Family and class members of the former Olympian from Greenwood, Willye B. White, gathered for a memorial service Sunday at the Leflore County Civic Center.

White, 67, of Chicago, died of pancreatic cancer Feb. 6, 2007, at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

The program included greetings by state Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood, prayer by Rev. Calvin Collins of New Zion Missionary Baptist Church, reflections by class members and a tribute by the Greenwood High School cheerleaders.

"She was feisty. She was her own person," said classmate Melverta Henderson. "That's not what you did back then."

White was very opinionated, was not influenced by peer pressure, always wore a big smile and would help you in any way she could, Henderson said. She made their whole class feel special. White's exposure to people from other countries and races reinforced her belief in judging people not by skin color but by the content of their hearts, Henderson said.

At the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games, while a sophomore at what was then Broad Street High School, White become the first American woman to medal in the long jump and won her first silver medal.

She competed in the following four Olympic games, making her the first American to compete on five track and field teams.

She won her second silver medal at the 1964 Tokyo Games in the 4-by-100 meter relay.

"Willye B. didn't care how complicated something was. She worked to do her best," said Joe S. Hayes, 82, who taught her chemistry and math at Broad Street.

She never talked about her teacher and would work until she got it right, said Hayes, who has taught at Mississippi Valley State University for 20 years.

Tommy White Jr., White's first cousin, spoke on behalf of the 21 family members present.

"We are very appreciative of all the love and honor that has been bestowed on our beloved Willye White," he said.

White obtained a bachelor's degree in public health administration in 1976 from Chicago State University.

Besides competing, she was active in sports through coaching and consulting. In 1991, She formed the Willye White Foundation, which taught sports and self-esteem to children living in a housing project.

"To the citizens of Greenwood, this is history. This is our history," Greenwood Mayor Sheriel Perkins said at the service.

White was chosen by "Sports Illustrated" in 1999 as one of the 100 greatest athletes of the century and by "Ebony" in 2002 as one of the greatest black female athletes.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.