By David Wilfong
NDG Contributing Writer
The Ms. Mature Irving pageant is a big to-do in the northern DFW community. Or, at least it was prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and hopefully will be again soon. It celebrates the distinguished women who shape the character and direction of the community. In the 2019 iteration, the women who walked across the stage reflected a broad spectrum of Irving in particular, and our country as a whole.
But it wasn’t always that way.
In 1999 Gloria Oliver was the first African American woman to claim the title. It was a small part of turning a new chapter for Blacks in Irving, and in turn improving the city as a whole. While Oliver had done much more for the community than winning a pageant, this outward and visible sign of success remains a significant one for her family and friends.
These loved ones are now remembering Oliver, who passed away on April 4.
“She was an example of the kind of neighbor, friend, citizen of not only Grand Prairie, Bear Creek and the City of Irving; she was a neighbor to everybody,” said family friend Anthony Bond. “She believed in Jesus Christ. She always said, ;You’ve got to have the Christ.’ That was her favorite saying and she lived it.
“She was kind to people of all races, religions, creeds, colors, genders, ages … any kind of thing that would separate us and divide us, Ms. Oliver would not tolerate it for one second. She was – to me – what I call a ‘matriarch deluxe.’ She raised her children, but she was like a momma and a grandmomma to me and a lot of people on the African American community of Bear Creek.
“If there’s a heaven up above, she’s up there teaching angels how to love.”
Gloria Louise Oliver was born on October 22, 1932 in Dallas. When she was a senior at Lincoln High School her family moved to Irving. She commuted to finish her final year with her classmates. Shortly thereafter she married, started a career and had three children; Patrice, Darren and James.
Taking home the title of Ms. Mature Irving was certainly not the first accomplishment for Oliver in terms of breaking ground for African Americans in Irving.
In her career, Oliver was the first African American Directory Assistant Operator at GTE, which would later become Verizon. She retired from the telecommunications business in 1993.
Oliver was instrumental in the efforts of the West Irving Improvement Association. This organization was created to address disparities in the living conditions and opportunities for African Americans living primarily in the Bear Creek community. This was a historic neighborhood originally founded by freed slaves. Its first inhabitants simply wanted a safe environment where they could thrive.
As the 1960s rolled around, just surviving wasn’t enough. The time was overdue for Black children to enter a world where they had the same levels of opportunity that their lighter skinned counterparts living only a few miles away enjoyed. Oliver began by being a teacher to many of the children in Bear Creek, but her vision was higher than that, and she was a part of the push toward integration. Education was a primary goal, and Oliver’s son was among the first students to take that first step toward equal access to learning.
“I know I attended Gerald Davis Elementary here in the neighborhood,” recalled her son, Darren Oliver. “That twas an all Black high school, junior high school and elementary. I attended it from the first grade through the third grade. Then in the fourth grade I was integrated to Barton (Elementary School).
Oliver was also involved in the community through serving on the West Park Recreation Center Advisory Board with the city’s parks and recreation department, and working with the community television station.
Her biggest contributions however, were simply based on face-to-face personal relationships at the neighborhood level.
“As far as everybody was concerned here in this neighborhood, she always did her best to make sure everybody was OK,” Darren said. “She treated them with all the respect and so forth. So everybody knows her in this neighborhood.”
A visitation will be held on Friday, April 15, from 6-8 p.m. at Moore Funeral Home in Arlington. Services will be held on Saturday, April 16 at 11 a.m. in the South Chapel of Moore Funeral Home, with burial following at Moore Memorial Gardens.