If you are a regular reader of this column, you will remember how I gushed over my one-time neighbor Mary Lee Pinckney. When I was a youngster she was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen, for sure in the 900 block of Howard Street.
Most importantly I emphasized that she was in the first group of Black students to integrate all-white Robert E. Lee High School in the mid-1960s. I decided to interview her because I thought her life experience tied in with the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board’s discussion at the time on the renaming of the school of named for the famous Confederate army general.
“I really wanted to go,” she said. “I wanted them (children and parents) to see I was just as good in my schoolwork as they were.”
Since that column was published, folks have asked what she did after graduating from the school now named Liberty High. Here you go.
First a little backtracking. Mary Lee was adopted by the husband and wife that raised her. Her adoptive parents loved and guided her. There were four people in the three-room house, including an elderly relative.
Until she was around 9 or 10, there was no toilet, bathtub or hot running water in the house. (I know, because she and I got the connections at the same time.)
After making history in high school, Mary Lee melted into the regular world with little fanfare. She gave college a go of it, but found it wasn’t for her. She started in the work world and raised a family. She would have three children and a stepdaughter over a span of three marriages.
She would eventually go back to school and get a degree in business from Delta Business College. Mary Lee continued to work in Baton Rouge before moving to Beaumont, Texas, and later to San Antonio. Each time, she managed apartment properties.
On the move to Beaumont, children, family and friends asked if they could move with her. She welcomed all of them, about 10 people, into a two-bedroom apartment. She managed the living arrangements with military precision. “Everybody knew what they were supposed to do,” her daughter Tanika said. Eventually, folks found jobs and moved out on their own.
Nine years ago. Mary Lee returned to Baton Rouge. Her husband was homesick and wanted to be back in his hometown.
She would get a job with a company that managed group homes for the mentally challenged. It was a great job and Mary Lee liked helping people.
She also saw a business opportunity. She and her daughter began planning to start a similar operation, but for military veterans.
Occasionally during 2019 and this year, Mary Lee and I talked about getting together to reminisce about the old days on Howard Street and where life had taken us.
The conversation would have been nice, but I just wanted to see her.
The dates never seemed to work out. Not long ago we had settled on a date. She said during that conversation that she would get back to me because “We have a situation at a group home,” she said. “I got to get up there. I’ll call you when we take care of it.”
My friend Mary Lee Pinkney Ellerson, the prettiest girl in my first neighborhood, died a couple of weeks later of complications of COVID-19. I’m sad.
Email Edward Pratt a former newspaperman, at firstname.lastname@example.org.