Anne C. Wilson-Johnson, who went from the cotton fields of her native South Carolina to the classrooms of Baltimore public schools where she became an acclaimed educator during her more than three-decade career, died Oct. 16 in her sleep at Brookdale Senior Living in Pikesville. The former longtime Forest Park resident was 94.
“Anne Wilson was a remarkable person in her time or anytime. I can never have enough praise about her,” said Virginia Roeder Wenger Cobb, who retired in 1984 as deputy superintendent of Baltimore public schools, and had been the former principal of Herring Run Elementary School. Dr. Cobb also had been an Evening Sun food columnist for more than 20 years.
“She was a woman who had high standards and brooked no nonsense,” said Dr. Cobb, formerly of North Roland Park, who now lives in Land o' Lakes, Florida. “She was as good, kind and loyal as anyone could be.”
“She taught me so much about life, how to treat people, life skills, and how to sew. She was just a wonderful person and a true educator," said Marietta Cook English, who was president of the Baltimore Teachers Union for 21 years before retiring in 2018, and who is Mrs. Wilson-Johnson’s goddaughter.
“She taught me how to teach in the classroom. Get up and get to school on time. Turn in your assignments on time and work to the best of your ability,” the Pikesville resident said. “She was a taskmaster, but in a kind way, and to have faith in God and your work.”
The former Anne Lee Cooke, the fourth of six children, who was the daughter of Thomas Henry Cooke Sr., a mechanic, and his wife, Julia Melinda Cooke, was born and raised in Bishopville, South Carolina.
“Her family was poor but she was always proud that she had picked cotton to help with her family’s finances,” said a daughter, the Rev. Canon Sandye A. Wilson, retired rector of St. Andrew and Holy Communion Episcopal Church in South Orange, New Jersey, who now lives in Forest Park. She said she’d pick 125 pounds of cotton and receive a $1.25.”
Her parents sent her to Mather Academy, a private African American boarding school in Camden, South Carolina, from which she graduated in 1944. She earned a bachelor’s degree in 1948 from Hampton Institute, now Hampton University, in Hampton, Virginia, in 1948.
“She said she was lucky because her parents said that education was a liberating force,” her daughter said.
Mrs. Wilson-Johnson began her professional career as a student teacher in Charlotte, North Carolina, public schools, and in 1951 joined the faculty of Maryland State College in Princess Anne, now the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Two years later, she moved to Baltimore and started teaching home economics, nutrition, survival skills, sex education, and crafts in city public schools.
During that time, Mrs. Wilson-Johnson decided she wanted to earn a master’s degree and applied to the University of Maryland, and was denied entry because she was an African American. African Americans wishing to earn master’s degrees were sent to out-of-state schools such as Columbia University, New York University or the University of Chicago, at state expense, including transportation.
She applied to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where she earned a master’s degree, and also did graduate work at the Johns Hopkins University. “She received an Ivy League education courtesy of the taxpayers of Maryland,” her daughter said.
“I first met Anne more than 60 years ago,” Dr. Cobb said. “I was her home ec supervisor when she was teaching at Frederick Douglass High School. She was one of my closest friends in Baltimore and when schools were integrated, it made no difference that she was Black and I was white.”
The two colleagues and friends did a great deal of curriculum design during the summer months.
“I remember one that was required for 10th grade students, which was about survival skills, such as how to read a newspaper, apply for an apartment or balance a checkbook."
She added: “She was a beautiful woman who dressed beautifully, and she was smart, and her children were very smart, and they all succeeded in the world.”
Mrs. Wilson-Johnson shared a love of fine clothes with her Forest Park avenue neighbor, Vera Hall, who also taught in city public schools. In the mid-1980s the two women established VeraAnne Ltd. in the basement of Mrs. Wilson-Johnson’s home.
“So, we had a lot in common. We made clothes for special occasions and wedding clothes,” said Mrs. Hall, a former city councilwoman and head of Maryland’s Democratic Party, who now lives at the Springwell Senior Living in Mount Washington. “I knew prominent women in government and business, and she knew prominent women in education. We also shared a love of the needle and thimble, and we were doing this when we both had full-time jobs.”
Some of their clients included Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski and Sarah Eastman, who was the wife of the former bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, A. Theodore Eastman.
“Each day we came from paying jobs to a hobby,” said Mrs. Hall, who said they closed the business after six years.
Mrs. Wilson-Johnson was an active member of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in West Baltimore where she had been president of the Dorcas Guild, which made vestments for the church.
In 1988, she was appointed by the presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, Edmond Lee Browning, to his blue-ribbon task force on sex education and human sexuality, and she was one of the authors of “Sexuality: A Divine Gift.”
In 1976, Mrs. Wilson-Johnson became the first African American to be named to the board of St. Paul’s School for Girls, and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke appointed her to the Planning Commission, where she served for nine years.
Her love of travel resulted in another career when she became a travel agent in the 1980s at Roland Park Travel.
Her husband of 15 years, William Llewellyn Wilson Jr., a businessman, died in 1970.
In 1994, she received a phone from Wendell Lucian Johnson, former deputy head of the Chicago Housing Authority, her college sweetheart 50 years earlier at Hampton. He told her his wife had died and she told him that she was a widow.
“He jumped on a plane and came to Baltimore carrying two dozen roses,” her daughter said. “And he told her all he wanted was one more year with her. They married and he died in 2014, three days short of celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary.”
Though she was legally blind and deaf for nearly 20 years, Mrs. Wilson-Johnson adjusted the letters on her Kindle and iPad so she could read at least one book a week.
When the senior living community where she had lived for the past three years allowed face-to-face meetings, her daughter went to visit her mother.
“That was Oct. 8, and the last thing she did was sign her absentee ballot of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and told me to drop it in the mail,” her daughter said. “She died a week later.”
She had been an active member of Black Episcopalians and the NAACP.
A Zoom digital tribute to Mrs. Wilson-Johnson will be held at 7 p.m. Saturday. Those wishing to attend need to send an email to email@example.com no later than Wednesday and a link will be sent to their email or phone.
In addition to her daughter, she is survived by a son, C. Anthony Wilson of Durham, North Carolina; another daughter, Deirdre Wilson-Redmond of Teaneck, New Jersey; three stepsons, Wendell L. Johnson Jr. of Englewood, California, and Jeffrey Johnson and Brian Johnson, both of Chicago; a stepdaughter, Virginia Harrell of Denver; a brother, Wilbur Cooke of Randallstown; and 10 grandchildren. An earlier marriage to Dr. Evangylee Baldwin ended in divorce.