By Wilma Goldstein 

The Pyatt Sisters, Martrelle (left) and her sister Monique (right); Courtesy of Author

“Where Are They Now” is a Southwester series allowing us to catch up with some of SWNA’s Education and Scholarship Task Force (ESTF) recipients. I was told that the Pyatt sisters, who received scholarship funding from ESTF, would make a compelling story. After interviewing each of them, and their mother, Mary Thomas, there was no way I could do a story about the sisters without writing about the whole close-knit family.

Mary Thomas, born in Arlington, VA, has lived in DC since she was a small child. In 1990, she moved her family from Southeast DC to Southwest and she has been here ever since. You may have seen her distributing food at the James Creek food bank or volunteering at one of the Thelma D. Jones Breast Cancer Fund (TDJBCF) events. 

Mary finished high school in Spingarn’s night school program. She worked in retail and co-owned an office cleaning business. However, the career she is particularly proud of is spending forty years caring for children. The last 10 years of her career, she worked for and supervised the infant care room of her church, Greater Mt. Calvary in Northeast DC.

Mary and the late Michael Pyatt’s children all live and work in the DMV. The eldest child, Michelle, worked in the medical field and is currently pursuing a degree in business administration. Michelle has three children of her own. Her two daughters, Martrelle and Monique, are ESTF scholarship recipients and have three children of their own – Martrelle’s two sons and Monique’s one. The youngest of Mary’s children, Michael (now 32 years old), is an IT specialist who has written for The Southwester.

The youngest brother, Josh (24 years old), is their father’s son and was fortunate to have Mary and her children raise him. Early in his life the family took him out of foster care. He lived with Michelle until he was 9 years old and then he went to live with Martrelle, where he is now. Josh graduated from high school, attended college, worked in food service, and is now pursuing the music business. The family is very close and refer to themselves as the “Fab 5.”                                   

Martrelle and Monique are close in age. Both attended what used to be Jefferson Junior High School in SW and graduated from Eastern High School. 

School was gratifying for Martrelle. She was an accomplished student and considered becoming a lawyer, graduating valedictorian of her high school’s pre-law program. Her university of choice was Georgetown where she received several scholarships all four years, including the ESTF scholarship. At some point, she decided to change from law and enter Georgetown’s McDonough Business School from which she graduated. She said making that switch was like re-applying for entrance in the university, but she did it! Recently, Martrelle completed a master’s in business administration.    

Martrelle graduated right after 9-11 and was interviewing for a job at the Pentagon when it was bombed. She had great difficulty finding work, but eventually accepted a position with the Marriott Corporation where she worked for several years.                                                                                      

Monique had learning challenges in her elementary school days and experienced some bullying. Yet, she went on to receive the Most Improved Student Award at her elementary school, maintained a 3.0 GPA at Jefferson, and continued to do well in high school in the Health and Human Services Program. Wanting to become a social worker, she majored in sociology at Trinity College where, in 1999, she received an ESTF scholarship for her sophomore year. 

A Trinity professor observed her difficulties with exams and asked if she had ever been tested for learning disabilities. Upon hearing she had not, she made the arrangements for her to do so. Tests showed Monique was dyslexic, which explains the difficulty with her studies. Once she was diagnosed, her studies became easier and more productive for her.

Both women were influenced by their mother and maternal grandmother, whose philosophy was to serve people, not give up on yourself, and never say never. Monique also considers her late Aunt Vivian as a mentor and Martrelle stays in touch to this day with Juva Hepburn who she was assigned to in high school as part of a DC program called Mentors, Inc. Ms. Hepburn continues to serve as an advisor and friend. The Pyatt sisters have benefitted from the influence of strong-willed women who in teaching them to never give up, didn’t give up on them either.

Neither women have been afraid to rethink their lives nor make dramatic changes mid-stride. In spite of their slightly different paths, both women have spent most of their working years with the Federal Government. Each also worked for the government as interns while in high school. 

Martrelle has worked in the federal government for almost 20 years, and has served at several agencies in business and accounting positions. She eventually transitioned into her current field, contracts and acquisitions. In that position, she has had the opportunity to deploy with the army to Kuwait on assignment, gaining additional exposure to overseeing contracts on behalf of the federal government. To make some of her job changes, Martrelle has been willing to “take a step back in order to plunge forward,” occasionally working at a lower grade for less money. She now benefits from those sacrifices in a new position at the Department of Labor where she is able to utilize everything she has learned.

Monique has also worked for the Federal Government for over 20 years at several agencies,gravitating toward human resources work to feed her need to help people. She still counts several of her superiors as friends – people who influenced her as she has navigated through her career. 

Though a busy career woman, her family has always been a high priority, and she and her husband waited a long time to have a successful pregnancy, losing a pair of twins during that process. Their son is given a lot of time and attention from them both.

The five children of Michael and Mary Pyatt have set their sights on the next chapter of their lives and are setting up an LLC named “Michael and Mary 5 Enterprise” – after their mother and father. The “5” represents all the children. They are creating a real estate investment company that will purchase buildings and, in the spirit of helping others, provide affordable housing to those who need it.

At the end of my conversation with Mary, she told me that when her eldest daughter Michelle graduates from college, she will have four children with college degrees. “Proud Mary” – well deserved.

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