Daisy Portee Withers passed away peacefully on January 17, 2021.
Born in Camden, South Carolina, on June 24, 1924, Daisy was raised on a farm outside nearby Lugoff township before accompanying her family to High Point, North Carolina. At age twelve, she entered Mather Academy, a private boarding school in Camden devoted to providing its African American student body with a high quality education. Upon graduating, she studied at West Virginia State College in Institute, West Virginia. During World War II, Daisy moved to Washington to make her own personal contribution to the war effort by working in the Departments of Agriculture and Defense. In 1953, she earned a Masters Degree in education at North Carolina A & T University in Greensboro, North Carolina.
In 1947, Daisy married John L. Withers of Greensboro and, for 25 years beginning in 1958, shared his life as a Foreign Service Officer in the U. S. Agency for International Development. They had two sons, John II and Gregory. Their assignments carried the family to Asia (Laos, Thailand, Burma, and Korea), to Africa (Ethiopia and Kenya), and finally to India. Dr. Withers was one of the first black officers in USAID and was the Mission Director in Ethiopia and India. John retired in 1982 and the couple lived the rest of their lives in Silver Spring, Maryland. He passed away in October, 2007. (Their son, John L. Withers II, also served as U.S. Ambassador to Albania.)
Throughout her long life, Daisy remained a committed teacher, working not only in a variety of international schools abroad, but wherever there were community needs. (In Laos, for example, she taught English to a group of orange-robed Buddhist priests.) In 1960, when political turmoil forced the American community in Laos to evacuate to Bangkok, Thailand, the U. S. Ambassador appointed Daisy Principal of the hastily-established school for the evacuated children. Under trying circumstances, she managed to ensure that the uprooted students’ education continued uninterrupted. The Ambassador gave her a special award in recognition of her success. Years later, in 1983, she won the coveted Agnes Meyer Teaching Award for her outstanding work at the Gateway Alternative School in Montgomery County, Maryland. She was further selected as one of the finalists for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Teaching Science and Mathematics in 1984.
Daisy’s generous nature and effervescent personality won her friends all across the world. As her sons, John and Greg, wrote of her: “Our mother lived life as well as anyone we know. There was always a freshness in her spirit and a joyousness in her soul. She loved everyone. We know that she has gone to a sweeter rest than we can imagine. We are graced to have her as our mother.”
Her ashes will finally be interred next to her husband, John, at Arlington National Cemetery at a later date.