Royster’s legacy to flourish with community garden

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, October 18, 2023

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Josephine Holley Royster, of Washington, was like a mother to many children who lived near Seventh and Gladden Streets. She was a source of encouragement, support and wisdom for those who sought it. A pillar of her community, Royster enriched the lives of her neighbors, so says her daughter Roberta “Lovie” Rogers and Chairman of the Washington Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, Alice Sadler. 

Rogers said her mother’s door at 106 Mayo Drive “was alway open” to anyone who needed help. This included women experiencing domestic violence who needed shelter, and filling up a bedroom with donated clothes that neighbors could “shop” for, for free and teaching young people how to cook. 

“She was just one of those women,” Rogers said. “It wasn’t that she wanted a name for herself – she really cared for people.” She added that housing, clothing and feeding her neighbors and providing a listening ear was “her heart,” her mission in life. 

The community Royster predominately took care of were her neighbors in and around public housing. Not only did she keep her home open to them, she also committed 28 years of her life to the Washington Housing Authority’s board as a voice for her neighbors. Royster herself lived in public housing for more than 40 years – more than anyone in Washington.  

Last fall, she retired from the Housing Authority board at the age of 90. 

Sadler, a Washington native, remembers being a child who admired Royster. She first encountered Royster at their church, Beebe Memorial CME. 

“Always a kind, caring lady – the kind of person that a child would feel comfortable going up to and feeling that they would listen to you…She was a very spiritual person too so you kept yourself in check in her presence. She carried herself in such a way that you knew to respect her,” Sadler said. 

In addition to her caring, gentle nature, Royster was known as a master gardener who planted vegetables and flowers in her yard. They were used for sustenance as well as teaching children the value of hard-work and patience by helping them plant the seeds. She continued to cultivate these values in young people shortly before her death, Sadler shared. 

Royster’s legacy of civic responsibility is being honored with a community garden at 105 W Seventh Street. This garden will have flowers and vegetables, both of which Royster loved to plant and tend. The vegetables will be harvested and free to neighbors who need it.  The garden will be looked after by members of the Washington Housing Authority’s resident council. 

Lorraine Gordon is the president of the Washington Housing Authority’s resident council. She shared that it is an “honor and pleasure” to follow in Royster’s footsteps by cultivating a community garden. 

The garden will begin with a raised flower bed that once belonged to Royster. 

“This community garden is a testament to the power of coming together and working together for a common goal,” Larry Russell, interim director of the Washington Housing Authority. 

“I am so ecstatic to see what they are going to do with this property, and the garden that they are going to do,” Rogers said. “This is good. This is all good.” 

Royster passed away on February 27, 2023 at the age of 90.