Arkansas educator and writer Dr. Electa C. Wiley died Feb. 17 in a Nashville nursing home of natural causes. She was 99.
Wiley taught in public schools in Southwest Arkansas between the 1940s and the 1960s before moving into college teaching. In retirement, she wrote, contributing to newspapers and producing volumes of poetry, including Voice from a Back Porch (2000) and Backyard Poetry Festival (2002).
Her husband of 47 years, school administrator Robert Wiley, predeceased her in 1997. The couple’s sons survive her, former Little Rock sportscaster Rob Wiley, now a lawyer in Houston, and Ben Wiley, a retired federal housing official who divides his time between Kerrville, Texas and Walsenburg, Colo.
Wiley took particular pride in the education of her grandchildren, all of whom survive her. Each earned at least a bachelor’s degree: — Shaun (Miami BA ’96), a Chicago-based freelance writer; Keith (Houston BA ’17), employed in the hospitality industry in Houston; Kenny (Missouri BA ’11), a Denver-based religious professional; Murriel (Arkansas BA ’16), a television production worker in Denver; and Kathryn (Clemson BA ’14, Cal-Berkley MA ’16), a doctoral student at the University of Texas.
Electa Dorese Wesson Campbell was born in northern Hempstead County near Nashville on Jan. 14, 1919, the first child of Logan and Odessa Campbell. Her sister, Evelyn, who lived much of her life in Los Angeles, died there in 1970.
Electa graduated from Hope’s Yeager High School in 1937 and attended Arkansas AM&N College, now the University of Arkansas — Pine Bluff, obtaining a home economics degree in 1941.
After living briefly in Chicago, she returned home to teach in rural Arkansas schools. “I knew how to survive here, though things weren’t great for black people. It was what you knew versus what you didn’t. I was never sure up north.”
While teaching at Rosston, she met Clark County native Robert Wiley, a junior high principal in the same district. They married in 1950 and moved to Blevins, where he became principal of the Blevins Training School and she taught home economics.
There, and later at the high school near Clow in Hempstead County, her interest in composition and literature blossomed. She and Robert began attending summer graduate classes at the University of Arkansas — Fayetteville (UA). They earned master’s degrees in 1958, in the process becoming lifelong Razorback fans. Her son, Ben (MBA ‘75), and her granddaughter, Murriel, continued the family tradition of graduating from the Fayetteville campus.
In 1962, Wiley left high school teaching for full-time graduate study at UA. She earned her doctoral degree in 1964. That year she joined the faculty at Southern University — New Orleans where she taught composition and Shakespeare.
Wiley returned to Arkansas in 1966 to supervise revising the freshman English program at AM&N. Three years later she moved back to Louisiana to chair the English Department at Southern University – Shreveport.
In Shreveport, Wiley became active in All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church. She taught at Southern until 1978, when she retired and returned to her family home in Hope, joining Robert, who had retired from his position as superintendant of the Walker School District near Magnolia.
In retirement, in Arkansas and later in Texas and Colorado, Wiley pursued writing. She contributed columns on social and political topics to area newspapers and wrote volumes of poetry she published and presented at conferences.
Of her literary ability, her son, Rob, said, “If my mother had been born later and had opportunities she never got because of segregation, people around the world would have heard of her.”
Her son, Ben, spoke frequently of her passion for teaching.
“Long after she retired, students would come by to see her and talk about how she’d inspired them,” he said.
To honor Electa and Robert, the family is creating a nature trail on its 40- acre property east of Nashville, with completion anticipated by 2019, the 100th anniversary of Electa’s birth. The family said it would announce later plans for a memorial service.