In celebration of her 108th birthday on June 10, 2014, Mildred Phillips Leaver enjoyed many cards and letters and her usual birthday cheesecake. On Monday, June 23, she passed away peacefully in her sleep.
Often celebrated as a dedicated and exceptional Missouri educator, she spent more than 60 years focused on the needs of children and teachers. Mildred was both an elementary teacher and principal and, after retirement, was a substitute teacher into her 90s. She then began what she said may have been her most valuable contribution, volunteering three afternoons a week to teach reading to at-risk third graders.
Active as a professional educator, she became president of both Missouri Classroom Teachers and the Missouri State Teachers Association. She was state director, National Education Association.
After her retirement in 1971, Mildred gave hundreds of inspirational speeches to retired groups. She became president of Missouri Retired Teachers Association and was state director, National Retired Teachers Association during which she organized 52 MRTA chapters.
She was Missouri’s delegate to the White House Conferences on Aging in 1979 and again in 1991, senator and president pro tem, Silver Haired Legislature, and chairman, Governor’s Council on Aging. She successfully urged her many legislative friends to pass many bills aiding retired citizens. Mildred often cited her father, a boy at the Wilson Creek Battle of the Civil War who was active into his 90s, whose motto was “always stand for what you believe.”
Born in 1906, Mildred was the youngest of seven born to Clara and Marion Phillips. She and her twin, Marian, grew up on a prosperous farm near Springfield, Missouri and drove their pony and buggy to the country school. For months in 1919, they and their mother drove a horse and buggy on the dirt roads of Greene County, urging neighbors to approve women’s right to vote. When the 19th amendment passed in 1920, Mildred was a freshman at Willard High School and very proud that her mother was the first woman to vote in their precinct. The twins attended Springfield Teacher’s College, a one-building school that is now Southwest Missouri State University.
After college, Mildred was a home economist for May Kelly Kitchens demonstrating the new electric stove in department stores in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Missouri. As the Depression deepened, such advertisement ended. Mildred’s twin taught in Pacific, Missouri and, when one of the teachers married, Mildred was hired. At the time, married woman were generally not allowed to teach children.
In 1934, she became a home economist for Union Electric in St. Louis, and in 1936, she married Lawrence “Larry” Leaver, head of science in the St. Louis Public Schools. In 1940, after graduate school at the University of Illinois, they moved to Rolla, Missouri where Larry was a professor of physics at what was then the Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy.
In 1948, Mildred returned to teaching and continued as teacher, principal, substitute teacher, story teller and volunteer until she moved to be with family in Atlanta in 2008.
She is survived by daughter, Lari Murry and husband Don, of St. George Island; granddaughters, Alison Murry, and Karen Murry Flynn and husband Dennis; and great-grandchildren Caroline and Sam Flynn.
Mildred asked for a simple “family graveside gathering” as did Larry. She wished gifts in her memory to be for “the donor’s favorite organization that focuses on children.” She noted that family and friends often join in a celebration of life for the deceased. She asked that her friends and family remember her joyful 100th birthday festivities as well as their participation together in many activities and events.
Mildred will rest next to Larry in the family plot in Springfield.