CAMDEN, NJ — Martha Wilson, Camden school board president and longtime advocate for the children of the city, died Friday morning at the age of 67.
"Legacies are the result of determined action. Martha was a tireless advocate for the Camden City School District and a beacon of hope and inspiration for the city," Camden Superintendent Katrina McCombs, school board vice president Minister Wasim Muhammed, and the school board said in a statement this evening.
Wilson, the wife of Camden Sheriff Gilbert “Whip” Wilson for over 40 years, reportedly died at Cooper Hospital after suffering a heart attack.
In addition to serving on the Camden school board for two decades, she was also a member of the National School Board Association and was among one of the recent Honorees Circle of Winners for the Anointed News Journal.
"Martha was a mainstay in the city of Camden. Her handprints are everywhere in this great city," Arlene Evans, chief of staff for the Camden County Office of the Sheriff said Friday. "She took her commitment seriously because she loved children and worked tirelessly to ensure they were given every chance to excel."
Although she was born in Virginia, Wilson first came to Camden as a teenager.
In 2019, Wilson and her husband of 42 years, were honored by the Gloucester County NAACP as well.
She earned a diploma from Camden High School in 1970 and later attended both Camden County College and Rutgers University.She was the first African-American to work in the Campbell Soup Company Medical Department and later was hired by the RCA Corporation in Cherry Hill.
"This morning we received the tragic news that one of Camden’s biggest boosters and a crusader for the city’s children passed away. Martha Wilson was a beacon in the city and someone who dedicated her life to making it a better place," said Freeholder Director Lou Cappelli in a statement on behalf of the freeholder board. "Between her and her husband...they were two dynamic figures that committed themselves to public service and pouring their heart and soul into the community."
Wilson was credited by local leaders as helping to end the high rate of suspensions in the city, aiding in identifying the current state superintendent, putting in policies to grow the city's graduation rate and doubling SAT participation among the student body.
"I am [at a] loss for words, but I am praying for my extended family in this most difficult time," school board member Elton Custis said. "Love you guys to the moon and back and Aunt Martha you will truly be missed Camden’s gem has gone home to rest up."
Another school board member, N'namdee Nelson, called Wilson irreplaceable.
"I make a commitment as a Camden City School Board Member to continue the efforts of Mrs Wilson to ensure the students, parents and staff receive the best from their school district leadership," Nelson said. "I’m asking my fellow board members to join me as we continue our efforts and raise the bar another level."
Mayor Frank Moran sent his condolences to the Wilson family.
"As we all come to terms with her sudden passing, we remember Martha for her elegance, selflessness, tenacity, integrity, love for her community and love for her family," Moran said in a statement. "Martha was a pillar of the community - dedicated to our residents, and of course our young people."
Wilson is survived by six children, 10 grand-children and six great-grandchildren.
"We will miss Martha’s smile, integrity and intelligence, and we will miss her constant presence in the city and at every district event," Cappelli said. "As we come to terms with her sudden passing, we will keep Martha and Whip’s children, grandchildren and extended family in our thoughts and prayers.”
McCombs on behalf of the board said, "it is hard to find the words sufficient to honor Martha’s memory, but for all of us, engaging our commitment to education in Camden seems to be the most fitting tribute for such a stalwart."