By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
About Brother George
For more than two decades, “Brother” George Welch owned and operated the Self-Improvement and Educational Center on 35th Street in the Park Place section of Norfolk.
Welch, 79, died recently at Sentara Bayside Hospital, according to family members.
Known as “Brother George” by most of the people who knew him, he was born in the Liberty Park section of Norfolk. His father worked for the railroad and his mother was a housewife who raised eight children.
A graduate of Booker. T. Washington High School, he enlisted into the U.S. Air Force and served his country 22 years at various posts around the world, including Great Britain and a tour of duty in Vietnam.
After retiring in 1972, he then worked as a longshoreman as a member of Local Union 1248.
Welch opened the Self-Improvement and Educational Center in 1979, according to his daughter, Francisca Welch-Stidham of Virginia Beach. She described him as a quiet and thoughtful man and a strong believer of the Nation Of Islam (NOI).
“My father noticed that many of the people he encountered here did not know enough about themselves as Black people or their culture or history,” Welch-Spidham said. “Most people understood only what people had told them. He always believed that people should be given a chance to improve and elevate themselves to improve their outlook on themselves and their environment.”
The Self Improvement and Educational Censer was more than a bookstore filled with Afro-centric books and other educational and cultural materials.
It was also the cultural and social nerve center for many who lived in Park Place and all over the region.
Welch sold the center last year. But for the last few years, he ran the shop with the help of his now 11-year-old grandson, Malcolm Stidham, who “knew every book in the store, like his grandfather,” said his mother Welch-Spidham.
“Over the years and recently I have run across people who knew my father and they told me about how he inspired them,” she said. “He never talked about it, but he also shared knowledge and inspiration for countless people. He was also a mentor to many. Many people even defined him as the father they never knew.”
Angel Pye works at the St. Bride Correctional Censer and counsels at-risk youth. In 1994, while attending Norfolk State University, she was assigned to write a college paper comparing the practices of African American and White businesses. She interviewed George Welch and his wife on the subject.
“Brother George taught me about integrity,” said Pye. “If you gave him $5 to hold in 1995 ... in 2005 he would give that same $5 back to you ... because it was yours. How many people can you say have that much integrity? That was Brother George and his legacy.”
Farrell Watson, 26, met George Welch on his last day as an enlisted man in the military. Watson was born in Norfolk, too, and unknown to him, “Brother George” knew his entire family. Watson is now a graduate student at George Washington University and a social worker for the city of Hampton.
“He was an inspiration to me. He always gave me words of wisdom and some of the things he taught me kept me out of trouble,” said Watson. “I attended Old Dominion University, got my degree in political science. On the day I graduated, he could not attend because he was busy at the center. But after the ceremony, all of my 50 family members drove over to the center and saw him and we had a small celebration. I appreciated his being my inspiration. I will miss him.”
Mr. Welch was married to Mary Softly Welch, who now lives in Washington, D.C. He had three daughters, Francisca Welch-Stidham of Virginia Beach; Rosemary Omesietie of San Antonio; and Judieth Welch of Washington, D.C. Other survivors include four grandsons and a host of relatives, extended family and friends.
Mr. Welch’s funeral will be at 2 p.m. Saturday May 14 at the Metropolitan Chapel on Granby Street in Norfolk. It will be a cultural ceremony with Afrikan dancers and drummers. Yoruba priest Baba Orisa officiated at the burial.
This article was published in the New Journal & Guide.
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