Carletha N. Westbrook, who was a crossing guard for nearly 39 years, shepherding generations of schoolchildren across Baltimore streets, died Oct. 13 of cancer at her Randallstown home. She was 70.
Dressed in her regulation uniform of a dark serge skirt, white blouse, fluorescent orange vest, white gloves and white cap, she was a familiar figure for the past 17 years at Fremont Avenue and Winchester Street, helping children on their way to William Pinderhughes Elementary School in West Baltimore.
For 22 years before that, she was stationed at Carlton and Mosher streets.
Mrs. Westbrook, a former West Baltimore resident who retired in June, was addressed by the students as "Miss Crossing Guard" or "Miss Carletha.
She was described by Jean Evans, a crossing guard sector supervisor, as "soft-spoken but carrying a big stick who safely crossed hundreds and hundreds of children during her career."
"She greeted them each morning with hugs, but she was also a disciplinarian who expected them to listen to her, and they did," said Mrs. Westbrook's daughter, Jacquelyn W. Forte of Lochearn.
"She loved the children and they loved her," said Iona Smith of Walbrook, a fellow crossing guard and friend for 25 years.
Marian E. Matthews, who worked as a crossing guard at Carey and Winchester streets, said, "She'd wipe their noses, button their coats, tell them to put on their gloves and give them other motherly advice. On career day at school, she'd speak about the importance of learning to read, write and staying in school."
Mrs. Westbrook went to work as a crossing guard in 1956.
"She loved children, and the work hours allowed her to be home with her own children," Mrs. Forte said. "She was driven by that and was dedicated to her job. I doubt that she missed more than two weeks of time in her 39 years of work.
"She was [the students'] extended mom and knew and remembered all of their names and, at the end of her career, was helping cross grandchildren of children she had known years ago," the daughter said.
"When she got off her corner, she'd find out if there was an elderly person who needed to go to the doctor or the market or whatever and she'd take them in her car," said Mrs. Matthews, a JTC Sandtown resident. "All the old people were asking about her yesterday at Fremont Avenue and Mosher Street, and I had to tell them that she wasn't coming back."
The former Carletha Nickens was born in Lancaster County, Va., and educated there. She came to Baltimore in 1946 and married Preston Westbrook, who died in 1993.
Services will be held at 12:30 p.m. today at New Shiloh Baptist Church, Monroe Street and Clifton Avenue, where she had been a member for 49 years.
Other survivors include two sons, Arthur J. Westbrook of Randallstown and Thaddeus L. Westbrook of Ahoskie, N.C.; her mother, Elzenia Travis of Lancaster County; four brothers, Sterling Nickens of Baltimore, Edward Nickens Jr. of Syracuse, N.Y., and Roosevelt and Russell Nickens, both of Lancaster County; five sisters, Ernestine Yerby of Hyattsville, Sadie Sydnor of Lancaster County, Sally Curry of Syracuse, Peggy Morris of Hempstead, N.Y., and Lousetta Carter of Newport News, Va.; nine grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.