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White, V. Ethel Willis (1920-2003)

Theendowment named in honor of V Ethel Willis White is unusual in that the person honoredwas not a wealthy woman in the usual sense of the word.  Instead V Ethel Willis White’s wealth derivedfrom her inspiration to others.

White began life in 1920 in Homer, Louisianaas one of 13 children born to Arthur and Nora Willis.  Her early life on the 644-acre farm owned by Willis’sgrandfather established a pattern for living where faith, love of family, hard work,and cooperation were the norm.  Ethel Willismigrated north to Kansas City, Missouri,where she attended nursing school, and then in September 1947 she moved to Seattle seeking a fresh start.  Willis quickly found employment as a domesticservant, making herself indispensable to the Helen Marie and David Wyman family.

Although White and her husband LaVerne, whom she married in 1948, never had anychildren of their own, she became a “second mother” to the five Wyman children.  White’s twenty-eight year tenure with the Wymanfamily was the impetus behind a University of Washington Press endowment that nowbears her name: the V Ethel Willis White Endowment for African American Literatureand History.  The $100,000 endowment, consistingof contributions not only from the Wyman family, but also from White’s larger circleof friends and acquaintances in Seattle, was established in 2003 shortly after White’sdeath to assist the UW Press in publishing books both by African American writersand about themes pertaining to African American history and literature, intellectualareas Ethel White cared about.  The endowmentpublished its first book in 2004: Passingthe Three Gates: Interviews with Charles Johnson, edited by Jim McWilliams.  A second book, On American Soil: How Justice Became a Casualty of WWII by Jack Hamann, was published in 2005.

White is also remembered as a woman who was active in her community.  She opened her South Seattle home, which was called“The White House,” to visitors.  The housewas repeatedly featured on the Mt. Baker Annual House & Garden Tour in Seattle.

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