Wife, mother, sister, aunt, friend, humanitarian, philosopher, counselor, Matriarch, A Phenomenal Woman of God
The Celebration of Life Service for Mrs. Violet Nicholas, a 68 year resident of Nashville, TN, was held at the beautiful Christ Church Episcopal Cathedral, 900 Broadway, on Saturday, August 25, at 3:00 PM, followed immediately by her interment in the Cathedral’s Columbarium. A host of family, extended family and friends traveled from across the country to join the Nashville community in paying tribute to, and celebrating the life of Mrs. Nicholas.
Violet May Nicholas (Vie) transitioned peacefully in her home, with her daughters at her bedside, on July 29, 2018 at the age of 106. She was born in Mizpah (Manchester Parish), Jamaica, British West Indies on January 6, 1912. She and her older sister, Edna B. Virtue, were raised by their loving grandparents, James William and Fannie Elizabeth Richards at the family home in Mizpah.
At the age of 13, Violet became seriously ill with typhoid fever, and doctors said she had only 3 weeks to live. By the Grace of God, she recovered after several months, but was left almost completely deaf by the illness. She eventually regained most of her hearing, but later in life her hearing slowly deteriorated, until by the time she reached 90 years old, she was functionally deaf. Thankful for having recovered from her illness and undeterred by her diminished hearing, Violet became an outstanding student and excelled in her studies. After finishing Secondary School, she was encouraged by her beloved Aunt Kit, herself a teacher, to choose a profession, and work towards an advanced degree.
In the mid 1930’s, she entered pharmacy (dispensary) school in Spanish Town, Jamaica. She was an excellent student and eventually received certifications in both pharmacy and midwifery. While pursuing her pharmacy studies, she caught the eye of a jovial and ambitious classmate, Philip A. Nicholas (Nick), with whom she began to study on a regular basis. When their children later asked him, what initially attracted him to Violet, Philip remarked, “It was your mother’s quiet style and class; she was smart, studious, always well put-together, a little stand-offish, and quite a lady. She just made me want to get to know her better…” The two became regular study partners and a good friendship blossomed. After they graduated from dispensary school, Violet and Philip were married on June 22, 1940.
Nick would later describe Vie as his “rock” and “the wind beneath his wings.” She was “the consummate companion, confidante and medical professor’s wife,” he mused, as they celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary. Violet and Nick were blessed with two daughters, Gertrude Elaine and Allison Eleanor.
In 1945, Nick immigrated to the United States to pursue his childhood dream of becoming a medical doctor. He was accepted at Howard University in Washington, DC, where he completed both his undergraduate and Master of Science degrees in 4 years. In 1949, Violet was able to join her husband in the U.S. It was with both hope and heaviness in her heart, that she left her two young daughters with her sister and aunts in Kingston, and went to be by her husband’s side. “Leaving my children behind was the hardest thing that I ever had to do,” she sometimes reminisced, more often than not, with tears in her eyes.
When Philip was accepted to Meharry Medical College in 1950, Vie moved with him to Nashville, TN and the two began what would become a 50+ year, mutually rewarding partnership with Meharry.
While her husband completed his medical training, Violet worked long shifts at Vanderbilt Medical Center as a nurse’s assistant in the Neonatal Nursery and ICU (now NICU). She was lucky and very happy to be hired “on the spot” at her interview at Vanderbilt, just a few days after arriving in Nashville. She accepted the job and reported for work the next morning. Although she had been certified in Jamaica in both pharmacy and midwifery, she would have had to recertify stateside, in order to work in those specialties in the U.S. Violet later remarked that she had neither the time nor the money to recertify: “I had to find a job in Nashville, immediately, in order to help support my husband and our dream.”
In 1953, Nick and Vie’s daughters, Gertrude and Allison, came from Jamaica, and joined them in Nashville. The family lived on Meharry Blvd, just across the street from their eventual long-term home, where Mrs. Nicholas continued to live until her death.
Apart from her background in the health sciences, Violet was very creative and talented with her hands. She excelled at all of her hobbies – sewing, tailoring, knitting, crocheting, millinery, smocking and, eventually, cooking – producing numerous creations for herself, her children, her home, and as gifts for others. She was passionate about her creative endeavors and was a perfectionist in their execution. Traveling was also one of her passions. In the mid 1960’s, Vie began booking trips with the National Medical Association (NMA) post-convention tour group every summer to “get Nick out of Nashville for a few weeks.” After a few summer trips abroad, they caught the “travel bug.” Over the next 30 years, they traveled extensively, managing to visit every continent (except for Antarctica), and some multiple times.
Violet was active in her community for many decades. She was a founding member of St. Anselm’s Episcopal Church, where she was an active member for over 54 years. She served as President of The Auxiliary to the R. F. Boyd Medical Society (the Nashville Chapter of The Auxiliary to the NMA) for many years, and faithfully supported the Meharry Medical College Community for decades.
Though they were, by no means, “rich,” Vie and Nick lived a blessed and comfortable life, and considered themselves wealthy: “We did not invest (our time, talent and treasure) in stocks and bonds; we invested in people! And the dividends have been grand!” Vie and Nick sponsored numerous family members from Jamaica, facilitating their immigration to the United States and their pursuits of higher education. They also welcomed countless Fisk, Meharry, and Tennessee State University students into their home on Meharry Blvd, which became a “home away from home” for many. No one left their home feeling hungry for either food or wise counsel. Vie never minced words – she told it like it was! A tenet of her faith, shared with countless family and friends was: “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand!”
Family and friends meant everything to her and Nick! They were blessed with two wonderful sons-in-law, who had both been students at Meharry. Violet May Nicholas’s legacy is one of a tenacious faith, the pursuit of excellence and education, generosity, hospitality, and “investing in people” – family, friends and community.
Mrs. Nicholas was preceded in death by her devoted and beloved husband of 62 years, Philip A. Nicholas MD (1914 – 2002), her sister, Edna, her “sister-friend” of over 70 years, Ruby Smith, and her beloved sons-in law, Ernest A. Brooks DDS (Gertrude) and Leon B. Metz, Jr. MD (Allison). Left to cherish precious memories are her loving daughters, Gertrude Nicholas Brooks of Morganfield, KY and Allison Nicholas Metz MD of San Francisco, CA; devoted nephew (like a son), Phillip Bourne MD (Anita) of Nashville; granddaughter, Marilyn Metz Jones MD (Anthony) of San Francisco; grandsons, Ernest A. Brooks III (Elizabeth) of Jersey City, NJ, Philip A. N. Brooks MD of Nashville, Leon B. Metz III and Lionel N. Metz MD of San Francisco and Laurence C. Metz of Beaverton, OR; great-grandchildren, Meredith Grace Jones and Nicholas Emmanuel-Baptiste Jones of San Francisco, CA and Alden Bell Brooks of Jersey City, NJ; nieces, Noreen Blanche Nicholas, Audrey Nicholas Caldwell (Van), Paula Brown (Wayne), Maxine Ebanks (Samuel), Carmen Nicholas and Grace Lewis; nephews, Earl Nicholas MD (Wonza) and Cecil Nicholas; sister-in-law, Olga “Esmine” Nicholas, many grand nieces and nephews; “Sister”, Izetta Cooper; devoted friends, Clara Elam, Dorothy Vassall, Drs. Myrtle and George Mason, Dr. and Mrs. Constantine and Una Morris, Drs. Meb and Georgina Awipi, Dr. Larry McNeil; Pearline Gilpin Fletcher, Viola Burley Leak, Dr. Harold and Brenda Nevels, Howard Forbes and Digna Forbes MD; Joy Vassall and daughter Camille; and a host of other “sons,” “daughters,” dear friends and relatives.
Memorial contributions may be made to The Dr. Philip A. and Mrs. Violet M. Nicholas Memorial Scholarship, Meharry Medical College, Attn: Institutional Advancement, 1005 Dr. D. B. Todd Jr Blvd Nashville, TN 37208, or The Dr. and Mrs. Philip and Violet Nicholas Memorial Fund of St. Anselm’s Episcopal Church, 2008 Meharry Blvd, Nashville, TN 37208.