by Kristi L. Nelson
Willie B. Jones Moore didn’t intend to become a nurse. But once she was one, she couldn’t imagine any better calling, said her daughter, Joyce Hampton.
Ms. Moore, who died April 12, enrolled in college in 1947 with aspirations to teach high school English. But her father insisted she take advantage of then-segregated Knoxville General Hospital ‘s paying tuition and expenses for black women to get bachelor’s degrees in nursing from Meharry Medical College in Nashville. The catch: a one-year commitment to General.
“The City of Knoxville needed black nurses” to work in the wing of General that treated blacks. General was the only local hospital that treated black patients in the era of segregation, “but none of the nursing schools here admitted black students,” said Dr. Barbara Reid, retired associate dean of the University of Tennessee College of Nursing, who graduated from both Austin High School and Meharry with Ms. Moore, her close friend. “They would rather spend the money to send us away to college than desegregate the nursing schools here.”
That meant those black nurses had bachelor of science degrees, while most of the nurses caring for white patients had only nursing diplomas.
“Our patients got great care,” said Sharron Fitzgerald, a nurse at General trained by Ms. Moore, who both practiced and taught nursing there.
“She was an excellent teacher — patient, but very thorough,” Fitzgerald said.
After General, Ms. Moore worked for Knox and Anderson county health departments and volunteered long hours during the push to eradicate polio, Hampton said.
When the hospitals desegregated in 1963, Ms. Moore began a 25-year teaching career at St. Mary’s School of Nursing.
The same qualities that made her an excellent nurse made her a wonderful mother to her two daughters, Hampton said: “She was gentle, kind and loving with us just like she was with her patients.” But “she set the bar high” for her daughters’ education.
After retirement, she enjoyed her grandchildren, had a passion for mission work through her church, Cherry Street Church of God and was caregiver for her ill husband, Clifton Moore, who also survives her.
Source: Knoxville News Sentinel – Friday, April 16, 2010 – Section: News – Page: 9