Winifred McDonald was just ten years old when she met the man she would marry, at a community center in Harlem. Maurice Fredericks was 13.
Even though fate forced them apart, their destiny could not be denied. It would take ten years, but they married in 1947. Their daughter, Adele Lee, said it was love at first sight for her mom.
“My father was an extremely intelligent man who had a good command of the English language,” Lee said. “My mother was very much attracted to that, and always told everyone that he won her over through his letter-writing skills and his beautiful penmanship. Of course, his good looks helped as well.”
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Twice a month, Lee brought her mom with her on visits to the Cobble Hill Health Center, a nursing home in Brooklyn. It was part of Lee's outreach with the Brooklyn Tabernacle Visitation Ministry. She said her mom loved telling jokes to the residents there, under her own watchful eye.
“She liked to tell X-rated jokes,” Lee said. “When I told her from time to time, 'You can’t read this one,' she’d be upset. She couldn’t understand why. I’d tell her, 'We’re representing the church!'”
In late March, Fredericks’s home attendant noticed her blood pressure was dangerously low and brought her to Staten Island University Hospital. A day later she was told she’d tested positive for the new coronavirus. She was treated for pneumonia and sent home.
Three days later she was finding it hard to breathe and was hospitalized again. She died on April 8, just ten days before her 93rd birthday.
“The ironic thing is that now, not only will she no longer be there at the nursing home because of COVID-19, but many of the residents she ministered to also lost their lives to the virus,” Lee said.
By the end of April, the Cobble Hill Nursing Home had at least 60 coronavirus deaths.
Winifred Fredericks’s story is about love, and it’s also about courage. She was born and raised in New York City. She worked as a legal secretary. Her husband, a World War II Navy veteran, became a letter carrier. They moved from Harlem to Brooklyn two years after they were married and stayed there together for more than 60 years. And together, they became a part of history.
“My mom and dad were very much involved in the Civil Rights movement in the late 50’s,” Lee said. “They participated in the 1957 March on Washington led by A. Philip Randolph, Dr. Martin Luther King’s march in 1963, and the Freedom Rides down Route 40 with the Brooklyn Congress of Racial Equality.”
They were part of the “Stall-In” on the opening day of the 1964 World’s Fair, a protest against job discrimination, police brutality, and inferior schools and housing. They protested against Brooklyn’s famous Ebinger’s bakery, blocking trucks, picketing and boycotting to end their discriminatory hiring practices. They took part in sit-ins against the Board of Education and demonstrated against the Vietnam War.
“I admired what they did because, when I was a teenager, I joined them on some of those picket lines,” Lee said. “I saw what was happening. I saw the things they stood for. I really admired their bravery and commitment. They made a commitment and stuck to it.”
After 62 years in Brooklyn, the couple decided to make a move to Staten Island in 2011. Four months later, Maurice fell ill and passed away at 87.
“He never got to enjoy his new home,” Lee said. “My mother lost her best friend, but she stayed active.”
She had an busy social life, was a dedicated member of the Bethany Baptist Church and AARP’s 2197 Brooklyn Chapter, she worked with her local block association, and she loved to travel, visiting Africa, Europe, the Caribbeans, and Asia. And she made her twice-monthly nursing home visits with her daughter.
“The residents always told her how much they appreciated her involvement,” Lee said. “And they looked forward to her being there.”
Winifred Fredericks leaves behind two daughters, seven grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, a host of other family members, and a legacy of love and respect from everyone who knew her.
“My mother was loved by all those she encountered,” Lee said, “and she will be sorely missed. She was a silent person, but strong in her own way. My family and I were very blessed to have had her for as long as we did. She was 92, yes, but COVID-19 stole the few remaining years she could have had.”