Gifted

By Christine Fillat

 

Irving Winters and Wendy Glasgow Winters have special gifts. Both have powerful intellects, extraordinary drive, and an attractive bulletproof quality. Inner strength does not begin to describe it. Wendy, a natural leader, used her talents as dean of Smith College during an era where black academics were few and far between. Irving, who graduated from Yale University in three years, has a keen mind. As a physicist and engineer, he participated in projects that included the evolution and detonation of the
atomic bomb.

How did these two dynamic personalities meet? At first, it was more like a collision. In the late 1960s, Wendy was a psychiatric social worker with the Yale University Child Study Center and a single parent. Irving Winters was a senior mechanical engineer in the Yale physics department. They met at a social gathering of African Americans who worked on the university’s New Haven campus. They dated on and off, then “Irv dropped me like a hot potato,” remembers Wendy. “At that point in my life the last thing I wanted to meet was a nice girl,” jokes Irving who was not ready to settle down.

Three years later, when she was completing her doctorate in sociology at Yale and preparing to travel to Africa for an international conference on social welfare, she ran into him at the university’s health care center. Irving had been hit by a car; his bicycle was wrecked. But he was fine enough to ask Wendy to send him a card from Africa. When she returned, their romance bloomed.

They were married soon after. They tell their story together and exchange digs if someone gets a date or detail wrong.

Irving was born in 1927 on Kosciuszko Street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. To a bebop soundtrack of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, he passed the time ice skating, flying model airplanes and making art. At Franklin K. Lane High School, a co-ed integrated public school on the Brooklyn and Queens border, he was a competitive swimmer.

In 1944, when Irving was preparing to graduate from high school, the United States was deeply involved in World War II. He applied to the Naval Academy in Annapolis. Even though he had the support of his school, he couldn’t get sponsorship from his local politician.
“Because you were black,” says Wendy, “he refused to support you because of the color of [your] skin.”

Yale University was more cooperative. At the recommendation of Dr. Akiki Nyabongo, an African prince, Yale alumnus and family friend, Irving was admitted into Yale University and enrolled under the Navy’s V-17 program.

At Yale, Irving assisted in organizing the college’s first jazz festival. “I think we had Miles Davis and Lester Young,” he reminisces. He graduated in an accelerated program with a degree in mechanical engineering.

Out of college Irving worked for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the NACA (which later became NASA), at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, where they were developing high-speed wind tunnels, building supersonic aircraft and breaking the sound barrier. He traveled across the country on engineering projects.

Irving also worked on the renowned Manhattan Project, a research and development initiative that in secret produced the first nuclear weapons during World War II. He won’t divulge any details. “It’s Classified,” says Irving. He does, however, remember witnessing detonations of nuclear bombs at the Los Alamos testing site in Albuquerque, New Mexico. What was that like? “Spectacular and earth shattering” is his response.

As for Wendy, “she’s a very distinguished lady,” says Irving. Born in Norwalk, Connecticut, in 1930, Wendy was a champion baton twirler and talented tap dancer as a young girl, graduating from high school in 1948. In 1952, she earned her bachelor’s degree from Teachers College of Connecticut, and in 1954, received her master’s from Columbia University School of Social Work. She worked in Harlem in the fifties as a social worker and in the Greater Connecticut area before heading to Yale. She had earned her doctorate from Yale, married Irv, and had served as associate dean at the University of Connecticut when she became the first woman of color to be dean at Smith College. She has authored several books, including The Practice of Social Work in Schools (Simon and Schuster, 1983) and African American Mothers and Urban Schools (Lexington Books, 1993). She ended her academic career as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Howard University.

The Winterses offer the following wisdom:

Wendy: “Well, I say, ‘Keep your eye on the prize. And the prize
is having a good life, a thoughtful life … . Being satisfied where you are. We’re very fortunate. Some people can’t feel that way and I realize that.”

Irving: “Don’t give up easily.”

Wendy: “That’s right. Let me just tell you. Don’t give up easily!”

Irving: “Perseverance has its rewards.”

Wendy, who is 87, and Irving Winters, 90, have many rewards, including owning a spacious apartment home at Baywoods of Annapolis. This independent living community overlooks the Chesapeake Bay. Still in love with life, they stroll its waterfront and garden paths with the greatest gift of all: each other.