Olivia Messiah, a former Baytown educator and the first Black woman elected to the Goose Creek Independent Consolidated School District (GCCISD) School Board, died on Feb. 14 at the age of 84. She was the mother of Defender CEO and Publisher Sonceria “Sonny” Messiah-Jiles and mother-in-law of business leader Jodie Jiles.
Mrs. Messiah was a beloved mother, grandmother, sister, chef, mechanic, funeral director and mortician, musician, fisherwoman, huntress, traveler, Girl Scout troop leader, music and art teacher, mentor to many of her students, and always outspoken and forthright.
She was the second of five girls born to Orvis Marvella Cartwright and Oliver Alfred, and her parents instilled the value of education at an early age.
“We were not allowed to bring home any grades lower that a C,” Mrs. Messiah told the Baytown Sun in 1999. “My mother was adamant about education; she was there to motivate and stimulate us. I wish more parents would motivate and stimulate their children from conception. We were poor, but we always knew that we were going to college. In those days, the only thing Blacks could be were teachers, preachers or nurses.”
Mrs. Messiah graduated from George Washington Carver High School in Baytown in 1948 and enrolled in Prairie View A&M University at the age of 13. She graduated from Prairie View in 1952 with a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education. After graduation, she began teaching classes at Prairie View at the age of 17. She later began teaching at Harlem Elementary School in the Goose Creek Independent Consolidated School District (GCCISD).
“I enjoyed teaching the elementary students,” she said. “I loved to see their growth and development. I had so much fun teaching that I didn’t think that I should be paid for it. Back then, teachers went that extra mile. We knew that we had to do more than just teach.”
After 14 years of teaching, Mrs. Messiah saw her career come to an abrupt end in 1967. “I was bringing a dance group on stage and part of the ceiling collapsed. My first instinct was to get the kids out of the way and I tried to cover them with my body, and part of the ceiling fell on me.”
Mrs. Messiah suffered severe injuries in the accident, including a cervical injury and was hospitalized for six months. She went on disability leave for nearly three years. After much mental and physical pain, Mrs. Messiah retired from her first love – teaching – in 1970.
Mrs. Messiah attended Lee Junior College and took a course in Instructional Swimming, as well as courses leading to a certification in Auto Mechanics. She then turned her attention to Mortuary Science and attended the Commonwealth College of Mortuary Science.
After graduating in 1978 in the top 10 percent of her class, Mrs. Messiah opened Messiah’s Memorial Chapel Funeral Home in Barrett Station. In 1988 she closed the funeral home, stating “It became too much to handle by myself.”
After a long, rich history as a community activist and GCCISD volunteer, Mrs. Messiah decided to run for a District I seat on the GCCISD Board of Trustees. In January 1993 the school board held its first election under a single-member voting plan, and Mrs. Messiah became the first Black woman elected to the GCCISD School Board.
“Being a member of the school board was a heavy responsibility,” she said. “It’s not prestigious work; it’s very rewarding word. I felt as if those were my 18,000 kids, no matter what color they were.”
Mrs. Messiah retired as a board member in June, 1999 due to health problems and always said her overall experience with the school board was a positive one.
“My desire for the district is for the parents to get more involved,” she said after retirement. “If that happens, other things will fall into place. All kids can succeed. That is part of my nightly prayer for all 18,000 of them to succeed. When I stop caring, then it’s time for me to die,” she said with tears in her eyes.
Mrs. Messiah instilled strong values in all of her children.
“I taught my kids that you can be anything that you want to be and do anything that you want to do as long as you work for it. I taught them to love and respect themselves; and with God all things are possible.”
She is survived by three of her proudest achievements, her children, including her daughter, Clydette Messiah, Ph.D., Assistant Principal at Hamden High School in Connecticut, and son, Clyde “C.J.” Messiah Jr., Interim Director, General Services Department, City of Houston (wife Dawn).
Mrs. Messiah is survived by her three sisters, Minnie Stringfellow, Dr. L. Jean Perry and Shirley Johnson; and was predeceased by her sister, Evelyn Forward. She is also survived by her four grandsons: Jodie and Clyde Jiles; Clyde J. Messiah III (wife Brandy), and Justin Sonnier (wife Jessica); four nieces and numerous family members and friends.
At the request of the family, no services will be held. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to: UT Physicians for Healthy Aging-Bellaire, 6700 West Loop South, Suite 130, Bellaire, TX, 77401. Condolence cards may be sent to: The Family of Mrs. Messiah A. Messiah, Attention: Sonceria “Sonny” Messiah-Jiles, P.O. Box 8005, Houston, TX 77288.