By Angela Rice
Mrs. Vera Mae White, Jefferson Jr. High School’s illustrious former principal, peacefully passed away on Saturday, August 7, 2021 at the age of 86. A devoted wife to Blanchard White for 62 years and the mother of three sons, she led a life of faith in God and faith in the power of education. Mrs. White was nationally and internationally known for her 40 years of educating the District of Columbia’s youth, and was selected for more than 100 awards, including the Washington Post Distinguished Educational Leadership Award and the McGraw Prize in Education.
Born in Leesville, Louisiana to a minister and a nurse, Vera succeeded early in school and was selected for an accelerated three-year program at Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. On campus one day, Blanchard White said hello and started a relationship that would last a lifetime. Vera, her husband, and young sons moved to Washington, DC in 1963.
Vera often awoke early and went to sleep late as she raised three boys and pursued a career as an educator. During the school year, evenings were full of cooking dinners, mending torn pants, tending to her sons’ bruises and checking homework. Summers were full of visits to Louisiana and DC museums, plus time to watch the soaps (“As the World Turns” was a particular favorite) and read (she always had two or three books on her nightstand).
As principal of Jefferson Junior High School, Vera focused on what the kids could do rather than what limited them. Former President Bill Clinton once remarked when visiting Jefferson that he was overwhelmed by its can-do spirit. Mrs. White’s emphasis on math and science led to Jefferson winning National Math Council competitions and later garnering a $1.1 million donation from the COMSAT Corporation. She received national recognition for introducing character training focused on courtesy, caring, respect and responsibility. Jefferson also became the first DC public school to be recognized as a U.S. Department of Education Blue Ribbon School.
Throughout Vera’s career, it was clear that her priority was always “her kids.” A passionate advocate for DC students, she once said, “You have to care a lot for them and get them to care about themselves. Let them know that what they are doing is important. Sometimes kids just need someone to say ‘I care.’”
Mrs. White is survived by her husband, Blanchard, and was preceded in death by a son and a sister. She is survived by two sons, a brother, a sister, and many nieces and nephews.
A campaign to rename Jefferson Middle Academy as the Vera Mae White Middle Academy is being developed. For information on how you can express your support for the renaming, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.