Hearts Love 23

Willa Petty

May 10, 1942 ~ March 20, 2021 (age 78)

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On Saturday, March 20, 2021 Willa Petty of Upper Marlboro, Maryland entered into eternal life. Family will receive friends on Thursday, March 25, from 5pm until 8pm at Wiseman Funeral Chapel, 7529 Old Alexandria Ferry Road, Clinton, Maryland. Funeral service will be held on Friday, March 26, at 10am at  Isle of Patmos Baptist Church, 1201 Rhode Island Avenue, NE, Washington, DC. Interment Resurrection


Willa Rae Young Petty


Willa Rae Young, daughter of the-late William and Amye Young, who were married 73½ years, was born on Mother’s Day, May 10, 1942, in Sharon, Pennsylvania,

Despite being diagnosed with a rare eye disease at the age of 16, she became the first African-American cashier for the A&P Tea Company during the summer of 1958.  After graduating from Sharon Senior High School in 1960, she enrolled at the Shenango Valley Commercial Institute, where she excelled in shorthand and typing until her move to Washington, DC. 

She began her career at the U. S. Department of Commerce on April 28. 1963.  On August 28 of that year, although cautioned not to attend the March on Washington by her supervisor, she went and, to her amazement after painstakingly spending many hours with a magnifying glass, found her face in an Ebony Magazine photo of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. waving to the crowd below; she also appeared in Jet Magazine as a hostess for the 200 million-population ceremony attended by President Lyndon B. Johnson. 

Twenty-two of Willa’s 32½ years at the Commerce Department were spent in the Immediate Office of the Secretary with many fond memories.  She was mentioned in a New York Times article after asking then-Secretary Malcolm Baldrige about his rodeo-roping skills.  Following his death on July 26, 1987, she, along with other staff members and close friends of the Secretary, flew to the Connecticut funeral on Air Force Two, the Vice President’s plane. 

On March 4, 1988, just 30 minutes before the start of Commerce’s 75th Birthday Celebration, Willa was asked by then-Secretary of Commerce C. William Verity to substitute as emcee for an ailing Pearl Bailey.  She was the only Career employee later mentioned in his book; she was also named FOX network’s “National Secretary of the Year” in the early 90’s.  She retired from Federal Service on October 31, 1995.

On November 15, 1975, she married James E. Petty and became mother to Anthony Tyrone, Dwyne Edward and Eric Jerome, ages 11, 9, and 4.  On May 20, 1979, they were blessed with another son, James William.  Married for a month and one week short of 40 years, her husband preceded her in death on October 8, 2015.

Willa Rae began her relationship with Christ at an early age -- she sang and participated in youth groups not only in her home church but also during her public-school years.   A member of the Isle of Patmos Baptist Church; she served on the Nurses Unit; was first-runner-up in the 2005 Senior Ms. Isle of Patmos; was a member, past-president and secretary of the Voices of Victory Choir; served as secretary of the 70th IPBC Anniversary Planning Committee.   In February and July 2014, respectively, she received Certificates of Appreciation from the Music and Arts Ministry as the Voices of Victory Psalmist of the Year, and from the Senior Christian Ministry for her support. 

Following her Federal retirement, she held several positions in private industry and retired a second time, on July 13, 2007, as Senior Executive Secretary to The Honorable Thomas J. Collamore, Vice President, Altria Corporate Services, Inc., for whom she’d worked with for more than 26 years in the Federal Government and private industry.                                                                                                                                                                          

She was a devoted Kettering-Largo Boys and Girls Club Team Mother for many years; an avid high school (Largo and DeMatha), college (Hargrave Military Academy and Catawba University) football and professional football (Pittsburgh Steelers) fan; she loved to shop, cook and use her computer. 

She was a real stickler for respecting their elders, proper English and spelling, as her boys (and certain friends) who she corrected can tell you -- they all said she should have been a teacher.  She could instantly could spot a typo at the drop of a hat but admitted that she sometimes couldn’t spot her own.

In addition to her sons, she leaves to cherish her memory:  four daughters-in-law, Regina, Raquel, Fawn and Anju; six grandchildren:  Sharlena, Dwyne Jr., Amber, Rayvon, Antony, and Bryce; 3 great-grandchildren:  Zaria, Nia and Amar; sisters-in-law:  Margaret Williams, Michelle Wyche, Paula, Elaine; her sister-girlfriend, Anna O. Price, very long-time girlfriends:  Marie O’Neal, Kat Tuck, Sarah Payne, and Bessie Ward. And a host of nieces, nephews, cousins, other relatives and friends. 


To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Willa Petty, please visit our floral store.


March 25, 2021

6:00 PM to 8:00 PM
Wiseman Funeral Chapel (Old Alexandria Ferry Road, Maryland)

Funeral Service
March 26, 2021

11:00 AM
Isle of Patmos Baptist Church (Rhode Island Avenue, NE, Washington, DC)

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