Thelma Pinkney, 1929-2005
Mary Lou Atkinson
"She was the sweetest person in the world," said Thelma Pinkney's niece, Theresa Pinkney of Phoenix. "She was just so giving," agreed Leslie Lee of Fort Washington, Md., a cousin of Walter Pinkney, Thelma's husband of 55 years.
But that doesn't mean that the retired Jefferson Parish schoolteacher didn't set certain standards for her nieces and nephews -- as well as her students, many of whom stayed in touch with her long after their school days were over.
As sweet as she was, "I always remember her having very high expectations of others, and it would really make me feel good to have her say she was proud of me," said her niece, Barbara Reed of Phoenix. "For her to give you a compliment, it really meant something."
Theresa Pinkney also has memories of her aunt's high standards, recalling an incident in her childhood when she lived for a time with her aunt and uncle after her father was injured in a car accident.
"She was teaching me how to do laundry and such," Theresa said. "I folded up the underwear and put it away, and she said, 'Did you iron that underwear?' " When Theresa, taken-aback, said no, she was instructed to take out the underwear and iron it, and promptly did so.
"I always laugh at that, but now I iron everything," Theresa said. "She started me off doing things properly. Anything you wanted to know about proper etiquette, she could tell you."
Opening their New Orleans home to their niece in a time of need was only natural to Thelma and Walter Pinkney, who did not have children of their own. "We devoted our lives to our nieces and nephews," said Walter, a retired truck driver now in Phoenix with Reed.
He met his future wife, then Thelma Turner, when she was a Southern University student. "She was in school in Baton Rouge and I went to look at a football game," he said. "We courted for about two years and we decided to marry."
In addition to her teaching career, Thelma Pinkney was active in Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc., Epsilon Sigma Chapter, and in the Cliquers Club, a Carnival organization that traditionally hosts a brunch on Lundi Gras, the day before Mardi Gras. "She was so devoted to the club they elected her president for two years," her husband said.
That was before pancreatic cancer began sapping her strength. But even when she was ill, she never complained, Reed said. "She didn't want others to feel sorry for her."
Thelma Pinkney lost her battle with the disease at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, where she and Walter had evacuated to escape the effects of Katrina. He was bused from New Orleans to Oklahoma, where he was able to contact family in Phoenix and make arrangements to recover her body. He said he is planning to hold a memorial service for his wife in Baton Rouge on what would have been her 77th birthday, Feb. 19, 2006.
Asked what he will miss the most about her, Walter Pinkney said, "Everything." He paused and then repeated: "Everything. Everything."
Published in The Times-Picayune