Pauline J. Petway showed her courage in many ways.

She obtained her college degree and started a career in teaching despite growing up in several foster homes. She became the first black teacher and principal in the Vineland school district.

And she never complained as she battled pancreatic cancer, which claimed her life at 62 years old.

The secret, her family and friends say, was the positive attitude she carried her entire life.

“She always made us feel positive about everything,” said daughter Margaret Walker. “She didn’t pick out any one group and say they caused me problems or made things difficult. She always stayed positive.”

Petway also helped form the Cumberland County chapter of the NAACP. In September 2006, the Vineland school district named the elementary school on Lincoln Avenue in her honor.

Elaine Greenberg, district historian, said the district receives several nominations when a new school is built. According to a release by the district, Petway was the front-runner through all four rounds of voting and was the top vote-getter.

Greenberg said the nominations sent in from residents demonstrated she was a “tremendous individual.”

“It couldn’t have been easy for her to acquire an education and do what she did. She set a high standard and allowed other people to do what she did,” she said. “She’s very deserving to have a school named after her.”

Walker, 65, said her mother grew up mostly in foster care in the Atlantic City area and wanted to give people opportunities she didn’t have.

“Her childhood was not an easy one,” said the resident of Charlotte, N.C. “She was put into a lot of places that were not very nice. But she didn’t grow up to hold any ill will towards anyone.”

Petway put herself through school, earning her degree at Glassboro State Teachers College (now Rowan University). She moved to Vineland because that’s where her husband, “Bucky” Petway was from, Walker said.

Petway later became principal of Dane Barse Elementary School. She was known for having a great love for the children, Walker said

Despite any challenges she may have faced breaking the color barrier, Walker said, her mother never spoke about it.

“I’m sure it was (difficult), but she didn’t really concentrate on the negative things,” she said. “She was a very positive person.”

Walker said her mother was always attuned to the needs of the black teachers that later came to the district.

“Every African-American teacher that came to the district spent time living in our house until they had a place to live,” Walker said. “She mentored them. Many of them came from out of town, and they didn’t have the resources to find a place to live in such a small town. They didn’t know anybody.”

Petway’s youngest daughter, Sandy Petway, 62, said they were a very close family and understood the magnitude of what their mother accomplished.

“It taught us to be goal-setters and how important the golden rule was to her,” said the resident of Venice, Fla. “That’s what she lived by.”

Contact Joel Landau:

609-272-7215