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Meet one of HISD’s oldest living alumni

2013 April 4
by HISD Communications

In this week’s I am HISD, which features district students, graduates, and employees, one of HISD’s oldest living alumni, Ruby Lea Pope (Washington HS, Class of 1930), talks about what made her decide to teach elementary students, how kindness became a part of her daily lessons, and why she still wears her high school ring today.

Ruby Lea Pope, a member of Washington HS's Class of 1930

She’s traveled to Europe and the Middle East, earned two college degrees, founded an area chapter of a sorority, worked with the city to get safety measures installed near schools and still found a way to teach in Houston ISD for 24 years. It’s certainly more than enough for a lifetime.

Except Ruby Lee Pope’s not done yet.

Pope, one of the district’s oldest living alumna, will celebrate her 104th birthday on April 9, just a few days after she’ll be recognized as part of a celebration at her alma mater, Booker T. Washington High School, in honor of its namesake’s birthday.

Pope, who graduated from Washington in 1930, still wears her high school class ring today. She’s proud of it, saying she’s always checking to make sure it doesn’t fall off.

“I always play with it to find out if it still fits me,” she said. “I love this ring. Children in school used to tease me about it. ‘Pope, you wear that ring, people are gonna think you’re married.’ I said, ‘I don’t care what people think, I’m gonna wear it.’”

Close-up of the ring she still wears

Her first teaching job after college was at Dunbar Elementary. She said she almost taught at a high school, but the small-statured woman said, “the students were too big for me.” During her HISD teaching career, Pope earned her master’s degree in education from Texas Southern University and eventually finished teaching with a stint at Berry Elementary.

See more photos of Ruby Lea Pope and some documents from her life.

She originally taught sewing, she said, but later moved into classroom instruction because she loved working with students.

“I loved it,” she said. “(Her students) were crazy about their teacher… If you could name (the subjects), I loved teaching them,” she said.

Pope said she knew it wasn’t just about helping students learn their material, but in being good people and helping others, too.

“Kindness is one thing,” she said. “I know I was kind to the children. I didn’t care how they looked or what they had on. Sometimes they didn’t have clothing, so if I had something at home that was too small, I’d give it to them.

A portrait of Ruby Lea Pope as a child, circa 1911

“(Sometimes) I’d bring my lunch and give them half of it,” she said. “I’d spread it out there and we’d sit and eat. I thought I did a pretty good job and they’d always tell me about that.”

Before she retired, Pope helped get sidewalks and stop lights installed near the schools where she taught, saying she wanted her students to be safe and that she didn’t like students having to walk in the mud and dirt to get to school.

Pope earned her retirement. Following her nearly quarter-of-a-century teaching for HISD, she traveled around the world with her husband, and continually worked on her garden until recently.

“She doesn’t let us forget,” said Linda Nwoke, a sorority sister and longtime friend. “We have to act like young ladies in the sorority. If not, she gets on us. We have to do community service. If we don’t, she wants to know what we’re doing and if we’re helping the children.”

Pope will be a guest honoree at Booker T. Washington’s celebration at 10 a.m. on Friday, April 5, on the campus grounds.

UPDATE: Mrs. Pope passed away on April 27, 2013, just a few weeks after being honored. Her sorority sister Mattie Lewis said that the celebration and this story were two of the highlights of her later years. We here at HISD are pleased to have been part of something that brought Mrs. Pope so much joy at the end of her life.

If you know an HISD graduate, student, or employee who should be featured in I am HISD, please email us at

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