Bobbie Wells

Obituary of Bobbie Franklin Wells

Bobbie Franklin Wells embarked upon her passage to the far shore on Saturday, October 17, 2019.  An intense lover of life, possessing a prodigious will to live, she astonished many – especially her doctors – by living to the ripe age of 98 years and 6 months.  Undergoing several serious illnesses over the past 3 years, yet she persisted.  Each birthday was a joyous occasion for gratitude.  But this year, as the next life called and the ancestors beckoned, she understood it was time to bid us a temporary farewell.

Born April 8, 1922, in Dallas, Texas, she was the only child of Eva Close Stanton and William West Littlejohn Franklin.  Bobbie was the product of a unique place, time and historical legacy.  On her mother’s side, she was descended from African, Seminole Indian, English and Irish ancestors.  On her father’s side, she was descended from African, Chickasaw and Muscogee Indian, as well as Scots and Jewish ancestors.  Her Franklin forebears originated from the Indian Territory of Oklahoma, descended from the intermingling of African slaves with Native Peoples, who had been transported along the Trail of Tears. 

Bobbie was first and foremost a teacher, as so many of her Franklin forebears had been. Her Franklin grandparents were itinerant schoolteachers, moving according to the crop-growing cycle, among one-room schoolhouses in small farming towns throughout Northeast Texas.  Imbued with the spirit of Booker T. Washington, they believed that education was the means of the “Upliftment of the Race”.  A grand-aunt, Atlanta Franklin, a schoolteacher in Dallas, Texas, was a founding member of the NAACP.  Bobbie’s first cousin, Dr Donald Smith, was a founding member of the National Association of Black School Educators, a former president of NABSE, a celebrated professor of Education at CUNY, and a confidante of Coretta Scott King.

Blacks in East Texas, circa 1922, were subject to intense segregation, expropriation and systemic violence.  Just 12 years prior to her birth, a Black man was lynched on the steps of the Dallas Town Hall. These intolerable conditions bred in the Black community a deep sense of endurance, patience, fortitude, solidarity and spirituality.  Her Stanton and Close forebears were farmers, cooks, washerwomen, laborers, musicians, seamstresses, maids and nannies, hailing from the small East Texas town of Lovelady.  Bobbie’s deep love for her family and her Texas roots led her to stay in Dallas while many friends and some family members moved north to Chicago or west to California. 

At the age of 15, after completing her education in Dallas, Bobbie followed in the footsteps of her Franklin grandmother and grand-aunts and attended Fisk University, an historically Black university in Nashville, Tennessee. (Her father was a graduate of Lincoln University.) While there, she pledged to the AKA sorority. She matriculated in 1941, receiving her B.A. in French and Music. An accomplished organist, she garnered a Lisle Fellowship and completed graduate study in piano and organ at Oberlin Conservatory of Music. She earned an M.A. from Texas Southern University.

In 1947 she became the first teacher of French in Texas public schools. During the 40s, 50s, and 60s she taught French and Spanish in high schools in Port Arthur, Dallas and Houston, including the famed Jack Yates High School of the 3rd Ward of Houston.  In 1972, she was awarded a Ford Foundation fellowship to fund her studies at the University of North Texas, where she earned a Ph.D. in 1974 at the age of 52. She went on to a professorship and deanship at Bishop College, an HBCU in Marshall, Texas. At age 59 she retired from academics and began a second career as a real estate investor, following in the footsteps of her mother. 

In 1949 she married Robert Eldredge Wells.  In 1950, her first daughter, Bobbie Lynelle Wells LeFlore was born.  A second daughter, Robin Elizabeth Wells, was born in 1959.  Robert passed in 1992, and in 1999 she moved to Princeton to be closer to her daughter Robin and son-in-law Paul Krugman, professor emeritus in Economics at Princeton, currently professor at CUNY, New York Times Op-Ed Columnist, and 2008 Nobel Prize Winner in Economics.  Bobbie quickly made herself at home in Princeton.  She attended Witherspoon Presbyterian Church, making many dear friends there. 

Bobbie’s twenty years in Princeton were among the best of her life.  A vivacious octogenarian and nonagenarian, she and her devoted caregiver-companion Pearl Lauder spent many happy hours together “doing their rounds”.   Gregarious, she made friends wherever she went.  Loyal, she kept up with friends from throughout her life. Generous, she would pay for a distant relative’s groceries, or send a donation to the Southern Poverty Law Center.  She cherished being an Elder, dispensing encouragement and wisdom to young people.  For those going through life’s challenges, she delivered a message of unwavering resilience.  She spoke her mind in a no-nonsense way.  She had a deep and abiding appreciation of her forebears and the sacrifices they had made to bring her and us thus far.

In addition to her two daughters, she is survived by three beloved grandchildren.  Evan LeFlore, of Harlem, NYC, is a research economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York City and at Google.  Jonathan LeFlore is a translator living and working in Osaka, Japan.  Ligaya Franklin, of Jackson Heights, NYC, is an academic program associate and manager of the Harlem Law Program for the Bard Early College System.

Bobbie was blessed to have two very devoted caregivers during her final years.  Pearl Lauder was with her day and night for nearly 10 years. Pearl’s devotion and care could not have been greater, and Bobbie loved her greatly in return.  Yadira Orellana was with Bobbie for over 11 years, and Bobbie loved her like a third daughter.  Bobbie was also blessed by very dear friends: Tex Allen, Joyce McEwing, Deborah Jordan (niece), and Emelinda Ingold.

Bobbie’s life was a testament to how the courage, faith and resilience of generations can overcome hardship and tribulations.  She was clear that “we must keep our eyes on the prize.”  If you wish to make donations in her honor, please direct them to the Southern Poverty Law Center of the Equal Justice Initiative.  She will be mightily pleased.

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