Mrs. Minnie Esther Johnson Wiley, the fourth and youngest child of the late Jefferson Arnold Johnson and the late Ruby Thornton Johnson, was born Thursday, November 20, 1930 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. As the last to be born, she left this earthly life in the same order of her older siblings who preceded her: Luvetia Johnson Williams, Horace Johnson, and Styrling Alma “Baby” Johnson Brown. On Wednesday, October 14, 2020, God called Minnie Esther home to reunite with her parents, siblings and her husband of 33 years, Wilbur Wiley, and her youngest daughter Wilma Marie Wiley.
Minnie’s education began in the Chattanooga School System where she attended Roland Hayes, Orchard Knob Junior High and graduated from Howard High School, home of the Hustlin’ Tigers, in 1948. After high school, she completed a two-year program at Morristown College in Morristown, Tn. with Veterans Administration benefits she received after the death of her father, Jefferson. While at Morristown, she was a work study student, employed in the school’s cafeteria under the supervision of Ms. Rippetoe and Ms. Downs. In 1952, she returned to Chattanooga and married Wilbur and worked as a maid at F.W. Woolworth Co. and Lovemans department store. Their family grew with the birth of their daughters Deborah and Wilma. Like a Proverbs 31 woman, Minnie saw that her trading was profitable. For many years, she would sit at Woolworth’s on the Saturday before Easter with her eye on two Easter baskets -- waiting for the store’s last-minute markdowns -- so she could afford to purchase them for her daughters. As the woman who grasped the spindle with her fingers, Minnie was a dedicated seamstress who would stay up all night on those same Easter weekends to finish the special dresses for Deborah and Wilma to wear to church on Sunday morning. As a young woman, Minnie set about her work vigorously and did not let her occupations define her or deter her dreams. She, too, was clothed in strength and dignity and could laugh at the days to come. Some of those laughs and joys came from trying on fur coats in Lovemans' cold storage vault after store hours!
Mrs. Wiley wanted to be an educator and knew that she would have to complete her college degree. She enrolled at Tennessee Agricultural & Industrial State University (now Tennessee State University) in Nashville, Tn. and traveled each week to take classes full-time and live in Hale Hall dormitory. Minnie often heard a freshman in the dorm constantly playing piano and singing a song that would make her the first woman to chart a Top 10 Billboard hit -- that student was Carla Thomas and her tune was “Gee Whiz.” Deborah recalls how she and her sister would stand in the doorway and cry each and every Monday morning when their mother left with Mrs. Ruth Millener and Mrs. Avis Kirby for Nashville. Those tears of sadness were replaced with gladness when she returned on Fridays. Minnie rarely returned home empty-handed. She would ask the college librarian for the Betsy McCall paper doll from issues of McCall’s magazines so she could give them to her girls. Minnie Esther would sometimes treat her daughters to a hamburger dinner at what Deborah remembered as “a classy restaurant where the waiters were dressed in white jackets and served patrons with crisp, white towels draped over their arms.” Yes, Minnie enjoyed traveling so much that they would drive to the black-owned Deborsh’s Restaurant on 40th street in Nashville for their hamburgers and return home the same day!
While at TSU, Minnie enjoyed student teaching at Ford Green Elementary School before graduating in 1961 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Education. Back home in Chattanooga, Mrs. Wiley taught in Hamilton County at Roland Hayes, Booker T. Washington and Hillcrest Schools. She usually taught 4th and 5th grades. While at Booker T., she taught the girls how to wrap ribbons around the maypole for the annual May Day celebrations.
Minnie’s retirement gave her the opportunity to continue many of her joys that began during her working years. She loved the Lord and her church fellowship. She was a charter member of Washington Hills United Methodist Church which was established in 1969. Later, Mrs. Wiley joined St. John United Methodist Church where she sang in the choir, taught Vacation Bible School and never wanted to miss the teachings, fellowship and coffee in the Joy Sunday School Class.
She was always active and enjoyed her involvement with the Hamilton County Retired Teachers Association, the TSU Alumni Association, and the Morristown College Reunion of the Ages. In 1972, she became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated (Gamma Iota Zeta chapter) of which she had served as chapter president and loved working with the triennial Blue Revue fundraising programs.
Never to eat the bread of idleness, Minnie enjoyed travel and being an avid and accomplished bridge player. She was a member of numerous regional and national bridge associations including the American Contract Bridge League and the American Bridge Association and would travel across the country to play in tournaments. Locally, she belonged to The Clairvoyant Socialite and Downtowner Clubs and the Kings and Queens Bridge Society.
Minnie’s children arise and call her Blessed. She leaves to cherish her memory her loving daughter, Deborah (Michael) Roberts, Dallas, GA; devoted nephew, Lee D. Brown, Jr; grandchildren, Stephen Kahmaar (Stephanie) Wiley Roberts, Nashville, TN; Bethany Roberts, Kingston, WA; Jordan (Lael) Roberts, Biloxi, MS; step-grandchildren, Kelli Roberts, Pfafftown, NC; Michael Roberts ll, Seattle, WA; “Me-Mommy’s” great-grandchildren, Stephon and Lephiano Roberts, Christina Megginson; sister-in-law, Evelyn Wiley Rice, Chicago, IL; wonderful nieces and nephews in Chicago, Detroit and Dallas; and a host of relatives and friends.
The family of Mrs. Minnie Esther Johnson Wiley wishes to acknowledge, with sincere love and appreciation, the overwhelming support and acts of kindness, concern and prayers during her extended illness and transition. A special thanks to Hospice Chattanooga, T’s Sitter Service and care partners Linda Hall and Tameria Livingston, they helped to make mom's transition to heaven a sacred and loving time.
Memorials can be sent to: St John UMC, 3921 Murray Hills Dr. Chattanooga TN 37416.
Final arrangements entrusted to John P. Franklin Home, 1101 Dodds Avenue, Chattanooga, TN 37404, (423) 622-9995.