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Advocates want New London magnet school named after Eunice Waller

New London — Eunice McClean Waller, an educator, mentor and prominent Black city leader, died in 2012 at the age of 90 and left a legacy that many here want remembered.

One of Waller’s longtime friends, Debbie Phillips of New London, said a group has spent several years discussing how best to honor a woman who was a trailblazer in the New London community. The idea that has surfaced is to attach her name to one of the three magnet pathways in the New London school district, naming the new international education pathway the Eunice McLean Waller Public Service Magnet School.

The City Council on Monday voted unanimously to approve a non-binding resolution, essentially a show of support when the time comes to decide on a name. The Board of Education is expected to take up the idea in the near future.

“Why would the New London school district honor a woman who taught for 35 years in the Waterford schools?” Phillips asked.

The answer, she said, is that Waller’s imprint is all over New London, where Waller was involved in numerous civic organizations and where she lived most of her life. Waller was also Phillips’ math teacher in 1972 and 1973 at Clark Lane Middle School. Phillips said it also seemed like an opportune time now that the New London school district is welcoming students from outside the city.

“I’ve have known her for 50 years as a teacher, friend, role model and a mentor. Her passion and dedication towards education and other achievements is remarkable,” Phillips said. “She was a faithful supporter of education and a trailblazer for southeastern Connecticut who worked diligently without an agenda or regard to political loyalties or obligations."

Waller is a former New London Board of Education member and City Council member who became the first Black woman to serve as mayor for the council. With her husband, Waller co-founded the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Fund with a donation of $100 in 1968, not long after King was assassinated. She was also an active member of the NAACP and New London Democratic Town Committee and was state convenor of the New London County Section of the National Council of Negro Women.

Former New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, an advocate for the resolution who treasured Waller's advice when he was seeking public office, said the naming was appropriate since Waller, before starting her teaching career in Waterford, had been denied a job in New London because of her race.

“Now, thank God our community has come so so far since then,” Finizio said.

“A number of us felt that it was appropriate to honor her not just for her own unique individual service to our community but for what she represents in our community, which is that education should always be valued as should public service, that it should be encouraged in our young people and our young people should know that regardless of their gender, their race or their orientation they can aspire to any job in our city.”

Council member Reona Dyess said she appreciated the effort to remember Waller.

“So many people are so appreciative for all of the things she’s done for the youth. My heart is just overjoyed. I’m just excited when we recognize people who care for our children” Dyess said.

g.smith@theday.com

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