Contributions of Eleanor Monroe Lauded


(Friday, March 16, 2007 11:02 AM EDT)

Eleanor Monroe, a former School Board chairman and member of Arlington's most politically prominent African-American family, died March 11 at Virginia Hospital Center.

“She's the reason I'm here today,” School Board Vice Chairman Frank Wilson said at the board's March 15 meeting, noting Monroe's legacy.

Monroe was appointed to the School Board on May 1, 1971. At the time, the School Board was an appointed body, and Monroe received the nod on a 4-0 vote.

Monroe's appointment broke a racial barrier, and came at a time when the school system was still grappling with desegregation, 12 years after its first school was integrated.

“We have the potential for an excellent [school] system,” Monroe said at her appointment.

At the time, Monroe was a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against the school system, charging that Arlington officials weren't moving fast enough to desegregate Drew Elementary School, one of the county's all-black schools. When appointed, she was in the unusual position of, technically, suing herself.

(A year later, the school system voted to bus Drew students to mostly white schools.)

Former School Board Chairman Mary Hynes said she considered the board under Monroe a “very forward-thinking board,” and one that focused on child-centered learning.

“She was an amazingly gracious woman, so dedicated to making sure that all kids had opportunity,” Hynes said.

Wilson praised Monroe's “gentle firmness, and a willingness to go into the community” to listen to concerns. School Board Chairman Libby Garvey called her “an amazing lady.”

Monroe was tapped as chairman of the School Board a year after her appointment. At the end of her first four-year term, she opted not to seek re-appointment, and was succeeded by Thomas Penn, another African-American.

Monroe's husband, Thomas Monroe, broke another color barrier when, in 1972, he became Arlington's first African-American judge.

Tom Monroe served on all three levels of Arlington's judiciary in his career: on the Domestic Relations Court from 1972-76, on the General District Court from 1976-82 and on the Circuit Court from 1982 until his retirement due to illness in 1982.

Thomas Monroe died in 2005.

One of the couple's children, Charles Monroe, was elected to the County Board in 1999, and on Jan. 1, 2003, became the board's chairman.

But, less than two weeks later, Charles Monroe died of a stroke that occurred while he was chairing a board meeting.

Paul Ferguson, who was vice chairman under Charles Monroe and currently leads the County Board, said he was a beneficiary of Eleanor Monroe's guiding hand on the School Board.

“She is part of Arlington history, and her role with the School Board, and the struggles that she had, made things much more harmonious for the next generation, which was mine,” said Ferguson, who attended Arlington's public schools in the 1970s and '80s. “And as a student in Arlington, I feel I benefited greatly from her work.”

Last year, Eleanor Monroe was recruited to participate as a judge in the “Dancing With Arlington's Stars” competition, which raised funds for the Bonder & Amanda Johnson Community Development Corp. to build housing and provide social services to residents of the historically black Nauck community in South Arlington.

Monroe and another “Dancing” judge (and former School Board member), Margaret Lampe, used the event to showcase their fun side, dressing up in high-spirited fashions.

“She wore black fishnet stockings, kicker heels, a red skirt, an almost see-through black blouse and a red boa,” Lampe recalled. “She looked absolutely stunning.”

“Eleanor was a regal lady, and she was firm and fair and very bright,” Lampe said.

Survivors include a son, Thomas Monroe Jr.; a daughter, Patricia Monroe Meek; and six grandchildren.

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