About a week before Georgia Nell Woodley died, Ann Brown stopped by the house on Lee Avenue to visit.
It was not unusual for people to come by unannounced to see Georgia Nell. They came not only to see her, but to find out what was going on in Parramore and beyond. For most of her adult life, Georgia Woodley was the switchboard of the black community. As secretary of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church, she knew everybody and everything that was going on.
"Miss Woodley was the cornerstone of Parramore itself," said Art Cole, 88. "She was the one people went to when they wanted to know what we should do."
On this day, Ann Brown sat on the sofa in the small living room of Georgia Woodley's house with a plaque of appreciation from Mayor Glenda Hood by the front door and asked Georgia how she was feeling. Georgia gave her stock answer: "Pretty good for an old woman."
And then she turned the conversation away from herself. How is Miss Sarah doing? When was the last time you saw Howard? What's the city doing about Federal Street and Otey Place? Are they building the housing they promised?
The community switchboard, confined to her house, wanted to know how the outside world was doing.
"To the very end, I don't think Miss Woodley knew what 'quit' or 'give up' means. It wasn't part of her personality," said Brown, president of Callahan Neighborhood Association.
That interest in others, that concern for the greater good of the larger community, is how Georgia Nell Woodley became a leader in Orlando's black community.
In 1962, when Woodley joined seven other families in the lawsuit to desegregate Orange County schools, she was vice president of the Orange branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and secretary of Mount Zion, where she would serve for 45years.
But even before the lawsuit, Woodley was picketing the grocery stores on Orange Blossom Trail that refused to hire black cashiers, working with Jones High students who were conducting sit-ins at dime-store lunch counters, and organizing voter-registration drives.
After the lawsuit, she took her family to Daytona Beach when other blacks were afraid to go there. They went to restaurants where they were the only blacks among the customers. They went to movies and sat among the whites when the theaters were desegregated. And in 1973, she organized the Callahan Neighborhood Association to press the city for better services for the homeowners who chose to stay instead of flee the inner-city neighborhoods.
"My mom was a community activist all her life," said Pam Woodley, 57.
Her mentor was the Rev. Nathaniel Staggers, whose Mount Zion church became the recruiting grounds for participants in the desegregation lawsuit. Woodley didn't have Staggers' force of personality, but she inspired the same results.
"If she is assigned a responsibility, she is going to sit down, think and plan what should be done," said Marie Palmer, who knew Woodley from their days together with the NAACP. "Then she would meet with the group, they would discuss it together, and when they finished, they were all of one accord. That is what I call good leadership."
Part of Woodley's leadership style came from being the oldest of five children born to a roofer and a laundress. After her parents died, Georgia stepped up as the matriarch of the family.
She introduced her youngest sister, Marjorie, to the adult world — helping her pick out her first "After Five" formal dress at 16 and then her wardrobe for her first day as a teacher.
To her siblings, the woman they all called Nell was the role model of a successful, single black woman. She dressed with style, carried herself with dignity, and commanded respect without raising her voice.
"She was our bigger sister who graduated from business school and had a great job. We just looked up to her," said her sister Dorothy West.
In 1997, Georgia Nell Woodley retired from her job as church secretary. She remained involved in community activism but suffered from a broken hip that led to back problems. By the time of Ann Brown's visit, Woodley was confined to her house under the care of her daughter, Pam.
Georgia Nell Woodley died the day after Thanksgiving in 2005 at age 82, having achieved what she preached was the purpose of life: Leave the world a better place than you found it.
"My mother believed it's not when you were born or when you die. It's what did you do with your life in between," Pam Woodley said. "That is truly how she lived her life."
Jeff Kunerth can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-5392.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun