COLUMBIA — Mediator, mentor, mother. Beulah Ralph was all these things and more.
Mrs. Ralph was a strong advocate for educational equality in Columbia schools. She directed the Columbia Public Schools’ home school communicator program, a program initially established to help bridge the achievement gap that black students faced after desegregation. She retired in 2005, after working for the district for 58 years.
“Beulah was probably the most well-known person in the Columbia Public Schools by the entire citizenry,” retired educator Eliot Battle said.
Mrs. Ralph died Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2010. She was 83.
Mrs. Ralph was born Jan. 31, 1927, in Hardin to Raymond and Daisy Davis. Friends and family remember Mrs. Ralph as a dedicated and capable woman who gave herself effortlessly and tirelessly to her work. No student was too difficult, no problem too big.
“She was determined. When problems arose she was going to get them solved, and she always did,” Battle said.
Battle first worked with Mrs. Ralph when he was an assistant principal and she was a secretary at then-segregated Douglass High School. After desegregation, both worked to make the transition easy for students, faculty and staff.
"She made parents feel comfortable in settings unfamiliar to them,” Battle said, referring to interracial interactions. “She was the one that made sure each side understood the other. After Beulah intervened, both sides were smiling at each other. She was one person who made integration of school move very smoothly.”
Monica Naylor, Mrs. Ralph’s only daughter, admired her mother’s dedication and concern for all students, regardless of race.
“I want people to know it wasn’t for minority students, it was for everyone,” Naylor said. “To her, children and families were all the same. A child with a problem is a child with a problem, regardless of the color of their skin.”
Naylor described her mother as a “very independent woman, very strong-willed, very determined.” But for all her strength, she was still gentle with and respectful of the students.
“She spoke in a quiet voice. She had a smile. Students recognized her sincerity and her genuine love and caring for them. Kids always respected Mother, I think, because she always respected them,” Naylor said.
John C. Kelly, retired educator and former director of the Secondary Learning Center, remembers Mrs. Ralph from a young age when Mrs. Ralph and her sister would baby-sit him. They also attended St. Paul A. M. E. together, and Kelly would visit Mrs. Ralph in her office when he attended Douglass.
“She was kind of like a surrogate aunt,” Kelly said.
Kelly wasn’t a member of the home school communicators but worked closely with Mrs. Ralph and her staff, providing “double treatment” for kids in the community, Kelly said.
Kelly also visited Mrs. Ralph in her office at Douglass, just to make her laugh.
“We had great fun talking about things that kids did and said and things that parents did and said,” Kelly said. “We supported each other.”
Mrs. Ralph’s dedication inspired Naylor to become an educator herself.
“She was my role model,” Naylor said. “And she certainly made me the person I am today, and for that I am grateful. To everyone else she was a friend, part of everyone’s extended family. She was just a sincere, giving, dedicated, loving individual.”
Visitation will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday at H.T. May & Son Funeral Home, 2207 Holly Ave. Services will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at St. Paul A.M.E. Church, 501 Park Ave.