Ralph E. Moore Jr.

By Ralph E. Moore, Jr.

Speaking of the AFRO’s theme of body, mind and spirit… three great women passed away recently.


Sister Marilyn Hopewell, my sixth grade teacher at St. Pius V School, was a most unusual nun. She passed away at 95 years old last week. She had a chin-up bar in the threshold to her classroom for all to use. But if a student stepped out of line, every so often Sister would reprimand by requiring the wayward one to grab the sturdy, door wide horizon pole and pull up until one’s chin was over the shiny silver bar. It was not easy at first, but with her persistence and encouragement, chin-ups got easier over time.

What made Sister Marilyn stand out was her commitment to physical fitness.  Her timely attention paid to it was in keeping with President John Kennedy’s 1961 focus on good health for all Americans. Only a month after his inauguration, the new administration convened a conference on physical fitness, reorganized Eisenhower’s Council on Youth Fitness, and chose a new director, Charles “Bud” Wilkinson, a highly successful University of Oklahoma football coach. True to Kennedy’s style of emphasizing matters, the new executive for the council was named a special consultant to the president. The president’s council unquestionably became President Kennedy’s council.

It was Sister Marilyn who gave us a gym class outside in the school yard. She insisted we do everything from jumping jacks to sit-ups out there on the asphalt. She herself looked the picture of good health, tall and in good shape.  And hers was the first gym class at the school.  “Sister Marilyn trained the student body for the Annual Field Day competitive games between schools that were held in Patterson Park. She could be seen playing dodge ball during recess and practice in sneakers—not regular nun shoes, said D.C. Superior Court Judge William M. Jackson, a former gym student.” Hers were very unusual moves for a nun—exercising the students and showing us her humanity and all.  And she really made a difference in a lot of young lives.


Gertrude Williams, the longtime and legendary principal of the Barclay Elementary-Middle School, died in late September of this year just five days shy of her 95th birthday.  She was an educator’s educator as the saying goes. 

Born in the state of Virginia, educated in Philadelphia and a graduate of Cheyney State, the oldest HBCU in the nation, the children of Baltimore were lucky that Ms. Gertrude then came here and made Baltimore her home.  She served valiantly as a teacher, a counselor and then a principal for 25 years at Barclay.

She believed in children and their abilities. Williams fought successive school superintendents (over the Calvert-private school- Curriculum) who didn’t understand the depths of her commitment to educating children nor her creativity.  She survived those battles while the school system’s top administrators lost.  They just didn’t know who they were messing with.  

Williams had a very sharp mind and a very big heart.  She was generous with praise, great as a counselor and a friend, if not a mother figure to many.  She knew how to listen and she willingly shared her wisdom with parents, community members and especially the children.  Jo Ann Robinson, a retired Morgan University professor, veteran of the civil rights movement and community activist, was a close friend of Gertrude Williams for 45 years since the day her son entered Barclay.  “She became a mother figure to many of us.  She had a counseling background.  In fact, she thought all teachers should have training in counseling.  Gertrude was generous in listening and in giving advice and she frequently reached into her own pocketbook to pay for things that others couldn’t.” She made a big difference in a lot of lives in Baltimore.


Sharon Jones was a peacemaker up to the day she died at age 82.  She left us on September 8. Sharon was an anti-war activist and a strong fighter for justice.  As a longtime financial supporter of the Nawal G. Rajeh Peace Camp, along with her wife, Cindy Farquhar, she put her money where her mouth was.  

Sharon was born in the MidWest of working class parents, educated as a mathematician including earning a Phd in the discipline. Jones worked at the University of Wisconsin before coming to Towson University where she became an anti-war activist.  She fought for women’s rights as a founding member of the Women’s Union of Baltimore, a socialist-feminist organization. Jones also started several feminist book clubs in her day. Jones was anti-war and pro-peace.  She could be seen around our city and the surrounding area demonstrating for various life and freedom giving causes.  She was highly dedicated to the children of Baltimore City. Her spirit will live on in the children she supported.

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