By Almeda Girod
Thoughts are of mothers on the second Sunday in May. Paul Pumphrey feels his mother’s presence daily as he lives a life of service which she patterned.
Mildred Pumphrey was one of six children whose father worked on a farm owned by a Quaker family. He was also a church deacon and a local leader. She was the only member of the family to receive an education beyond elementary level, overcoming obstacles that included hardships of time, distance, segregation and Jim Crow laws. Through perseverance she earned a degree in elementary education from Bowie State Teacher’s College. She married a neighborhood friend, George.
Mildred initially worked as an educator in segregated black public schools in Montgomery County. As a teacher, she enriched the lives of many low-income students by bearing the expense to include them when taking her own children to cultural events. She also taught life skills. After schools integrated in 1960, her principal felt she might not be qualified to teach after a career in all-black schools. But the parents at Jackson Road Elementary were very affirming and accepting and soon her class was the choice of many white parents.
When she was widowed in the early 1960s, she became the sole source of the family income and began working in the local recreation center during the summers.
Mildred was strong and had a passion for social and racial equality. She was an active member of the NAACP and took her three children with her to meetings and events such as Fair Housing demonstrations. She greeted them each evening by asking about their day and then adding “How was the day for everyone else” which was a code for asking about racial problems. She knew the parents of the black children and served as an advocate and driver as these parents, often without resources, met with school administration to discuss issues. This served to de-escalate problems leading to an opportunity for better success for students.
After retirement from teaching in the mid-1970’s, Mildred continued to raise funds for Bowie State, encourage education, tutor for civil service exams, and assist with paper work for admission to colleges. It was an honor and tribute that the newly-constructed recreation center in Spencerville, Md. was named for Mildred A. Pumphrey shortly after her death in 1984.
Mildred lived a life with a focus of giving back to the community which she first saw in the life of her father. This is a philosophy that Paul continues to this day.