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'Dean of Vienna' Dies At 105

Three years ago, Gladys Dean wrote a perspective on her life. Here's her story.

Members of the honored the life of its oldest member, Gladys Dean, on Thursday.

Dean, who died Jan. 24, was 105.

Dean was born Sept. 5, 1906 in a Vienna that looks much different than it does today. She didn't have a birth certificate because Virginia didn't offer them at the time; she took eggs to Willie's Market in exchange for candy; there was no running water or electricity, and no indoor bathroom.

Three years ago, she wrote the following perspective on her life. Among the highlights: She was married three times, went to the "Colored School of Vienna" and worked at the Pentagon. At the time she wrote this, around 2008, she had seven grandchildren, 19 great grandchildren and 35 great-great grandchildren.

This, in her words, is her story:

"The years go by quickly. It’s hard to believe. I was born at our home in Vienna, delivered by a midwife. That’s how it was done then. There was one white doctor and one white undertaker, Money & King in Vienna.

I don’t have a birth certificate because Virginia didn’t offer them at that time. My parents were Katherine Muse and Frank Henry Harper, and I had a sister, Myrtle, who was two years older. My grandfather, William Harper, was a freed slave. My life was centered on the immediate colored community in Vienna. In those days the town of McLean seemed far, far away.

I spent little time there except for the years I worked for the CIA out in Langley. Then I would take Chain Bridge Road to and from work. But my life was my community, which was made up of my family and the First Baptist Church of Vienna.

Vienna was just a small town when I grew up. Life was very rural. My parents had a good size house, but we had no running water, electricity and gas. We did not have an indoor bathroom. We had a well with a line attached to the ceiling of the well house outside our house to bring up the water on a well wheel For lights we had oil lamps. An ice man would come by once a week and Mama would purchase a large chunk from him to put in the ice box. Myrtle and I would bathe in a big wooden tub filled with water that Mama heated from the tea kettle on the cooking stove in the kitchen. There was another smaller wood stove in the dining room. These two wood stoves heated our house.

Even though we were poor, my parents had everything necessary to get by. I recall a horse, cow, pigs, ducks, chickens, guinea pigs and pigeons. Papa would sit by the pig pen and the pigeons would fly all around him. They were good eating. He was not a hunter. Papa milked the cow and made butter to sell. The little pieces left over were put on a plate for us to use. We had a vegetable garden and canned using Mason jars. Our garden contained onions, tomatoes, string beans, lima beans, squash and pumpkins. People came by with peaches for sale and Papa would buy from them. The jars containing tomatoes, peaches and apple sauce were kept in a closet. There weren’t any freezers.

Papa had difficulty walking and was an invalid. He stayed in a barn one winter and lost his toes to frostbite. He worked for the Bureau of Engraving and lost his job to reorganization, but they needed people who could walk. We lived on his little check. Eventually he found maintenance work for a family named Hines. The Hines gave the colored people property to build the Forest Church. The church had a good-sized congregation. We were all poor, but we found the money to build it. After the church grew and money started flowing in, they built a new church. It was called First Baptist Church of Vienna. I’ve been a member for almost 90 years.

My sister and I walked from our house for Sunday School and after that waited for church until Mama arrived. Papa stayed home. It was just too difficult for him to walk. We did have a horse and buggy, but it was too much for him to hitch it up and drive it. Mama didn’t work. Papa took good care of her. He would buy clothes for her and she would wear them to church. That was the day everyone wore their finest clothes and looked their best. Women wore hats. Women looked good in hats. I don’t like hats, but back then, you had to wear a hat to church.

My sister and I attended school at the Vienna Colored School, a little oneroom building. It had no inside water and no inside bathroom. We walked to the school, which was located at Lawyers and Malcolm Roads. It was a good way. We had to go over rough roads and hills. A bunch of us got together and walked there rain or snow and carried a bag with our lunch. Usually it was a peanut butter sandwich. There were no buses and no good roads then. Maple Avenue was nothing but mud. The school was later taken down and Wyndell Carter built a home there. I finished all the grades except for high school. The colored could only attend high school in Manassas or Washington. Manassas was just too far in those days and to continue my education in Washington was just too expensive. We didn’t have the money. So after the eighth grade we stayed home and played while Papa found us a job.

There weren’t any stores available. People gave us clothes. Mama did a little crocheting. We usually walked up to a little store called Willie’s Market near our house. We had a lot of chickens, so we didn’t need eggs. Papa would give us girls a couple of eggs to take to the store and the man would give us candy.

I have been married three times. I buried all three husbands. My first husband was Robert W. Carter, whose father was Charles Carter. I was 16 when we married. This was in 1922. I was also 16 when I started driving. I could drive on my father’s permit in the beginning then I could drive on my husband’s permit. Later on I could drive on my own.

No longer having children around, my parents adopted two children, Jack and Ernest. When Robert and I separated, I moved back with my parents to help raise them. I married Joseph Dean during the Depression years.

We moved into a house on Maple Avenue near Nutley Street where a 7-Eleven is today. We had two biological children, Barbara and Fannie. I just love children. We adopted Paul Lowe, so now I was raising five children. My children also walked to school. They attended Louise Archer. For high school, they rode a bus to Manassas. It was a long trip and a long day.

When Barbara was 12, she was crossing Maple Avenue and was hit by a taxi. She was left unable to care for herself for the remainder of her life. Life was difficult. Joe and I separated. Without a husband and having an invalid daughter, I needed to go to work. In 1942, I found employment at the Pentagon and later the Navy Annex. After the CIA was built I went to Langley and retired from the CIA. Mama and Papa helped with caring for Barbara.

During the war years I met Roy Johnson, a serviceman returning from combat. We later married. Roy straightened our life out. He was instrumental in helping get Barbara into D.C. Village, a place for patients of all ages who needed constant care. For more than 50 years every Sunday and all holidays I visited Barbara, taking her snacks and little treats. I retired and took care of the family.

As I said before, I love children. I got lonesome after retiring, so Roy and I decided to take in twin baby girls, Kim and Kelly. We also raised one of my granddaughters, Juelitta Thomas, until she became an adult. In 2001, I lost Barbara to the Lord. After Roy died, I moved back to Vienna where I lived until moving into the Iliff Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Dunn Loring four years ago.

I can’t walk anymore. That’s hard to get used to. They don’t know what the problem is. I guess my feet just got tired. I’ve had a good life. The children have been one of greatest things that happened to me. Besides Julietta, I have six other grandchildren, 19 great grandchildren and 35 great-great grandchildren. I am truly blessed. People are constantly saying to me, “What do you want now? Remarry?’’ I tell them, “Indeed I would!’’ You see life gets lonesome. I’m looking for a good man. He can be on crutches. I don’t care. It’s all about the company.”

Gladys Dean is survived by her daughter, Fannie Thomas, and many other relatives and friends.

Aimee Davis February 04, 2012 at 02:36 PM
Thank you for sharing this story about Mrs. Dean, her family and her life. It's a wonderful reminder about where history has brought us and about the simple blessings in life.
Denetra February 04, 2012 at 04:50 PM
OMG!!! A beautiful story told by a beautiful woman. I was crying while reading this until I got to the part about her new husband being on crutches...haha. That is love. She had it deep in her heart and it showed. RIP You beautiful woman.
LaNelle Renfroe Johnson February 05, 2012 at 05:40 PM
My daughter still lives in Windover Heights. We lived off Lawyers Road (1971-1990)near all of the area this dear lady is talking about. She and our youngest daughter attended Louise Archer Grade School. Our four daughters graduated from James Madison High School. They would back and forth to school. What wonderful memories of all the things she speaks of in her story. I worked at Mackall, Mackall and Walker in Fairfax and got to learn all about the wonderful history of Fairfax County and surrounding counties where my ancestors lived. I am a collector of all the history and was a friend of Mayo Stuntz who wrote the nice book on Vienna. Vienna is a place I shall never forget. LaNelle Renfroe Johnson, East San Diego County, CA
LaNelle Renfroe Johnson February 05, 2012 at 05:42 PM
I would like to keep up with the news of Vienna
Kimberley Bradley February 06, 2012 at 03:23 AM
My Mom was a very special lady full of wit, wisdom and love. She will be greatly missed, but those who had the pleasure of knowing will forever cherish her in our hearts.

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