LAURINBURG – According to her family, Willie Freeman Parker spent much of her long life educating people in one way or another until her final days.
The inspirational teacher passed away on Dec. 26 at the age of 101.
“What stood out about her was her memory of anything regarding history, especially the Bible,” said her niece Faye Gasaway.
Mildred Davis, cousin of Parker and former librarian at Scotland County Memorial Library, was always impressed with Parker’s knowledge of scripture.
“She had read the Bible so many times that she could really quote most of those scriptures. She could tell you where to look for that scripture. It was almost verbatim,” Davis said.
Parker was raised in Laurinburg and graduated from Laurinburg Institute. She was born on Nov. 30, 1916.
She attended Shaw University and returned home to teach at Laurinburg Institute before leaving Laurinburg to be an educator in New York.
Parker eventually settled in Portsmouth, Virginia where she taught until 1979 before returning to her hometown. Her desire to teach impacted generations of students in Scotland, Moore and Cumberland County schools, according to family members.
She is remembered as a being kind, but direct and strict educator of all grade levels.
Lawrence Jackson III of Jackson Funeral Home said his father, Lawrence Jackson Jr., had fond memories of his time in Parker’s math class.
“He always told me she failed him because he played around. He was smart enough to pass the class, but he didn’t do what he was supposed to do, and she failed him,” Jackson said. “She helped get him on the right track. She pushed him so that he went on to NYU. She wouldn’t let him off the hook, and he taught school as well because of her.”
Parker’s family said, Jackson Jr. always credited her with instilling business savvy in him and credited her with his success.
Parker, not only continued to educate others, she continued her education. She earned a Masters from Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma and eventually served on the board of the university. She also earned a doctorate of Divinity. It was this degree of which she was most proud, her family said.
Parker was a devoted Christian who taught Sunday School at her church and had her own ministry teaching Bible classes at the former bus station on Church Street in town.
“As far as the county and the area where we were, we just knew that we were going to get good Bible lessons because she knew her Bible and she was well educated and she was free with the knowledge of how and what the Bible said. She would visit the sick and she would come and do things for the church, and she was involved in it,” Davis said. “When she would do the classes, she gave us background lessons on whoever we were talking about. Whatever person was in the Bible she would go back and set up the scenario of what happened before.”
Parker is credited with influencing several generations of her family to become educators.
The first person Parker influenced was her brother Charles Freeman Sr. Parker and her sister, Eva Mae Etheridge, helped raised him. Freeman’s mother died after he was born, and his father passed away when he was seven years old. Parker and other members of the family eventually raised enough money to send Freeman to school to be a teacher.
“She was instrumental in his life. He never knew he was an orphan because of his family taking care of him,” said Charles Freeman Jr.
Freeman Sr. went on to teach at Pate Gardner Elementary School, taught with Job Core and raised Charles Jr., who also became an educator.
“Education was paramount to her. If you did not get an education it was a loss,” Freeman Jr. said.
She is also responsible for Rev. R.L. Addison eventually becoming a teacher in Portsmouth.
“She had a great impact on me because I was eventually employed in the school system. I didn’t want anything to do with that school house. That was not my intent” Addison said. “I had retired from the Airforce, and then I worked for a newspaper firm as a manager. I lost a job to downsizing. I applied for a job teaching English and stayed there 25 years, and her influence led me to apply with the school system.”
For the last 20 years, Addison traveled back to Laurinburg to visit Parker each summer.
At 94, Parker fell and broke her hip. She was forced to give up housekeeping at her longtime residence on Log Cabin Road and placed at Scottish Pines Nursing facility.
Even there, Parker continued to educate in one form or another, said her family.
She could trace the genealogy of the staff, residents and visitors to the home leaving them astonished at her accuracy and numerous acquaintances. In one case, she traced the lineage of one visitor back to the Freeman family, according to Gasaway.
Parker’s family believe that her life is an example of a life well lived.
“Our family collectively is a long list of educators. The influence that she had on the rest of the family came from the influence that the rest of the family had on those kids to succeed.” said Freeman Jr. “There was no going to the field for the girls. They were going to school.”
Reach Beth Lawrence 910-506-3169