A former journalist and long-serving high school English and literature teacher, Pearl Ivy Washington died at Methodist Hospital-Germantown on June 7 after a long illness that slowed her down but never stopped her from learning.
Born on July 17, 1954 in Sherard, Mississippi, she was the daughter of Pinkie Burgess and the late Robert Ivy. She grew up in Memphis with her six siblings: Ann Winn, Robert Ivy, Ronald Ivy, Christy White, Terri Wright and Sharon Ivy.
For the last 30 years of her 66-year life, her world orbited around the love for her “twins” – Karanja Ade Mosi Ajanaku and Jamila Abeo Ajanaku, who lovingly and devotedly cared for her at the home shared with Ms. Washington’s mother.
Like many in her family, she served in the United States Navy, absorbing life lessons along the way. Education/learning was an enduring thread through her life. She graduated from Southside High School (1972), earned a degree at LeMoyne-Owen College (1983) and furthered her education at the University of Memphis (1989).
A talented and strong writer, she worked as a reporter/journalist at The Commercial Appeal for five years (1982-87). Later, she transitioned to teaching (1990-2011), becoming endeared at Frayser High School and subsequently at the Benjamin L. Hooks Job Corps Center.
“Her love for reading was second to none,” said fellow English teacher George Ross, a friend of 41 years. “She read everything she got her hands on. … magazines, novels, dictionaries, encyclopedias, newspapers, plays, textbooks and everything else that had the printed word on it. She once told me that she would rather read than anything else in the world.”
Awarded the prestigious Presidential Award at LeMoyne-Owen, she later became the editor of the campus newspaper, The Magician.
As an educator, her intelligence was astounding to observe and “matched only by snapback one-liners that kept us in hysterics,” said fellow teacher, former neighbor and “partner” Toni Jackson.
“The quickness of (her) responses, and the accuracy and timing of (her) comments left me oftentimes saying, ‘girl, you missed your calling; you should’ve been a comedienne.”
Her life’s view was “God first, family and friends,” Jackson said, and she “lived by that code. …I always admired and respected (her) for being straight forward and keeping it real. …”
Renell Smith said their 50-year friendship began at Union Valley Baptist Church, where they decided to sing in the choir.
Over the years, “We would laugh about good things, and cry about bad things together. … Pearl called me to say she was thinking about joining the Navy (and that) we could go in under what they called … the buddy system. I told her I would think about it.
“It apparently took me too long. Two weeks later, I found out that not only did Pearl enlist, several of her siblings all enlisted. … There was a huge write up in the Tri-State Defender.”
The two became godparents of each other’s children, deciding upon that link before any of them were born, Smith said.
Ms. Washington had three grandchildren (Ade, Omari and Alani), dedicating herself to them as she did to her children, whom she guided with the support of her co-parent, Karanja Aidoo Ajanaku.
She also leaves a brother-in-law, Lloyd White; nieces: Courtney, D’Shonta, Javita, Kenya, Shaquinta, Sharon, Tia and Trenecia; nephews: Lawrence and Ted; a stepsister, Tonya Host (Janiqua, Kenny, Allen and D.J.) and a host of great-nephews, great-nieces and other friends.