Fannie Banks Whitlow
Fannie May Banks is the daughter of Otelia Parker and A. Tee Banks. She was born in Germantown, Tennessee and attended school in Neshoba, Germantown, TN and Melrose High School in Memphis. She was a graduate of Tennessee State University (Bachelors and master’s degree studies 1951-1955 and 1962-1964) and the University of Tennessee (Career Ladder post-master’s education 1972-1974)
Deciding as an 8th grader, that she would become a teacher, she became a public-school educator, 1955 to 1991. During this period, she was also employed as a consultant for the Pet Milk Company. She was teacher of the year in 1981 and retired from Metro Public Schools having taught at Meigs, the Girls Vocational school and Amqui Elementary from which she retired after teaching 24 years in the same classroom.
She was wed to John T. Whitlow at the age of 26 (1955) and shortly thereafter took guardianship of Mary Francis Watkins a niece whom she loved tremendously and nurtured as her only child. Later two children, Wayne Oliver Whitlow and Elean Lynette Whitlow (Lynn) were added to her family.
Fannie Banks Whitlow was the daughter of a rural sharecropper; he filled her with heart with confidence and her mind with ingenuity. As the oldest living child at the age of 14, responsibility of her 13 brothers and sisters was passed to her when her mother was taken suddenly by illness in 1943. Thereafter, she worked at night in a box factory to send her younger siblings to school during the day; she picked up to 250 pounds of cotton daily to earn an income.
Ms. Fannie was a truly phenomenal person. She was uncannily smart, intuitive, determined, possessed unforgettable humor and was astonishingly brave. She had Alzheimer’s, but NEVER succumbed to the disease. She was aware of the diagnosis, but soon after, shifted to managing the disease by utilizing the condition to obtain life’s small comforts (such as forbidden foods and extra measures of love from her children), which she so richly deserved. She remained quietly amused that she could render Alzheimer’s disease ineffective at her choosing. She seemed always able to maintain control of things important to her.
Her achievements were frequently chronicled in various human interest newspaper articles. Likewise, due to her influence, as adults the activities of her school and biological children were frequently televised, on the radio, in newsprint and reported as achievements of local and national interest.
- She could fly a plane and received her flight certificate in 1974.
- She was a master gardener, an expert seamstress and could execute anything requiring creativity.
- She created a “Bible Garden” which bus groups traveled to her home to experience. The garden contained the scriptural plants and creatures of the bible. The concept chronicled on television and in newsprint, lives on, as “Bible Gardens” are now recreated by others.
- She was a life member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority - Pi Zeta Chapter, (1953) a sisterhood which she loved and received her full devotion.
The crowning glory of her life was serving as a Mother of the Church at South Inglewood where she enjoyed fellowshipping with family including Rev. Sweeney, the Boleyjacks, Jeanette Bean and Jeanie Buchanan and gained strength in honoring the Lord God. Prior to joining FBSI, she and John were members of Pleasant Green Church which she spoke of documented consistently in genealogical records.
Fannie was the matriarch of the Banks and Lester families, she maintained meticulous genealogical family records. She traveled extensively to obtain family documents creating an astonishing chronology reaching back to the 1800’s.
She supplemented her archives with photos and recorded the family line of each sibling. She completed posthumous requests to assign social security numbers and the creation of official death certificates when rural documentation was incomplete.
Her life is a story of overcoming. She wanted her children and others to be encouraged that whatever you desire can be accomplished though determination and God’s grace. She wanted to be an example to those that she loved and taught of how to achieve out of personal fortitude, even when your beginnings have provided you with nothing. She wanted others to know her story not to salute herself but to aid others to recognize and locate excellence and determination within themselves.
She is preceded in death by husband, John T. Whitlow; son, Wayne Whitlow; brothers, John Albert Lester, and Sam W. Lester Jr; sisters, Betty Jean Banks Poindexter, Lula B. Lester, Sallie Lester Pigue, Mable Lester Stone and Johnnie Mae Blanchard, Julia Lester, Daisy Lester, Olivia Lester, Jeanie Frank, Eddie Bolden and stepsisters and brothers, Estella Johnson, Theo Lester, Florence Lester, Catherine Lester, Robbie Mae Lester and Mattie Lester.
She leaves to celebrate her life, brothers, Pat Banks and Darnell (Bubba) Banks, a host of loving nieces, and nephews, Mary Francis (Chester) Cook and one daughter Lynn Whitlow.