By Dr. Marion Williams
83-year old, Gilda Brown Marvray is the quintessential Pensacolian. In honor of Women’s History Month, March, we want to honor her for a lifetime of extraordinary accomplishments. She is one of the most beloved and respected people in the black community.
Gilda was one of four children, three girls and one boy, born to Henry James and Evelyn “Call” Brown. Gilda’s mother, the daughter of Charles F. “C.F.” Call, was one of the early principals (1896) in the “old Colored School System (P.S. #54).” Old #54 was the forerunner of #103, the A.M. DeVaughn School on Gregory and North 9th Avenue. C.F was the mulatto son of General Richard Keith Call, the 3rd and 5th Territorial Governor of Florida (1835-40 and 1840-44). Additionally Charles F. Call was the author of the “History of the African Methodist Episcopal Church of Florida.” Richard Keith was a Revolutionary War Hero and an aide to General Andrew Jackson. Lastly, one of Richard Keith Call’s descendants was the wife of former popular Florida Governor, Leroy Collins. Richard was the person responsible for building Gov. Collin’s home in Tallahassee called the “The Grove.” This house still exits. How could anyone with this outstanding linage/relatives not be great or expected to achieve? And achieve, Gilda did.
First, Gilda was born a beautiful, precocious, outgoing talented child. Gilda was the 1951 Booker T. Washington High School Homecoming Queen. Also, she was listed as part of the Red Cross Natatorial (swimming) Class. She would later become the first female lifeguard at the city’s Bruce Pool, located at the foot of Coyle and Main Streets in the Tan Yard, for Negroes in 1956. During her high school years, Gilda became a “local club singer” who was accompanied by her mother. Gilda sang with Mr. Raymond “Ray Shep”(Sheppard) Band.
In 1954 she developed her secretarial skills when she prepared the “legal petition” for Negro Attorney, Charles F. Wilson. The petition was sent to the Pensacola City Council on behalf of Dr. Charles Augustus and several Negro golfers, requesting use of the city’s segregated Osceola Golf Course. Because no action was taken, Lawyer Wilson sued the City for his black plaintiffs. Gilda prepared the Federal brief. As a result, Dr. Augustus was successful in ending segregation at Osceola.
The City Council used part of the budgeted funds, $5,000, for Osceola Golf Course upgrades for Blacks use and the balance, $20,000, to build Bruce Pool.
Second, Gilda scored another “first” as the host of the “Highlight Hour”
on WPFA-TV. She was the first black female on local TV in the 1950s. Gilda distinguished herself as writer, choreographer, and director of this variety show.
Throughout the 1950s Gilda would continue her singing career as a sideline.
Third, Gilda Brown met and married Charles Jefferson Marvray (BTWHS grad), an athletic, smooth moving baseball player who in 1949 and 1950, played professionally for the Negro Baseball League with the Cleveland Buckeyes. Later, Charles was inducted into the Negro Baseball Hall of Fame. His promising career was cut short when he was drafted in 1950 in the U.S. Army. After his service in the military, marriage changed Gilda’s life forever.
Gilda always loved entertaining others. As a young mother, Gilda would work as secretary by day. She changed diapers for her three kids at night and then got dressed for the variety show for local TV. These were busy times. During the late 1950s Gilda honed her choreography skills. Later, she became the choreographer for the Beta Omicron Chapter, Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. of Pensacola for the next 30 years (1970s-2000s).
Gilda helped write and produce outstanding Broadway-caliber shows for the annual Omega Que Balls at the municipal auditorium in downtown Pensacola. These Balls were held around the last Saturday of December, during the Christmas holidays.
As time progressed, another son was added to Charles and Gilda’s family. As a result, Gilda’s singing became less of an option as writing, directing and choreographics increased.
During the 1950s-60s, Gilda’s summers were filled with being a female lifeguard, working as a swimming instructor and the choreographer of water shows “Esther Williams-like” at Bruce’s Pool. The pool operated from the first week of
June -Labor Day/Sept. 1.
Gilda’s influence affected many young black lives and the lives of older non-swimmers who attended the pool. Gilda’s calm, soothing voice helped many attendees improve their water and life-saving skills at Bruce’s Pool. “Her water shows are now captured on DVDs for posterity,” said Mrs. Robin Reshard.
Additionally, Gilda is credited with swimming the length of Pensacola Bay as a “pacer” for a fellow lifeguard, Neal Shelby. Neal was a college student at Tennessee State University in Nashville, TN and on his college swim team. Gilda helped Neal practice his five mile swim (length of the Bay – three miles one way a round trip of six miles). During this time, Gilda served with Neal, Solomon Surles, and Tommy Crumpton as pacers. Another female lifeguard, Ingrid Phillips, was also credited with swimming Pensacola Bay.
Gilda’s creativity and talents were shared with her church, Mt. Zion Baptist Church on Coyle and West Jackson St. She wrote, produced and choreographed doc-dramas which included the entire church body. She also became the director for her church’s celebrations – Easter, Christmas and Black History programs, etc. for more than 30 years.
Gilda was super active in the Jack and Jill of America, Inc., the Pensacola chapter, in the 1970s-90s. She specifically worked tirelessly with the teenage group who loved her dearly.
Professionally, Gilda became employed as an Occupational Specialist at Escambia High School and at Brownsville Middle School for the Escambia County School District. Gilda worked closely with school administrators and counselors assisting kids with career goals and occupational choices. Because of her people skills, she excelled at helping students.
After retirement, Gilda transition again to help entertain others. In the 2000s Gilda joined the “Our Voices,” a community based group at the University of West Florida under the auspices and leadership of Mrs. Mamie Webb-Hixon, assistant English College Professor, and director of the writing lab. In 2006, this group focused on examining the lives of outstanding black women through presentations via local readers, singers, dancers and storytellers at Pensacola Junior College. The eighth production of this group in 2006, featured Gilda’s brilliant storytelling skills on display for this ensemble troupe.
Finally, Gilda’s health changed significantly after her retirement due to strokes, the loss of her legs, the loss of her beloved husband, Charles “Hawk” Marvray, in 1998.
Gilda still continues to smile that smile with that “twinkle in her eye.” She is still the most remarkable woman, we know. Gilda Brown Marvray is a joy to all who know and love her. She is a stellar example of Living Women History Month.