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Willa Washington was born on Tuesday, May 20, 1941 in St. Louis, Missouri to the late William Bobbitt and Pearl (Beasley) Bobbitt. She was one of five children, her older brother, Hugh Bobbitt, Sr., sister, Marcella (Bobbitt) Taylor, and Baby Pearl preceded her in death.
Willa grew up in North Webster Groves, was educated in the Webster Groves School District and attended Douglass, which was one of the few all black schools in the area. She was a high achieving student there and a proud Douglass cheerleader until forced integration occurred in 1955. Willa transferred to Webster Groves High School and participated in the band playing the clarinet, Student Council, Pep Club, Red Cross and was a Library Assistant. She graduated in 1959 and was very proud to be among the first black graduating class of a formally all white school. She moved to Chicago to advance her education and be closer to her older sister, Marcella, and father’s side of the family. She earned a degree from Chicago Teachers College, was a Data Processor for the Chicago Police Department, and a Principal Clerk for Chicago Health Department.
Willa was a Renaissance Woman
Upon moving back to St. Louis from Chicago, Willa was moving into her trailblazing years to have exponential accomplishments and successes. She began teaching part time at the re-opened Douglass School that was under the leadership of the late Henry Givens. While working at Douglass, she continued to advance her education by earning several licenses and certifications until she started her long career at St. Louis County Government, Public Works Department. While there she earned many job titles that made her the 1st - first female and first African American in her field to oversee all residential construction in St. Louis County from the pouring of the foundation to the detailed electrical and plumbing work. She began as a Permit Clerk, and moved up the ladder to be a Building Inspector, Lead Residential Inspector, Lead of the Code Enforcement Division, Designation in the Missouri Association Building Officials and Inspectors, and International Association of Electrical Inspectors. When Willa retired in 2003, she was honored by every major residential building company and many contractors in the region. She was respected for her intelligence (knowing every code book by heart), integrity, sharp and meticulous eye, work ethic, truthfulness, assertiveness, determination, fairness, and the respect she showed to everyone.
In addition to her successful career, she also desired to give equal love and dedication to a family of her own. When Willa returned to St. Louis, she married her childhood friend, David B. Washington in 1968. He once said she was so intelligent, determined and could accomplish anything she set her mind to that she could have been Muhammed Ali’s boxing daughter - that was the kind of strong woman he wanted in his life. From this union came their beloved daughter, Pamela Washington. She was the apple of their eye. There were many joyful years filled with regular family life and they always looked forward to having large family parties, celebrating special occasions, and attending family reunions. It was important for Willa to travel and experience the world. The family enjoyed seeing and learning about historical places, events, and what different cultures had to offer. Some of the favorite trips were going to World’s Fairs, Disney World, Civil Rights sites, Washington D.C. and visiting family around the country. Willa LOVED her large family and enjoyed being with them all the time. The marriage to David was dissolved after twenty-five plus years but the two remained dear friends for the rest of her life.
“Must Be Jelly Cause Jam Don’t Shake Like That”
When Willa was a little girl she was jolly, had a pep in her step and was given the nickname “Jelly” by her Uncle Earl Beasley. She lived a joyful and robust life. She loved her family through and through and loved you even if you weren’t blood related. She was an amazing cook, loved entertaining and being a fabulous host! Her card parties were the talk of the neighborhood; friends and family couldn’t wait for the next one. She made it her mission to ensure that everyone had laughter, cocktails and left well fed. She loved spending her extra time shopping and going to lunch with her daughter or sista’ cousins - she never missed a bus trip to the outlet malls, which resulted in her having multiple colors and versions of the same items. Willa had great style and impeccable taste. When she wasn’t shopping, she attended sporting events as a season ticket holder for the Cardinals and Rams football teams, enjoyed performances at The Fox Theater, Powell Symphony Hall and visited many cultural events or exhibits all over the country.
More than a Name
Over the years, her hobbies included learning how to swim, playing golf, knitting, bowling, creating stained glass art and calligraphy writing. She loved listening to music, especially Motown; Marvin Gaye was her favorite - she thought he was SO fine! When one of her favorite songs came on, she couldn’t wait to get on the dance floor or join a line dance. Willa had an infectious laugh that was contagious. She was a very thoughtful and generous gift giver making sure everyone around her felt valued and special. She was a servant to her community volunteering at her church, serving on various committees for the Douglass Alumni group, City of Webster Groves and the Webster Groves School District. She valued keeping the history of North Webster alive by sharing the history of Douglass School on the PBS show “Living St. Louis”. She was very proud to know that many of these stories and the rich history had been chronicled in a book titled, “North Webster: A Photographic
“History of a Black Community”.
Willa was a member of “Harmony Grand Chapter Order of Eastern Stars” and belonged to Alma A. Clark Chapter #54. She became a Past Worthy Matron of said chapter after serving for two years as Worthy Matron. Willa also served as Grand General Treasurer on the Harmony Grand Chapter level. She chaired several committees during her active membership.
Willa will greatly be missed and leaves to cherish her memory; her life's soulmate and great friend David B. Washington, daughter, Pamela Washington Littleton (David), cherished granddaughters, Madeline and Elizabeth, sister Kay Harry, cousins Barbara Jean Tarkington, Jean Jones-Roberts, a host of nieces, nephews, other family members, including Paula Littleton, the entire Littleton/Franklin Family and many friends. She had a special relationship with one cousin, Vicki Jones Ballenger.