A Tulsan was the smiling face of a feel-good story that went viral during the pandemic.
Retired educator and loyal churchgoer Dr. La Verne Ford Wimberly became a global sensation when she refused to let sheltering at home prevent her from dressing up in her Sunday best.
Never mind that church services were virtual during the pandemic, Wimberly dressed as if she was going to be in the pews with the rest of the congregation. She posted selfies of her fashion statements on social media every Sunday for 52 consecutive weeks and never repeated an outfit or a hat. Posting the selfies on Facebook was a way to stay connected to friends and perhaps brighten their spirits during a time of sudden isolation and despair for many people.
An interview with Kim Jackson of television station KTUL led to Wimberly’s story spreading beyond Tulsa. Media outlets worldwide plugged into the KTUL segment or put in requests for Wimberly, who was interviewed for national news programs, including “Today.” A Washington Post front-page story about Wimberly captured Dan Rather’s attention. The former news anchor tweeted a link to the story accompanied by these words: “I loved this Easter story, so I wanted to share it with you. More than the impeccable and colorful outfits (not to mention the hats!), it’s Ms. Wimberly’s eyes and smiles that inspire.”
People are also reading…
This may be old news to people who have read previous Tulsa World stories about Wimberly. The “new” news is you can learn about the person under all those hats because Wimberly has written a book.
“My Sunday Best: Pearls of Wisdom, Wit, Grace and Style” was authored by Wimberly with Barbranda Lumpkins Walls.
The book exists because editor Janet Talbert, with an assist from her husband, tracked down Wimberly by way of her church and suggested she had a story worth telling. Wimberly said it took a lot of persuasion to get her to agree.
The book’s photographs include all 52 Sunday selfies Wimberly posted on Facebook during the pandemic. She explains early in the book why she got all dressed up even though there was nowhere to go.
“I knew that giving honor and glory to God in my bathrobe or workout gear was not an option,” she wrote. “I was raised to present myself to the Lord wearing my very best. At 82 years old, I couldn’t start being a slouch before God, even though I was alone at home. So, just like any other Sunday, I got up and got dressed.”
Here are 10 takeaways from Wimberly’s book:
Wimberly said her father and mother (Jesse Eugene Ford and Clydie Smith Ford) were the best parents this side of heaven. Her father, a mechanic, was in his 40s when he suffered a debilitating stroke. Her mother picked up the slack to take care of La Verne and her sister, Jewell. Others from the Greenwood District stepped up to help, whether it was teachers and neighbors escorting La Verne and Jewell to events or neighbors showering them with Christmas gifts.
“They included us in their family outings and trips,” Wimberly wrote. “Because of them we wanted for nothing.”
Wimberly’s parents died 26 days apart in 1979. Because the family didn’t have a car, her mom walked everywhere.
“I never heard Mother complain about anything,” she wrote. “Talk about taking the lemons of life and making lemonade — that was my mother. It’s from her that I got my ability to take any situation, one that would perhaps discourage or depress someone else, and push through it. That’s why I couldn’t let even a pandemic get me down. With God’s grace, you’ve got to keep it moving.”
Wimberly said there were only about 10 Black students at the University of Tulsa when she was a sophomore there in 1968. A psychology professor kept giving her bad grades. A Caucasian classmate suspected Wimberly was getting punished in the grade book because of her skin color and cooked up a scheme for them to switch names on exam papers. Wimberly began getting good grades and the classmate began receiving poor grades. They took the evidence to the dean of the college and the dean revised Wimberly’s final grade.
Wimberly, blessed with “wonderful” teachers when she was a child, spent more than 40 years in education before retiring in 2006.
“I believe teaching is a calling,” she wrote. “You must be prepared to do it right and have lots of compassion. And you must treat everyone — students, parents and colleagues — with dignity and respect. I enjoyed teaching because I loved helping my students acquire new skills and knowledge that would help them become successful.”
Wimberly got her sense of style from her mother. Also, teachers at George Washington Carver Junior High made a “huge” impression. They were elegant and dressed fashionably every day.
“These women were always dressed to the nines in their skirts and heels, with their nails done and not a strand of hair out of place,” she said. “My high school teachers kept up the tradition. I thought then that when I grew up and had a job, I wanted to look like them every day. And I did.”
Wimberly wrote that her love of hats was inspired by her mother, who always wore one to church. Hats are Sunday “crowns,” and Wimberly has almost 60 hats in three bedroom closets. She began collecting them in 1963. You’ll need to ask her which thing she loves more — hats, fried okra or traveling (she has visited every state and several countries).
Wimberly was working at a Tulsa pharmacy when she scolded police officer James Oliver Wimberly for giving parking tickets to customers who stopped to pick up medications. It wasn’t their last encounter. They met at a party a few years later, dated for two years and eloped in 1965. He beat prostate cancer and bladder cancer before dying peacefully in 2009.
A believer in the power of prayer, Wimberly shared a story about her husband needing a replacement car for one that kept racking up repair bills. She told him she would win him a new car, prayed about it — and won him a new car by entering his name in a contest.
About a decade before the pandemic, another period of isolation led Wimberly to check out this thing called Facebook. She taught herself how to use social media as a way of beating boredom during a 2009 blizzard. She said she became a social media junkie. “It broadened my world and helped me to stay connected to people.”
Wimberly wrote that she never missed a Sunday in church prior to COVID-19. Her family room or office became her makeshift sanctuary as she sat alone watching virtual services on a laptop computer.
“I was overjoyed to return to in-person worship at Metropolitan Baptist after a year,” Wimberly said. “I sat in my usual spot, the last row in section two, seat one, surrounded by my church family. I was right back where I belonged, worshiping the Lord in spirit and in truth.”