Educator Susie Mae White dies at 101

Susie Mae White died Saturday in Gainesville at age 101. (Guardian file photo)

Published: Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 9:19 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 9:19 p.m.

Susie Mae White, a retired Alachua County educator, author, businesswoman and dedicated church mother, died Saturday of natural causes at Woodland Care Center in southwest Gainesville.

Her niece, Rosa Martin, said according to the 1920 U.S. Census, White was 101. She is survived by a host of nieces, nephews, cousins and others.

The funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Johnson Chapel Baptist Church at 1334 NE 4th Ave. The processional will form at White's house at 1403 NE 4th Ave., across the street from Johnson Chapel.

A wake will be held from 5-6:30 p.m. Friday, also at Johnson Chapel, and family members will be there to meet those who will come to pay their respects. Martin said at the wake, those interested will have a chance to talk about their memories of White. Pinkney-Smith Funeral Home in Gainesville will be in charge of the services.

Melanie Barr, corresponding secretary of the Pleasant Street Historic Society, said White was a founding member of the society founded in 1984 to preserve, promote and protect the Pleasant Street Historic District. Barr said she will remember White as a very strong and powerful woman who didn't need help from anybody until late in her life.

"She used to go around and collect her rent money herself and she took herself to church and other meetings for a long time," said Barr, adding that White had a sharp memory until her death. Barr said she attended a birthday celebration on March 9 in honor of White's 101st birthday.

"The first thing she said to me on her birthday was ‘Mrs. Barr, I need to pay my dues,'" Barr said. "Nothing was wrong with her mind. She remembered me like she always has."

Barr also said White was a very "welcoming and sharing woman," who was very religious.

On Sunday, during the annual Claronelle Smith Griffin Distinguished Speaker Series Banquet, autographed copies of White's books will be included in the silent auction. Proceeds from the banquet will be used to transform the Smith Griffin home into a black history museum.

"She often said she wanted to see the museum become a reality in her lifetime," Barr said.

White was born in rural Madison County on March 9, 1912. Her father was the late Rev. John A. Williams, a Baptist minister, and her mother was Lucy Williams. White had six siblings, four brothers and two sisters, all who preceded her in death. She also was preceded in death by her husband, the Rev. D.E. White, who died in 1968.

White graduated from all-black Lincoln High School in 1935 in Gainesville before enrolling at Florida Memorial College in St. Augustine, where she earned an associate of arts degree in 1943 and a bachelor's degree in 1948.

Martin said White taught elementary school for many years in Alachua County before retiring as a school psychologist after 28 years with Alachua County Public Schools.

White began working during the integration of the county school system as a guidance counselor at what was then Buchholz Junior High School. She later became a school psychologist, a new position at that time, that served the 11 black schools in the Gainesville area and then all 23 area schools when schools became integrated. This made her the first black person to hold the title of school psychologist in an integrated school in Florida.

During an interview in 2005 with the Guardian, White said she was the first in the state of Florida to perform psychological testing on children in the school system in Alachua County.

"People received me very well," she said.

White was also known for her tireless work in the community after retiring, Martin said.

"She was a dedicated churchgoer, educator and businesswoman," said Martin, adding that White was the founder of the former Mother Dear Day Care Center at 811 NW 4th Place.

White also was the author of two books, including her 120-page autobiography published in 1998 titled "Determined, in spite of ... : The autobiography of Susie Mae Williams White," and a 64-page book of poetry published in 2000 titled "Lord, Fix Me: Inspirational Poems, Including Meditation on the Lord's Prayer."

White also loved to travel, once traveling to 10 countries as part of a 30-day trip around the world, where she visited Canada, Germany, Italy and Israel

She also stayed active in countless organizations, including the Alachua County Retired Educators Association, the Florida Baptist Convention, Alachua County Ministers' Wives and Ministers' Widows organization, Florida Association of School Psychologists and many more organizations.

"I will remember her for being a very busy woman," Martin said.

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