Life lessons

Published 5:39 pm Saturday, August 10, 2013

Alumni of the former P.S. Jones High School in Washington assert their teachers taught them more than reading, writing and arithmetic — those teachers provided life lessons.

Memories of those teachers and those life lessons were among the many discussions conducted Friday and Saturday as those alumni gathered at the Washington Civic Center for their biennial reunion.

For Archie Brakers, it was her music teacher, Mary Smitherman, known to her students as “Smitty.”

“She was our music teacher — what a mentor,” Brakers recalled. “She was very helpful with us. My sisters and I — we were called the Holley Sisters — used to sing together. She made sure that our voices were in the right place so that we harmonized together. She kind of clicked in on that and helped us a lot.”

Brakers said Smitherman influenced her private life, too.

“She kept me away from the wrong people. She had a role in how my life was shaped,” said Brakers, adding that many P.S. Jones teachers and administrators taught students life lessons that helped the students become well-grounded adults.

William O’Pharrow, a retired teacher and coach, said Nora Dowdy made an impression on him.

“She was a mother away from home. For some reason, it seemed to me, she took an interest in me. … She just took me under her wing and did everything for me,” O’Pharrow recalled. “If I needed anything, she was there for me.”

Dowdy is known for offering this advice to students: follow your mind.

Many P.S. Jones teachers did more than guide their students’ academic careers, O’Pharrow said. Those teachers helped shape many students’ lives when it came to helping the community, helping the less fortunate and keeping them focused on getting the education they would need to make a difference in the world, he said.

The reunion reunites alumni of Washington Colored High School, which graduated its first class in 1926, and P.S. Jones High School. Washington Colored High School’s named was changed in 1950 to honor Peter Simon Jones, former principal of the school. As the result of integration, the school combined with Washington High School in 1969.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

email author More by Mike