Mrs. Violet May Nicholas, a 61-year resident of Nashville, TN, celebrated her 100th birthday with family and friends at a luncheon on Saturday, January 7, 2012, in the Appleton Room in Jubilee Hall of Fisk University. Family and friends of Mrs. Nicholas from all over the United States joined in the joyous centennial celebration. Her eldest grandchild, Dr. Marilyn Metz Jones of San Francisco, CA, serving as Mistress of Ceremonies read and presented greetings from the United States House of Representatives and a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition sent by the Honorable Jim Cooper, 5th Congressional District of Tennessee. Ms. Edith Taylor Langster, Metro Councilmember, District 21, presented a letter and certificate of recognition from Nashville Mayor, Karl F. Dean, and a Proclamation from her office. The Meharry Medical Alumni Association, represented by Dr. Henry Moses, Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry at Meharry Medical College presented her with a special gift from the association and Mrs. Myrna Taylor, President of the Auxiliary to the R. F. Boyd Medical Society, presented her with a letter of appreciation and a gift basket, assembled by the Society’s members. Many other tributes and gifts were presented. The highlight of the afternoon was the presentation of a DVD of music and photos chronicling her life. It was presented by her family members: daughters, Mrs. Gertrude Nicholas Brooks (Morganfield, KY) and Dr. Allison Nicholas Metz (San Francisco); and grandchildren, Dr. Marilyn Metz Jones and husband Anthony Jones, Leon B. Metz, III, Dr. Lionel N. Metz, and Laurence C. Metz (all of San Francisco, CA); and Ernest A. Brooks (New York, NY) and Dr. Philip A. Brooks (Nashville).
Mrs. Nicholas was born on January 6, 1912 in Mizpah, Manchester, Jamaica, British West Indies. When she was 13 years old she contracted typhoid fever and was given only 3 weeks to live. After several months however, she recovered, but was left almost completely deaf by the illness. She did eventually regain most of the hearing in one ear, but later in life her hearing slowly deteriorated and left her functionally deaf. As a teenager, thankful for having recovered and undeterred by her hearing loss, Mrs. Nicholas went on to finish secondary school and later attended dispensary school in Spanish Town, Jamaica. She was an excellent student, and eventually received certificates in Pharmacy and Midwifery in Jamaica.
In 1940, Violet married Philip Arnold Nicholas (1914 – 2002), who had been a fellow dispensary school classmate in Spanish Town and would later graduate from Meharry Medical College in the Class of 1954. Dr. Nicholas later told his children that it was their mother’s quiet style and class, her subtle aloofness, and her admirable studiousness that had initially attracted him to her. He would later describe her as his “rock” and the “wind beneath his wings.” She was, he said, “the consummate companion, confidante and medical professor’s wife.”
In April of 1942, the Mrs. Nicholas and her husband welcomed their first child, Gertrude Elaine. Their second daughter, Allison Eleanor, was born in July 1944.
In 1945, Violet’s husband immigrated to the United States in order to pursue his childhood dream of becoming a medical doctor. Violet followed her husband to the U.S. in 1949. Having no relatives or means of financial support in the U.S., Violet had to leave her two young daughters with relatives in Jamaica when she came Stateside, while she looked for full-time work to help support her husband who was a full-time student for 9 months out of the year. “Leaving my children behind was the hardest thing that I have ever done,” she sometimes reminisces, often with tears in her eyes, even to this day. The Nicholases moved to Nashville in September 1950 when Philip was accepted to Meharry Medical College.
Mrs. Nicholas arrived in Nashville with two professional certificates, one in pharmacy and the other in midwifery, hoping to get a job as a pharmacist. Because her certificates were from the British system, she was told that she would have to be recertified in order to work in Pharmacy or Midwifery in the U.S. She did not have the time or the money to go back to school, however. She recalls now, “I had to find a job in Nashville immediately in order to help support my husband and our dream.” Fortunately, she was referred to Vanderbilt Medical Center during her first week in Nashville, and she promptly went for an interview with her certificates in hand. She was offered a position “on the spot” as a nurses’ assistant in the Neonatal and Premature Nursery (now known as the “NICU”), where she reported for work the very next morning. She worked in the nursery at Vanderbilt for 11 years, caring for premature infants, some who weighed less than 1 pound, and who could “fit in the palm of my hand.” She retired with fond memories of working with Dr. Mildred Stalman and other doctors who “treated the newborns like their very own children.”
Mrs. Nicholas has been a very active member of her community. She is a founding member of St. Anselm’s Episcopal Church, and has been an active parishioner there for over 51 years. She served as President of The Auxiliary to the R. F. Boyd Medical Society (the Nashville Chapter of the ANMA) for several years and has faithfully supported the Meharry Medical College Community since she and her husband joined its ranks. With her husband, she sponsored many family members from Jamaica, facilitating their immigration to the United States in order to pursue higher education and careers in everything from Medicine to Education. Because they remained living on the same block where they lived after first moving to Nashville in 1950 – just 2 blocks from Fisk and 3 blocks from Meharry – Violet and her husband were able to be “parents away from home” to countless Fisk, Meharry and Tennessee State students over the years. Mrs. Nicholas’ legacy is one of a tenacious faith, the pursuit of excellence and education, generosity, hospitality, and “investing in people” – family, friends and her community. The warmth, camaraderie, excitement and joy that permeated the Appleton Room on Saturday attested to that.