UPDATED at 4 p.m. Saturday with information on services
David Steward first encountered Ida Goodwin Woolfolk at an Annie Malone May Day Parade nearly two decades ago.
Ms. Woolfolk was acting as the mistress of ceremonies — a role that Steward, the founder and chairman of World Wide Technology, would observe her reprise countless times through the years.
But at that first meeting, Steward watched Ms. Woolfolk shift seamlessly into another task after spotting two teenagers dancing “inappropriately” near the grandstand.
“Ida flat out called them out on it,” recalled Steward. “She became an educator and a teacher right on the spot.”
Steward himself instantly concluded, “Whatever she’s got, I want some of it.”
The executive recalled the moment last week in the wake of Ms. Woolfolk’s death Wednesday (March 23, 2016).
“Miss Ida” was 77. Relatives said she had died of natural causes.
The passing of the longtime St. Louis Public Schools official and community leader prompted a spontaneous outpouring of fond and warm remembrances on social media and in the churches, schools and gathering places that Ms. Woolfolk rarely left without first making a new circle of friends.
As a tribute, St. Louis will have Ms. Woolfolk’s body lie in honor at city hall on April 3.
“She was an entity unto herself,” said Michael McMillan, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater St. Louis.
Ask a top-ranking business or civic official and each will cite Ms. Woolfolk as the mentor who showed them how to navigate the sphere of St. Louis politics and commerce.
“She showed me how St. Louis operates,” said Lewis Reed, president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen.
“She was an adviser and a confidante,” said McMillan, a former city license collector. “She was a part of whatever movement I was part of. She was there helping me from the time I was 21 years old up until today.”
“Miss Ida was not only a trusted friend and great supporter, she was truly a mentor to me and so many others,” Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., said in a statement.
“She has been my eyes and ears, helping me navigate the community,” Steward said.
A woman with a preternatural connection to all things St. Louis, Ms. Woolfolk was not, in the strictest sense, a St. Louisan.
Born in Dallas, Ms. Woolfolk moved with her family to the Ville neighborhood at a young enough age that she was baptized and could call herself a lifelong member of the Kennerly Temple Church of God in Christ.
(To her dying day, Ms. Woolfolk wore a Star of David around her neck. “And when she was asked if she was Jewish, she’d reply, ‘No, but I follow the most famous Jew,’ ” McMillan recalled.)
Ms. Woolfolk graduated from Sumner High School and went on to earn an undergraduate degree from Stowe Teachers College (now Harris-Stowe State University) and graduate degrees from St. Louis University.
Her lengthy list of volunteer efforts ran the gamut, from the African-American Advisory Board for the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the Washington University School of Medicine to the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority to the Mathews-Dickey Boys and Girls Club.
But it was in the field of education and the 38 years that Ms. Woolfolk spent as a teacher, counselor and administrator with the St. Louis schools that made her a presence in every corner of the city.
“She was the grand dame of the St. Louis Public Schools and more,” said Robbyn Wahby, executive director of the Missouri Charter Public School Commission and a former educational liaison in the office of St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay.
“Ida was the main artery to the community for every superintendent. They would turn to her when they arrived and again during crises and good times to reach out to the community. She championed everyone.”
To Reed, that meant teaching a young alderman the difference between being a politician and a public servant and, just as importantly, how to balance family life with other duties.
“She wasn’t preachy about it,” the aldermanic president said, remembering further lessons on overcoming his innate shyness at public events.
And if there was one thing Ms. Woolfolk excelled at, all agree, it was how to work a crowd.
Steward called Ms. Woolfolk’s social skills nothing short of “legendary.”
“She knew everybody by their first name. She knew their families and what school they attended. And she had something good, positive, loving and caring to say about every one of them,” said Steward, the CEO of one of the nation’s largest minority-owned corporations.
“She commanded a room and filled it with energy, excitement and anticipation by what she’d say and do next. To be recognized by Ida was an honor.”
St. Louisans attending fundraisers and events for all manner of charities and causes in turn came to identify Ms. Woolfolk for being, as Wahby put it, “the mistress of ceremonies for just about everything.”
“If St. Louis hosted the Oscars, Ida would have been the emcee,” Wahby ventured.
“Ida will be missed,” said Reed. “She was a St. Louis institution.”
Ms. Woolfolk is survived by her daughter, Sarah Myrtle Woolfolk Edwards, and two grandsons, Christopher and Caleb Edwards, of Portsmouth, Va., and a sister, Irene E. Graham, of St. Louis.
A horse-drawn carriage procession will start at 10 a.m. Saturday, taking Ms. Woolfolk’s body from Parc Frontenac, 40 North Kingshighway, to Kennerly Temple, 4307 Kennerly Avenue. A visitation will be held there from 12 to 3 p.m., followed by memorial services that will end at 5 p.m.
On Sunday, April 3, from 12 p.m .to 4 p.m., her body will lie in honor at the City Hall Rotunda.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Meds & Food for Kids, 4488 Forest Park Avenue, #230, St. Louis, Mo., 63108