Miss Veola McLean (“Little Sister”), 89, died Tuesday, February 9, 2021, at Magnolia Gardens Assisted Living, which had been her home for the past six years.
Miss Veola McLean was many things… pioneer, educator, veteran, historian, mentor, activist, advocate, philanthropist, super voter, MLK marcher, Black History exhibitor, scholarship fund founder, rabid collector of “Black Cultural History”, and, most of all, lover of life, “good trouble” and all things West Southern Pines. She ran toward life, not away from it even when glaucoma later claimed her vision. She never complained and was always up for an adventure.
Miss Veola was also an outspoken, controversial, sharp-tongued, tender-hearted, community matriarch, who did not suffer fools gladly and exhorted everyone she met to “do the right thing”, “be the best you can be”, “get an education”, “respect your elders”, and “be proud and stand up for yourself.”
She had a wicked sense of humor and left instructions for an open casket viewing because “I know there are some folks out there who will want to be sure I’m dead.”
A lifelong learner, who had amassed an impressive string of academic credentials, she was passionate about education and believed it was “the key” to freedom, independence and equality, so she established the Veola McLean Scholarship Fund, which provides thousands of dollars’ worth of scholarships to countless Pinecrest High School African-American graduates to attend NC state colleges and universities.
Miss Veola was born January 13, 1932, to the late Willie Mae Davis and Bishop McLean, in the small, segregated town of Southern Pines at the beginning of the worst year of the Great Depression, when 1 in 4 Americans were out of work and half the banks had failed. She came from humble beginnings and overcame untold obstacles in her life. Nine decades later, she marveled that she lived long enough to see a black woman elected Vice President of the United States.
Miss Veola spent her childhood in West Southern Pines, attended K-12 at the historic “Rosenwald” School for Negro children and graduated with the Class of 1949. She went on to earn a B.A. in French in 1953 from North Carolina College at Durham, the first state-supported, liberal arts college for African-American students, and later earned an M.A. in Education from North Carolina State University (NCSU) in 1980.
In 1955, just 7 years after President Truman issued Executive Order 9981 ending segregation in the military, Miss Veola became the first African-American female from Moore County to enlist in the U.S. Air Force (USAF), the first military branch to embrace integration. Veola served stateside and overseas for 12 years and was honorably discharged in 1967 achieving the rank of Staff Sergeant 1st Class. She returned to Southern Pines, accepted a civilian position at Fort Bragg and joined the Air National Guard.
After three decades of civilian service, Miss Veola retired and spent the last third of her life volunteering and supporting numerous local organizations including: Friends of Southern Pines Public Library, Manna, Moore County NAACP, Moore County Democratic Club and Women’s Democratic Club, Rufus McLaughlin American Legion Post 177, and West Southern Pines Civic Club and continued to attend her home church, First Missionary Baptist Church.
Miss Veola was preceded in death by her maternal grandparents, Martin and Sarah Ellen Davis, her father and mother, Bishop and Willie Mae Davis McLean, brothers, Clarence and Marvin McLean and her cousin, Aileen Stroman of Southern Pines. She is survived by Aileen’s children: Gregory Stroman, Pauline Dimmins Stroman, Ardith McLean and Charmaine Stroman Donaldson (Devo) and by an entire community of friends, young and old, who will miss her dearly.
A celebration of Miss Veola’s life will be held at a later date. At this time, only a graveside military service is planned for Saturday, February 20, at 1:00 pm at Woodlawn Cemetery in Southern Pines, where her mother is buried. Pastor Haire will preside with the Rufus McLaughlin American Legion Post 177 Veterans and Ladies Auxiliary in attendance. Services will be preceded by a walk-through viewing from 11:30-12:30 pm at Simon Funeral Home Chapel, 151 Hardin Street in Southern Pines.
Social distancing and masks will be observed.
Our heartfelt gratitude to Debbie Ogburn and her dedicated staff at Magnolia Gardens, where Miss Veola thrived as a revered and valued elder. Many thanks also to the staff of Liberty Hospice Care and Aging Outreach Services, who attended the last 18 days of Veola’s life.
In lieu of flowers, it is Miss Veola’s fervent desire that pledges be made to the Southern Pines Land & Housing Trust for the acquisition of the Southern Pines Primary School.
Services provided by Simon Funeral Home.