Dorothy "Didi" Eloise Hasson
December 29, 1928
August 28, 2020
Dorothy "Didi" Eloise Hasson Peters of Roanoke, Virginia, passed away peacefully on Friday, August 28, 2020, having long ago achieved her lifelong goals of becoming an educated woman and having a loving family, and nearly seven years after proclaiming, on her 85th birthday, that she had decided as a young woman that she would die at the age of 85. While there was normally little that could keep Didi from executing a plan once she had made it, her last years were also some of her most treasured: she concluded her unfailing cycles of mentorship and reclaimed some of childhood through her family, her friends, and by returning to places that were the origins of her oldest and happiest memories.
Didi was born to a family of pioneer stock on December 29, 1928, after her mother was hit by a car in South Bend, Indiana. Her survival as a newborn was uncertain, but soon Didi grew into the beloved troublemaker among her seven siblings. Didi was a child of the Depression, and her family was forced to move frequently to follow her father's employment opportunities, but this experience brought adventures to her and her siblings that Didi often fondly remembered, including a summer spent working in a carnival near St. Louis. After the family had settled in Bellevue, Illinois, with her father operating a small airport, Didi was awarded a scholarship to study at St. John's Lutheran Academy in Winfield, Kansas, where she and her female classmates were referred to as the "naughty nine." After graduating from high school, Didi left on a trip to visit her elder sister, Janet, at her new home in Virginia. Although she was later supposed to continue her scholarship at St. Johns College, she boarded the train to Virginia without intending to return to her life in the Midwest, and thus began to build her life on a foundation of independence that would last her more than 70 years.
This wasn't the easy way out. Didi began her career as a teacher at age 18, and later began studying nights and weekends to get her first college degree, which she finally received from Roanoke College in 1961, at the age of 32. During that time, she also married James Robert "JR" Peters and gave birth to their son, James "Jim" Peters. While raising Jim, Didi rose through the ranks of school administration, overseeing the bussing efforts to racially integrate Roanoke City Schools, and began work on her master's degree, which she received from Radford University. After her divorce from her husband, Didi joined the first class of doctoral students that accepted women at the University of Virginia, and battled through the male-dominated culture of the University to receive her doctorate in 1980, at the age of 51.
Didi broke glass ceilings for women in education administration throughout her life. She worked in the Virginia Educational System for much of her career, holding positions in Petersburg, the Eastern Shore, and Winchester, finally ending her career in Virginia as the assistant superintendent of education for Frederick County Public Schools. But Didi wasn't finished: soon after, she accepted a job as the chair of the education division at Alice Lloyd College, a work-study school in Pippa Passes, Kentucky. The days Didi spent at Alice Lloyd are some that she remembers most fondly, often describing them as the crown jewel of her work experience and her way of giving back to the Appalachian community after so many years living and working in southwestern Virginia. Didi retired for good in 2005 and returned to Roanoke, after spending more than 30 years away.
Didi always said she wanted to wear out, rather than rust out. After returning to Roanoke, she kept in close contact with her former students, made new friends, spent more time with her family, and took on a mentoring role to many young people. She met people everywhere and could talk to anyone, counselling anyone who would listen that education could change their lives for the better, as it had for her. As her family grew older, they spread out to homes in new places, using their education as their opportunity to open doors and better their own lives, just as Didi had before them. Though we shared many happy holidays and visits together in her final years, we were kept painfully apart during her final days, relying instead on the memories of her guidance to us and reflecting on how she had so profoundly affected our lives, as she had to so many others. Didi left this world independently, ending her life as she had lived it, knowing that we were close to her because she had helped lead us to our independent lives, full of love for our roots and our family. She will be deeply missed by her family, her friends, and her students, who will all carry on her heritage of compassion, philanthropy, and a fondness for learning.
Didi is survived by her brother, Arthur Hasson; her son, James G. Peters; and her two grandsons, Bradley and Alexander.
She was predeceased by her first husband, James R. Peters; her sisters, Alice Hasson, Janet Poole (née Hasson), and Doris "Jo" Chartrand (née Hasson); and her brothers, Frank Hasson Jr., Marshall Hasson, and George Hasson.
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