OXFORD — Who is Esther Ruth Jordan McGhee? A woman before her time. The eldest living daughter of the late Mabel and Richard Jordan, Esther grew up in a household that defied the era shaping who she was to become. What the Jordan household lacked in material possessions was more than made up for by faith in God and knowledge of how an excellent education, even if it had to be acquired through struggle and perseverance, could alter the trajectory of one’s life.
Armed with faith in God and a desire to transform her life, Esther excelled in the Pender County school system. Educated in a one room schoolhouse and delinquent many times due to helping her mother with household duties and caring for her three youngest siblings, Esther still graduated second in her class in 1937. In a time when few men went to college much less women, Esther remained undaunted that she too would go to college.
A year after high school graduation with financial assistance from her parents and eldest brother as well as working herself, Esther could now matriculate to Shaw University. Once there, it would take that same fortitude to graduate. Due to delinquent payments as she attended in the late Depression era, it was not uncommon for Esther to take finals for both semesters at the end of the school year. Yet she again overcame the odds to graduate with a bachelor of arts in English and a minor in French in 1942. In subsequent years, Esther received her masters of arts in English in 1954 from Howard University and studied further at Catholic University, N.C. Central University, and UNC Chapel Hill.
Having developed such a keen desire to succeed against the odds, it was no surprise that Esther was an outstanding educator. Of her 29 years in the North Carolina public school system, in Wayne, Johnston and Vance counties, it was 20 years at Mary Potter High School in Granville County that benefited most from her expertise.
At Mary Potter, she was the chairwoman of the English Department; senior adviser; adviser to the newspaper staff, National Honor Society and Drama Club; English and journalism instructor; and girls’ basketball coach. Accomplishments during her tenure at Mary Potter include statewide awards for the Drama Club as well as first place in the National Journalistic Society at Columbia University for the school paper, The Mary Potter Gazette in 1963, 1964 and 1965.
Her past affiliations were the National Education Association, the N.C. Teachers Association (former association for African American teachers until merging with N.C. Association of Educators in 1971), and the former Granville County Teachers Association for African Americans.
Of all her accomplishments it was love of family that Esther desired most. Esther met the love of her life, Andrew, she thought by accident. She was new to Oxford and wanted someone to teach her to drive. She asked friends for suggestions as to who could teach her to drive and they suggested Andrew McGhee. Little did she know that Andrew had seen her some time earlier walking in Oxford. He knew then he had to find a way to get to know this gorgeous woman, and teaching her to drive was his opportunity. That was the beginning that led to more than 66 years of marriage. Their union was blessed with two children: Andrew III and Karen Winifred. Esther was a devoted wife and mother who Andrew called a role model and outstanding citizen of Granville County.
Esther’s religious life began at home with a devout mother who taught her children the importance of a relationship with God and living by the tenets of the Bible. Once an adult, her many talents extended to her church family. From 1944 to 1961, Esther was a member of Timothy Darling Presbyterian Church, where she was a Sunday and Bible School teacher, a member of the Pulpit Committee and captain of a club for church finance. Once her children came along, Esther joined Andrew and became a member of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, where she served as secretary treasurer for a number of years. In her latter years, she was one of the founding members of the United Christian Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church. She along with Andrew was instrumental in the building of the new church edifice.
She was preceded in death by his daughter, Andrea Juliet, and beloved husband Andrew. She leaves to cherish her loving spirit, one son, Andrew J. McGhee III; one daughter, Karen W. McGhee; one granddaughter, Shameka McGhee Edmonds (Jerome); a sister, Valeria Jordan Alston; a sister-in-law/cousin, Geraldine H. Downey; sisters-in-law Hazel Jordan and Elizabeth Jordan; dedicated caregivers Teresa Jennings, Patricia Green and Audrey Harris; and a host of other loving relatives and friends.
There will be a private graveside service on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. In lieu of flowers, please send donations “in memory of Esther McGhee” to Shaw University.