In memory of Mildred Puryear Shelton, a trailblazing advocate for family literacy

NCFL mourns the loss of Mildred Puryear Shelton, whose fierce commitment to her students and passion for family literacy will never be forgotten. In addition to impacting the lives of hundreds of students through her work as a literacy teacher, Mildred’s advocacy played a pivotal role in the early success of NCFL. 

Hired as an early childhood specialist in the Kenan Trust Family Literacy Project, Mildred quickly emerged as a leader who oversaw the entire program. In partnership with NCFL founder, Sharon Darling, the trust funded work to begin scaling the Parent and Child Education (PACE) program, which aimed to break the generation-to-generation legacy of poverty and illiteracy.

Under Mildred’s direction, the family literacy program received a special award as an innovative education program, resulting in thousands of requests from educators across the country who wished to learn more about family literacy, and the practices implemented by the trust’s program.

It was this success that ultimately assisted in the establishment of the National Center for Families Learning (then called the National Center for Family Literacy), as the generous support of the Kenan Trust became NCFL’s first-ever donation. Without Mildred’s passion for family literacy and her leadership of this flagship program, NCFL would not have been able to impact as many families throughout our 34-year history as we’ve had the fortune to.  

Mildred also served as a shining example of the importance of adult education. Having dropped out of school before graduating, she went on to earn her GED® and teaching degree, using her experience to motivate and support her students.

Affectionately dubbed “Mountain Mama,” Mildred never gave up on her students, pushing them toward success with strength and kindness. When interviewed about her journey in the Kenan Trust Family Literacy program, graduate Regina Osteen Lynn spoke highly of her experience as one of Mildred’s students.  

…the lesson that Mildred taught me is the difference between a reason and an excuse. I had always lived by excuses. So, once you tear it all down and get to the basics, they are mostly all excuses. Because if you can get in the door of a family literacy program, you’ve got all the support in the world and you can climb to the next level. 

Mildred, Sharon, and Regina at Literacy Honors, Washington, DC 1992

Mildred’s legacy as a leader, advocate, and teacher will not be forgotten in the lives of those she touched. It is NCFL’s hope and goal to further the work she was dedicated to, with the memory of her passion driving us forward. We extend our deepest condolences to Mildred’s family, friends, students, and colleagues. 

The best feeling comes from knowing we helped so many young people reach their goals, whether getting a GED and continuing their education as did Regina Lynn, or whether it was to learn to read to their child. Reaching personal goals was the emphasis of our program. (Mildred Puryear Shelton)