Editor's note: We had planned to feature Alice last fall but she declined several times to be interviewed. In spite of her reluctance, we have now secured her son Guilford's permission to remember her. We have "borrowed" and combined several accounts written by Guilford and added some incidents of our own to several described at a lovely Quaker Memorial Meeting in the Arts Center on Saturday, March 20th.
Alice, we hope you will forgive us for not strictly adhering to your wishes.
Alice Madaline Woodson Queen was born on November 23, 1918 in Akron, Ohio, the daughter of Morris Alfred Woodson and Loretta Davis Woodson. In 1945 she moved to Washington, D.C. to attend nursing school at Freedman's Hospital. It was an exciting time for a young woman to be in the city, as World War II was drawing to a close. Alice joined the Nurse Cadet Corps, tending the sick and badly wounded as a surgical nurse. She always said that, for her, nursing was a calling, not just a job, as her life subsequently demonstrated.
In the late 1950's, her nursing career took a different turn. Alice joined the Health Service staff of Howard University. As a health service nurse, she saw that the students in her charge received the medicines they needed, she gave them motherly advice, and, characteristically, she made sure they got to class on time.
Ready for a change, in 1970, Alice accepted a position at Sidwell Friends School, where she worked until her retirement in 1986. She also practiced private duty nursing at the Washington Hospital Center where she was a ward supervisor. Alice was the first African American faculty member at Sidwell Friends; she was extremely proud of the fact that her son Guilford was the first African American student to go through all thirteen academic years.
Alice's impact on Sidwell Friends came first from the force of her personality. She embraced the school community with charm and zeal in her roles as a health care professional and a school parent. Her office was a warm and welcoming place for students, faculty, and staff, regardless of race. At the memorial service for Alice, one of Sidwell's first African American students and a classmate of Guilford in the Upper School recalled with great fondness his conversations with her, his "second mother," as he struggled to adjust to this new and difficult situation. Always supportive, she offered strength and counseled wisely. Another former student, Courtney Pastrick, related how she and her friends used to stop by Alice's office every day to visit during their lunch period. They talked about everything, and nothing in particular. She listened, commented, and enjoyed, but they were always sent on their way before they could be late for class. Alice's main job, of course, was to take care of those who were ill, and she did so with competence and concern; malingerers, however, were sent promptly back to class.
This was the Alice that we all remembered, a loving person who could, on occasion, be somewhat intimidating. Alice said exactly what she was thinking, and she had high standards. I remember asking one of my students who took herself a little too seriously what Mrs. Queen had said when I sent her to the nurse's office. "Buck up," she replied. A friend from Alice's book club recounted how Alice had informed her that she was taking up too much of the conversation. "Alice, I hope I'm not talking too much this time," she said with a smile at the memorial service.
One Friday afternoon, in the 1970's, John Mahoney, former Upper School math teacher, opened his front door to find Alice and a Sidwell sophomore poised to enter. Upon "orders" from Alice, he and his wife took a surprise weekend away by themselves. At the time, the Mahoneys had a four-year-old and one-year-old triplets. John commented that Alice was the only person to whom he would have entrusted those precious children. It was a weekend that he and his wife will never forget. Another former student who had broken his leg playing football could still picture the way Alice took charge, making sure that the EMT's gently carried him to the ambulance. Finally, Jeanette Levin spoke of the treasured friendship that had grown between herself and Alice when Alice served as her room parent during Guilford's fifth grade year. As Jeanette said, "I was proud to call Alice a friend."
School was only one part of the many facets of her life. Alice loved her role as a wife and mother. Her family always had fun and felt warmth and safety in her presence. Her husband Curtis, whom she fondly called "Dearie," adored dancing the night away with his Alice, while she and her son were friends and world travelers together. She lavished love and affection on her grandson Lealin, a current student at Sidwell Friends. Not surprisingly, during her last illness, Guilford and his wife Shegaftah took Alice into their home to care for her.
A childhood friend of Guilford recalled that Alice had taught her the true meaning of Mother's Day, in her very different approach to the being-feted-and-waited-upon occasion. Instead of allowing herself to be pampered, Alice would prepare a very special meal with everyone's favorite desserts. Those lucky enough to be invited were served by her, and she insisted on cooking and cleaning up by herself. This was her gift on Mother's Day. Her many nieces spoke of her high standards. As one of them put it, "Aunt Alice was above all else a lady and impressed upon us the importance of conducting ourselves in a similar fashion."
In the last weeks of her illness, Alice and Guilford had many conversations about her life. Alice's own appraisal was that her faith in God was evident in her daily activities. "I tried to lovingly improve the lives of others though healing hands, true words, as well as sound medicine." That is how we will affectionately remember her.
ADDITIONAL TRIBUTES TO ALICE QUEEN
Felicia Taylor-Lewis, formerly of Admissions, shares the following memories:
"Apart from our lunch time meetings in the Sidwell cafeteria, we always took walks together after lunch. This was just one part of Alice's emphasis on healthy living. I was most impressed with how she was able to control her diabetes by ALWAYS eating right. She used to say to me, "Felicia, if you feel like eating something you are not supposed to eat, take just one bite of it and savor it; then push it away. This satisfies the taste buds, and you no longer feel deprived."
Whenever Alice saw a need that she could fulfill, she did so without waiting to be asked. She willingly provided and arranged flowers for Zartman House and watered and trimmed all the plants there for as long as I can remember. She even arranged flowers for graduation. Alice often babysat the young children of Zartman House employees when Lower School closed early. She entertained them with snacks that she insisted on providing, played games with them, and read them stories. Sometimes the children didn't want to go home.
Alice did not hesitate to let me know that I was not dressing my four year old son Karl properly. At the time, Karl's legs were too short for him to hop easily onto the school bus. Alice pointed out that the problem lay, not so much with his legs, but with the fit of his trousers. Karl was in between sizes so his pants rode low on his hips. Alice said, "Felicia, have you never heard of elastic? Bring me all of his pants, and I will make sure his little legs can stretch enough to get him on the bus." Naturally, I complied, and she elasticized each one of them. Needless to say, Karl had no further problems!
Alice was a great comfort to me. She saw my need for companionship when she invited me to join her on a 14-day cruise through the Panama Canal. When I exclaimed over some of our land adventures and the scenery on each island of call, Alice replied, "Been there, done that!" She wanted to go to Hawaii, but we never made it. Sorry, Alice. I truly miss her.
Jeanette Levin, retired fifth grade teacher in the Middle School, writes:
"Alice Queen was my first room mother and what a room mother she was! She was the best. Did I know that Alice was a nurse? No. But when she took charge of a kid who got sick on our first field trip and rode back to school on the bus with Martha's head in her lap, I knew she was the ultimate in kindness and consideration, not to mention bravery, for my student had been throwing up!
Alice was not afraid of speaking up. She always told it like it was, mincing no words. She was comfortable with herself. She was devoted to her family and all of us at school were part of that family.
A snazzy dresser, always in good taste, Alice had an air of elegance. When we were invited to a party or a student's wedding, we liked to sit together because we enjoyed one another's company. Alice and I kept in touch after retirement, sometimes only sporadically, but we had good feelings for each other, always.
Alice was a lovely-looking, wonderfully caring, and capable person. She was my friend."
From Vera Dickey, retired from Zartman House:
"Alice Queen, Sidwell Friends Middle and Upper School nurse from 1970 to 1986, dispensed much more than aspirin and bandaids from the Infirmary in the lower level of Zartman House. During all those years, her assistance and expertise were available to all members of the Sidwell Friends family, and most students, faculty and staff members found their way to the Infirmary from time to time for medical repairs or just a little cheering up, as needed. An alumnus, Steven Dickey '73, recently spoke for many when he said that he "liked Mrs. Queen very much and especially appreciated her forthrightness and honesty, conveyed through her manner of speaking: She did not mince words; you knew exactly where you stood."
Alice, who received her R.N. from the Freedmen's School of Nursing, maintained an open door policy, inviting any member of the SFS family to bring concerns of any kind to her - - and so they did. It was not just the pervasive feeling that Alice Queen could take care of any ache or pain that brought Sidwell family members of all ages to the Infirmary. It was also understood that not only would the treatment be correct, but that all information would be held in confidence forever. And the medical treatment, which always included some soothing words of comfort and advice, plus follow-up care, also often included wisdom quoted from her husband, Curtis.
Over the years, a few SFS administrative staff colleagues formed an informal lunching-out group and met on weekends at a participant's home or at a neighborhood restaurant. Alice was a wonderful cook and produced cakes of all kinds, seemingly with the ease that others toast bread. The focus was not on Sidwell Friends at these sessions but rather on our families and activities - - just the usual topics discussed among friends; and we became ever closer and more supportive friends throughout the years.
To offset the calories consumed, some members of the group participated in a tap dancing class at Ellington School of the Arts. Alice, as usual, brought energy and joy to the challenge and totally embraced the daydream of the group that they would appear primetime live by popular demand!
Alice's greatest joys, however, derived from her family members and their accomplishments: Curtis, a lifelong mainstay of the U.S. Postal Service; their son, Guilford '72, with his foreign service assignments; her daughter-in-law Shegaftah's work; and Alice's grandson Lealin's early years as a Sidwell Friends student.
I am honored to have been invited to write a tribute to the memory of Alice Queen. As usual, the introductory paragraph presented writer's block, until my eyes fell upon a recent ad in the Washington Post, inviting "nurse of the year' nominations. I feel certain that I would have much company in remembering Alice Queen as the most effective school nurse of all times.