Athens Review, Athens, Texas

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February 26, 2013

Community pillars

Westbrooks remembered as ground-breaking couple


Carl and Marian Westbrook are remembered as trailblazers in the history of Henderson County, but even more for the lives they touched along the way.

Mr. Westbrook was a longtime Athens councilman, who in 1992 became the first black mayor pro-tem of the city. Mrs. Westbrook was the first black registered nurse at Henderson County Memorial Hospital. Gilson Westbrook, one of the couple’s three children, remembers his parents being well suited for their roles.

“Dad was elected pro-tem three times, which shows that he was very well accepted,” Gilson said.

Marian was chief nurse on the 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift at the hospital, Gilson said, adding “She liked that because it gave her time to do other things. She took care of dad’s an my needs during the day then went to work. It worked out very well.”

Marian grew up in Athens and graduated from R.C. Fisher High School in 1935. She left for Prairie View A&M, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing in 1939. It was there that she met the man who would be her husband for 61 years. In 1965, Marian received a Degree in Public Health Education at Texas Woman’s University in Dallas.

“She began her career as the county school nurse,” Gilson said. “She was school nurse for Athens, Malakoff and St. Paul, as well as other rural schools in the county.”

Traveling from school to school, her face was soon recognized by children around the county.

“Everybody remembered Nurse Westbrook,” Gilson said. “She gave a majority of them their school vaccination shots. You’ve got to calm a kid down to give them the shots.”

After her stint at Henderson County Memorial Hospital, Marian served as a staff resource nurse for the Texas Department of Public Health Region 7 from 1968 until her retirement in 1979.

Later she was a member of the Top Ladies of Distinction, a Tyler-based humanitarian organization and the Henderson County leader for its youth oriented Top Teens program.

“She took them to all the conventions and conferences,” Gilson said.

Carl was born in Houston and graduated from Galveston Central High School. After his stay at Prairie View A&M, Westbrook began a 40-year career as a Texas agricultural extension officer. The last half of his extension years were in Henderson County.

“He enjoyed that role,” Gilson said. “During the days when they had the Black-Eyed Pea Jamboree, he was in charge of the pet show. He was also one of the founding forces behind the Henderson County Farm and Ranch Tour when it began in the early 1960s.

After retirement, he was elected to the Athens City Council in 1983, where he served until 2000. His fellow council members elected him mayor pro-tem in 1992 and he remained in that position until he left office.

Gilson’s brother, Carl Jr., is a physician in Tyler. The other sibling, Reginald, lives in Dallas.

“They were great parents,” Reginald said. “It was just us three boys but everyone wanted to be our sister and brother. Our house is where everyone wanted to come and stay.”

Carl died in September 2001 and Marian  followed in July 2009

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