at our kitchen table, and my mom would be cooking. She’d have her back to me, because she’d be doing something. And I would be standing at the table, delivering a 4-H demonstration, which would be five to ten minutes, and you would have to know it by heart. And I would pause, and she wouldn’t say anything—she’d just turn around and look at me. And I’d go, “Eaughhh!” [and start back]. So way back then, I was already learning to speak publicly.
My mom is a complete insomniac, so we grew up hearing her classical music at all hours of the day and night. Two, three o’clock in the morning, she would be in there practicing. When she was a tiny child, they were so poor, an anonymous donor sent my mother to piano lessons, all the way through school. To this day she is a professional pianist and organist, and has played the cello in the Macon Symphony. She still is the organist at my little church, Liberty United Methodist. I really credit my little church in Macon, and Macon, Georgia, for helping me get as far as I did on Dancing with the Stars—because they all voted.
Billy Oliver, he was our pastor for many, many years. He was our pastor when my fiance, Keith Griffin, was murdered. He really helped pull me through that, which was the worst time of my life. I remember sitting on our front porch in Macon—it was so hot. I had dropped out of school, and I had quit my job at the university library. I wouldn’t eat, I wouldn’t drink, we couldn’t have the TV on, we couldn’t have the radio on. We had to stop the clocks that ticked, because they would just throw me into a fit, to hear the ticking. Just the thought that the world was going on as normal threw me over the edge. Billy really helped me get through all that and, to this day, is a very close confidant of mine.
Growing up in Macon, you’d look out and there’d be nothing but pine trees and soybean fields, as far as you could see. It was a world out in the middle of nothing. And nobody really had anything. We did not know at that time about hatred or violence. I didn’t know about crime. We would come home in the afternoons to church chimes playing “God Will Take Care of You,” “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” “Rock of Ages.” It was really only when Keith was murdered that I found out about a different world. It was an idyllic childhood, and I thank God, because it gave me the strength to get through things that were to come. All those murder cases, all those rape, child molestation cases that to this day, I’m still covering. I really think if it’d not been for me having all that joy in that upbringing that I had, I really don’t think I would have had the strength to get through it.
—As told to Amanda Heckert
Nancy Grace was inspired to go to law school after the murder of her fiance, Keith Griffin, in 1979. She is a former Fulton County special prosecutor and has hosted various court-related shows, most recently HLN’s Nancy Grace. She is the author of three books—as well as a forthcoming trio of murder-mysteries—and placed fifth on the latest season of Dancing with the Stars. Grace now splits her time between New York and Atlanta.