Marva Jeanne Pitt Riley grew up in east Tarboro on a street where the neighborhood village raised all the children and helped teach all the children.
When she came of age, Mrs. Riley did the same thing: She became a teacher.
She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Education from North Carolina Central University and taught elementary school. When illness took her from the classroom, she continued to teach. She gave grammar lessons on the front porch of the family home on East Church Street. She helped friends and family, and later some staff members at the Golden Living Center, where she spent the last years of her life, to ensure that their work was well done.
Marva Riley died on Sunday, June 5. She was 78 years old. But her legacy of teaching, that tradition borne on East Church Street in Tarboro, will continue.
The Marva Jeanne Pitt Riley Endowed Scholarship Fund has been established at North Carolina Central University to honor her and to train future teachers. Donations are being accepted at https://24282.thankyou4caring.org/vlb-donation (Please designate that the donation is for the Marva Jeanne Pitt Riley Scholarship/ Account E01466.) Checks (with Marva Riley Scholarship/Account E01466 on the memo line) may be mailed to:
NCCU Foundation, Inc.,
P.O. Box 19363
1801 Fayetteville St.
Durham, NC 27705
The scholarship will ensure that future young students can follow in the footsteps of a woman who persevered.
Marva Jeanne Pitt Riley was born on October 13, 1937 to Lowney and Bennie Pitt of Tarboro. She attended the Perry School and later W.A. Pattillo School, where she was active in the band, was an outstanding majorette and was the scorekeeper of the basketball teams.
She joined St. Paul AME Zion Church at an early age and later served as secretary of the Sunday School. Her first job was as a cashier at Garrett’s Drug Store in the neighborhood.
After graduating with honors from Pattillo High and North Carolina Central University, where she became a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., she and her husband, Joseph Gilbert Riley, moved to New York, where Marva became a mother a third time and taught at Morningside Elementary School. She was devoted to her students until her career was derailed by multiple sclerosis.
She moved back to the family home in Tarboro with her three children. She was a loving mother who taught her children to read at an early age and enjoyed taking them on walks on the Town Common. As her health started to decline, she still made sure that her children’s clothes were laid out for school.
But she never stopped being a teacher.
She taught English grammar and math to not only her children, but to the neighborhood children on the front porch or in the living room of the family home. She also helped anyone she encountered to ensure their success in classes, in training or in life. Anyone who visited the Pitt-Riley house was subject to English grammar lessons. “She would correct you in a heartbeat, grown or child,” said her sister, Lorna Dale Pitt Lloyd.
Later, her declining health forced her to move to the Golden Living Center in Tarboro, where “Miss Marva” continued her guidance of young people around her. Center Director Effie Webb fondly recalls Marva’s arrival and saying to her, ‘You used to be a teacher,” and Marva sternly correcting her: “I AM a teacher!”
Mrs. Riley’s three children, all excellent grammarians, took different paths in life: Her oldest, Rochelle, became an award-winning newspaper who occasionally appears on MSNBC and CNN. Her son, Donald rose to the level of sergeant in the N.C. Department of Corrections. Her youngest, Beverley, became a banker and owner of her own jewelry business, BEVMAC.
Her legacy will continue not only through her children, but through all the children, friends, caregivers and others that she continued to teach throughout her life.
ROCHELLE RILEY is a writer whose essays here are about her personal thoughts and adventures. No reprints without permission. You can read her columns at www.freep.com/rochelleriley and follow her on Twitter @rochelleriley. Marva Riley is her mother.