A student at Walbrook in the 1970s, Wardell Woodrow Wilson, Jr. recalled the school’s principal Dr. Anne O. Emery seeing him without wearing his proper choir attire.
“As a choir member, we were supposed to have on red blazers,” recalled Wilson. “She asked me why I didn’t have on my blazer. I explained I was working full-time because I wanted to buy a car. She sold me my first car – a blue 1963 Dynamic ‘88 Oldsmobile, dirt cheap. Her students were everything to her, and she would do anything for her students.”
Dr. Emery was a graduate of Tuskegee University (formerly Institute). Wilson, who is also an alumnus, credited Dr. Emery with “steering” him to the school.
“One of the greatest things she created was the Tuskegee Club,” said Wilson. “The bus was filled with students and went to Tuskegee Institute. She was so nurturing. She was a great leader and a soldier on the battlefield. I called her Mama Emery. That is a title higher than Dr. Emery.”
Dr. Emery, who founded Heritage United Church of Christ with her late husband, Vallen L. Emery Sr., died Wednesday, August 19, 2020. The Ashburton resident was 93. At Baltimore Times press time, funeral arrangements for Dr. Emery were still being arranged.
Rita Harris-Bowers is a lifelong member of Heritage United Church of Christ, located on Liberty Heights Avenue.
“My parents came soon after Dr. Emery and her husband started the church,” said Harris-Bowers. “She and her husband tried to join a church and were denied. That’s what got them going to start Heritage. Thirty years later, the church wrote an apology for rejecting them. Dr. Emery had that letter posted in her house. She was a powerhouse. No matter where she went, people knew who she was.”
Harris-Bowers reflected on Dr.Emery’s quest to ensure students went to HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities).
“She started so many organizations at Heritage, including a college tour,” said Harris-Bowers. “We rode for a week on the bus, and would hit all the HBCUs along the way. She knew all the college presidents. Once they were on that college tour, a lot of those kids got full scholarships. It brought tears to my eyes. She wanted every person that crossed her path to get a higher education.” She added, “She was well into her 80s still riding that bus. There is not one young person that would not have something powerful to say about Anne Emery and her support in their journey of academia and beyond.”
Lynda M. Brown said she was a mentee of Dr. Emery. “I first met Dr. Anne as a child in the early 1960’s in the basement of the Heritage United Church of Christ, where the Baltimore Chapter Jack and Jill of America met to participate in positive cultural experiences,” said Brown. “Throughout my life, Dr. Anne was a mentor and adviser. I admired her commitment to community organizations and her dedication to the education of all young people she encountered. Dr. Anne was always crisp, well-groomed, stylish, smart, and full of integrity.”
Dr. Emery received a bachelor’s degree at Tuskegee University and went on to earn a master’s degree in education from Morgan State University (formerly Morgan State College). She earned a doctorate in education from Temple University.
A native of Thomasville, AL, her illustrious career in education included serving as vice principal of Lemmel Junior High School. She served as principal of Walbrook High School from 1971 until 1980.
Tanya Diggs, a 1977 graduate of Walbrook, recalled Dr. Emery’s loving, but stern leadership. “Dr. Emery did not play,” recalled Diggs with a laugh. “She was very strict. She called me in her office if I was late. She would also call my mother and let her know. I got a beating when I got home. Dr. Emery kept me in trouble and out of trouble at the same time.”
She added, “Dr. Emery was hard on me. She said I would learn, and I did. She loved us all, and cared about us as if we were her own children.”
Dr. E. Lee Lassiter, an alumnus of Tuskegee and a retired newspaper columnist and educator, also recalled Dr. Emery’s leadership at Walbrook. His wife, the late Louise Lassiter, was an administrator at the school.
“My most memorable memory is how Dr. Emery did and viewed things as principal at Walbrook,” said Dr. Lassiter. “It was another school in the city system, but in my view, she operated it like a prep school. I recall the large room where she had the names of her 3,000 students on that board. She tracked each of them individually. She pointed their names out to me, and said, ‘this one needs this, and this one needs that.’ She tracked them, and through her own individual determination, she made sure they got it.”
He added, “That’s how Walbrook got so many Merit Scholars. She also scoured the city looking for the kind of teacher she wanted, and did what she had to do to get them on the Walbrook faculty.”
Dr. Lassiter said he and Dr. Emery worked together in the founding of the Baltimore Tuskegee Alumni Association. “The Alumni Association’s annual breakfast, which will be 40 years old, was her brainchild. I am awed by her impact. She didn’t start things that were temporary or fly by night. She started things that lived beyond her. She inculcated into others that they carry out things at a level of excellence she would have demanded if she were here.”
Dr. Emery was chartering president of the Baltimore Chapter of 100 Black Women and a member of the Baltimore City Commission for Women.
“I worked with Dr. Emery in the Baltimore Chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women,” said Dr. Thelma T. Daly. “We have a very strong chapter because of her strategic planning and very focused vision for the chapter. Dr. Emery did not vacillate. She was no-nonsense and she wanted everything just right. If people took a role, she expected them to execute their role with excellence.”
She added, “Dr. Emery was always accommodating. She enjoyed having meetings at her home, and we enjoyed going there. She would pull out the best china.”
Dr. Emery’s storied career also includes being appointed to the Maryland Higher Education Commission by former Maryland Governor Bob Ehrlich. She also chaired the board of directors of Bluford Drew Jemison STEM Academy, a school she is credited with helping to start. “Dr. Emery was an educator from the heart,” said Rose Hamm, former principal of Frederick Douglass High School. “All she wanted was for her children to make it and be productive. She had high standards. You could feel her coming down the hallway. She will be missed.”
Dr. Emery’s is survived by one son Dr. Vallen L. Emery Jr., six grandchildren, and a host of other relatives and friends.