Dorothy Simms Fauntroy, wife to the District’s first delegate to Congress, died on June 18 at the age of 88. She was remembered as an "angel" at a funeral on June 29 at New Bethel Baptist Church. (Courtesy photo)
Dorothy Simms Fauntroy, wife to the District’s first delegate to Congress, died on June 18 at the age of 88. She was remembered as an "angel" at a funeral on June 29 at New Bethel Baptist Church. (Courtesy photo)

Hundreds gathered at New Bethel Baptist Church in Northwest D.C. on June 29 to celebrate the life of Dorothy Simms Fauntroy, a church leader and community servant, who was often celebrated as  “the wind beneath the wings” of the District’s former delegate to Congress. Serving as the New Bethel’s longtime first lady, Fauntroy was remembered as an “angel,” and woman of great strength. 

In life, Fauntroy was the wife and lifelong companion of the Rev. Dr. Walter Fauntroy, an iconic civil rights leader and aide to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Reverend Fauntroy went from pastoring a District congregation and leading protests to serving as the District’s first Delegate to Congress and beside him was his wife Dorothy, who died June 18 at the age of 88.

In an interview with The Informer, Marvin Fauntroy, 59, talked about his mother and growing up as a child in the civil rights movement. 

“She was a quiet power and she was the bedrock for my father that allowed him to do what he needed to do,” Marvin Fauntroy said in an interview. “I don’t know many people who could have done that.”

In terms of how his dad is doing, the son said, “He is doing ok.” 

“I can’t imagine knowing somebody for 71 years. They got married in 1957 but they met in 1951,” he explained.

Marvin Fauntroy said that he has received calls from the family members and children of other civil rights leaders, such as the Jacksons and Kings. 

“The Jacksons, the Kings, they are going something right now (with the death of Christine King Ferris) I am going to send them something,” he explained.

With appreciation for all who have reached out, he singled out a letter from the children of King’s top assistant Ralph Abernathy.

“I called him Uncle Ralph,” he said. 

“When Dr. Abernathy came to D.C., they didn’t stay in a hotel they stayed at the house,” Marvin Fauntroy explained. “Dr. King came to the house, but he didn’t like staying in a house because he thought it put people in peril. He would come.  There is a picture of him standing on the steps and holding me. I was 2 years old.”

“When Abernathy came he would bring the whole family” added Marvin Fauntroy. 

The now 59-year-old said he learned many things from his parents and elders of the movement, such as remaining in his seat during church service. 

“You go to the bathroom before church; there wasn’t any getting up from the pew unless it was time to put something in the plate,” Marvin Fauntroy emphasized. “There was none of this running in and out. Sit your butt right here. That’s how I was raised. I cringe when I see it now.”

Celebrating an ‘Angel’

On June 29, New Bethel Pastor, the Rev. Dexter Nutall, led former Delegate Fauntroy and a somber procession of family and friends out of the sanctuary after a funeral that celebrated the life of Deaconess Dorothy Fauntroy. From the beginning to the end of the service, it was evident the deaconess and former first lady was loved by all of the members of the close knit congregation in upper Northwest.

Nutall called her ‘our angel,’” said Ibrahim Mumin, who along with his wife Carol, were close friends to the Fauntroy family. 

Mumin said Nutall shared engaging and touching anecdotes about Dorothy Fauntroy’s contributions to her church community. 

“He reminded us how every year at this time, Mrs. Fauntroy would give little white envelopes filled with small amounts of money to the graduates to keep them encouraged,” Mumin said of Nutall’s eulogy. “We knew it wasn’t much, but it was just a great thing she always did.”

In addition to working at New Bethel and in the Shaw community, Dorothy Fauntroy worked hard and supported her husband since the time she spotted him her freshman year on the campus of Virginia Union. At the time she noticed him, he was in the process of joining Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity.  

“Who was that little guy with a bald head,” Dorothy Fauntroy told The Informer in a March 2017 interview. She said despite the shaved head, and his desire to be in a fraternity, she learned something else about the then-mystery man: “He sang in the choir and had a beautiful voice.”

What began as a campus romance, blossomed into a relationship that spanned more than seven decades.  She was his partner in the civil rights movement. She was there when King and other ministers planned parts of the March on Washington, and she was there serving the residents of the District of Columbia when her husband was in Congress from 1971 to 1991.

Dorothy Fauntroy was also a devoted member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and recipient of multiple community service awards. Her unwavering commitment was reflected in her profound impact on both the church and community. 

“Dorothy demonstrated exceptional leadership skills during her tenure at the ministry, successfully leading various programs over several years. Her devotion to the church and community did not go unnoticed, as she was recognized with the prestigious title of ‘New Bethel Baptist Church Woman of the Year in 1982,’” according to information in her funeral program.

The deaconess and wife also had a unique collection of dolls and ornaments that was a favorite attraction for friends and guests. She had porcelain angel figurines and music boxes. She also had a passion for planting and nurturing flowers. 

However, paramount in her life was her love for her children and grandchildren.

In 2012, former Delegate Fauntroy went to the United Arab Emirates and didn’t return to the United States until 2016. Even though her husband faced legal and financial trouble, Dorothy Fauntroy remained strong and worked quietly with his close associates to bring him back home.

 “I wasn’t really worried about him because I have a strong faith in God,” Dorothy Fauntroy told The Informer in 2017. 

She said even though her husband traveled around the world, she never worried about him because of prayer and her relationship with God. 

“I pray for him, I pray for his safety and that’s what I have done this time because worry only  makes you sick, and if I get sick, who is going to run the household?”

A Woman of Strength

A  native of Petersburg, Virginia, the wife and mother, was the daughter of Frank and Lola Simms. She was the youngest of three siblings (deceased). She attended the Petersburg Public Schools and earned a B.S. Degree in Business Administration from Virginia Union University in  1955. 

Following graduation, she moved to New York City where she worked as the Director of the Collegiate Council of the  United Nations.

Dorothy and Walter E. Fauntroy married at Zion Baptist Church in Petersburg in August 1957 and then moved to Washington after the reverend became pastor of New Bethel, where the twi served for more than 50 years. 

The former New Bether first lady was a talented singer who had many solos with the Senior Sanctuary Choir and Women’s Choir, but one of her most notable achievements was creating the “First Lady’s Scholars Program,” which pushed young people to academic excellence.

In addition to her work and service, Dorothy Fauntroy made bold statements in terms of fashion and was well known for her elegant hats that completed her long beautiful hair. 

She was also a woman of strength.

During the years her husband was gone, she said, “ I told my parishioners at church I gave this to the Lord like I always do. The Lord has taken care of me over the years. He brought me through colon cancer. I had two surgeries in 2004… and if he brought me through that I know he is going to take care of me.”   

Johnny Barnes, the lawyer for both Walter and Dorothy Fauntroy, said, “She was still considered as the First Lady of New Bethel. She was the ‘wind beneath the wings,’ of Walter Fauntroy. She was ever present, ever committed, and ever dedicated to the Congressman.”

Dorothy Fauntroy is survived by her husband, the Rev. Dr. Walter E. Fauntroy; son Marvin K. Fauntroy and daughter Melissa A. Fauntroy; three grandchildren and many other family members and friends.

“I think about two words: ‘dignity and strength,’” said her nephew Michael Fauntroy, 57, associate professor of policy and government at George Mason University. “She showed great strength at a time when there were few role models in terms of being the spouse of a civil rights leader.”

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the...

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  1. I was lucky enough to spend many quick moments catching up with Dorothy – I recall she insisted on Dorothy – over the years as her neighbor beginning in 2012.
    Thank you for this article and to her family for sharing her with us. We are sorry for your loss

  2. Great Article & a fine tribute to a wonderful Woman & First Lady.
    Condolences to the family ! ❤️

  3. From the Porter family who lived in the same neighborhood.
    I remember Mrs. Fauntroy quite well as growing up around very educated and dedicated for getting the job done beside her husband.
    The Porter family sends there deepest sympathies and
    condolences she will be missed.
    Robin, Chester and Maria also Cornell Jackson.

  4. She will be missed by so many of us who grew up on 9th st, n.w. DC. She was like a mother to me and all the kids in the Shaw Community.

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