Skip to content

Reflections: JOBS Coalition Remembers Board Member I. Margaret White

By Arnesa A. Howell

Ida Margaret White, or I. Margaret White as she was commonly known, was a lady with spark. Just ask any of her fellow
JOBS Coalition Board members, who recall her as “feisty” and a “champion” of youth education, employment, ex-offender and other issues at the forefront of the coalition’s efforts. On March 19, this longtime board member passed away at the age of 91. Here, Stephen E. Tucker, president of the JOBS Coalition, and John McMahon, chairman of Miller & Long Concrete Construction and a JOBS Coalition board member, share their memories of a woman who stood firm in her beliefs.

What is your fondest memory of her?
Tucker: My fondest memory of Margaret is the encouragement she gave me when I took over as president of the JOBS Coalition. She was very supportive and predicted great things for the future, and in a way, that spoke to her many years in the federal government. She said that my “hands-on experience” working with the unemployed and ex-offenders would prove valuable.

McMahon: Eight years ago, I had a very strong heart attack that should have been fatal. I was talking with her about how my intuition immediately told me the sensation in my chest was very serious. I drove myself to the hospital and got there in 7 minutes. I was talking about how lucky I was. Ms. White cocked her head because she knew that wasn’t it. She wagged her finger and said, “God just wasn’t finished with you yet.” She was a person of great faith. That epitomized her presence.

What unique qualities did she bring to the board?
Tucker: Margaret was a strong voice for the youth of the District of Columbia. In many of my side conversations with her, she would say, “Now Reverend, whatever decisions we come to, we must think about the youth!” She would always refer to programs that would keep our children from getting involved in the criminal justice system.

What stood out the first time you met/talked with her or saw her? How would you describe her?
Tucker: My first impression of Margaret could be summarized in these words: “A feisty lady!” You could tell immediately she was a leader and a very outspoken person. She was forceful in her conversation, which conveyed her many years working for the federal government. You could tell she was a “problem-solver.” As we often said back in the day, she was “large and in charge.”

McMahon: She had a presence and she was very elegant and had a lot of personal grace. You could tell she was an important person and kind of transcended into our world from the greatest generation – that certainly would have applied to her. She was very passionate about the things she thought were important, and she certainly thought education and working with young people were important. She was [also] … as we all were, very discouraged about the state of public education. She came through public education and was one of the most educated persons I’ve ever met in many, many ways. She was trying to make a difference.

What issue was she most passionate about when working with the JOBS Coalition?
Tucker: In my opinion, she was most passionate about the work the coalition was doing with “ex-offender reentry.” She was not at all comfortable with the difficulties they were experiencing getting jobs after they had paid their debts to society. She was also passionate about the challenges they were facing in obtaining affordable housing, since that was her specialty with the federal government. She felt they should be given every opportunity to be successful. Virginia’s latest law giving ex-felons who have finished their sentences the right to vote would have been cause for Margaret to rejoice.

What did you learn about her as a person from serving together on the board?
Tucker: I recognized that Margaret had her priorities straight. She loved God first and that love for God naturally spilled over to a love for humanity and one’s neighbor. She would often quote her own mother and apply it to situations of the present. I also learned that she had a “never give up” attitude and spirit, which manifested itself through the contributions she made to address issues faced by the board. She would often say, “We have to get to the bottom of this!” Finally, I learned that age was not going to deprive her of the opportunity to serve. She once said, “I’d rather wear out than rust out!”

McMahon: If she thought something was not going right, that warm smile disappeared and a stern look came on her face – and she was all business about correcting what she thought wasn’t coming down right. So she could be both people, and change quickly. I think that’s probably what I admired about her the most, that she didn’t get hoodwinked about anything. She was right on the job. Great lady. I do miss her. She was always a champion of what we’re trying to do.

This piece has been edited for content and clarity.