In Memoriam

Portrait of Lillie P.W. Stephens.

Lillie P.W. Stephens

A life of firsts

The career firsts in Lillie P.W. Stephens' life started in 1957 when she became the first Black woman to earn a UB physical education degree. She was also the first Black woman to land a job teaching gym in the Niagara Falls School District. She went on to become its first Black female administrator.

Stephens, who died on May 22 at 84 after a short illness, earned her master’s degree in educational administration from GSE in 1975. She focused her work on the importance of equal opportunity—for minority students and working women.

Stephens was an assistant principal at Trott Vocational High School and LaSalle High School, retiring in 1995 as principal of Niagara Falls’ 60th Street Elementary School.

Stephens was also active in the NAACP and the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. She was president of UB’s Alumni Association and of the National Committee for School Desegregation. During the Clinton Administration, she was appointed to a team evaluating school desegregation.

Her daughter remembers how her mother filed a lawsuit, and won, when she applied for a school job that went to a less qualified candidate.

“She was fiercely principled,” said Pamela Stephens-Jackson (EdM ’91), assistant director of student engagement for fraternity and sorority life at UB. “She had a very strict standard of ethics. She was unaccepting of anything less.”