In her final days, Dr. Theresa Stafford was still thinking of the children. When Cambridge Police Captain Antoine Patton visited her at the hospital on December 9, she was worried about whether he had gotten receipts taken care of for the Christmas program for the kids at New Beginnings Youth and Family Services, where Stafford was executive director. On the 12th, she had her sister get a message to Dr. Susan Morgan, who served on the Dorchester County Board of Education with her, because she was still thinking of the Board’s responsibilities to the schools.
“I trusted her and her knowledge of our community and the kind of help children in the community needed,” said Cambridge Mayor Steve Rideout. “That is who she was.”
“Dr. Theresa Stafford was a phenomenal woman and dedicated education advocate for accountability in educating all children, especially children of color,” said Omeaka Jackson, CEO of Harvesting Hope Youth and Family Wellness, Inc.
But she was much more than that. She was a spouse, a mother, a foster mom, a sister, and a friend to so many. The city of Cambridge was in her blood, because it’s where she began her journey and where it ended.
Theresa Diane Molock was born in Cambridge on November 30, 1953, to Thomas and Rose Lee Molock. She graduated from Cambridge High School and then earned her Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, where she joined Zeta Phi Beta sorority. Along the way she got her Master’s at Salisbury University and her Doctorate at Wilmington University. Education, of course, was her focus. She married Lewis H. Stafford, Sr., at Waugh United Methodist Church on October 8, 1983.
“She was kind of tough on me like she was on the kids, but she also had a gentle side,” recalled Mr. Stafford. “She was my best friend.”
Likely Dr. Stafford acquired, or at least honed, her discipline during her 22 years in the Maryland Army National Guard, from which she retired as a Sergeant First Class. At the same time, she was an educator in the public school systems. And she continued being a mom, taking the principal responsibility for her children while Lewis was on the road as a truck driver.
“She was the doctor to the kids, she ran them to different activities and stuff,” he explained. “I don’t really know how she did it all. I always said she would wear out the Energizer Bunny if they were in a contest together. My bet would be on Theresa Stafford.”
As Dr. Morgan put it, “Talking about Theresa is like talking about a whirlwind.”
Dr. Stafford’s mothering didn’t stop when her kids grew up. According to daughter Ashley. “If I was wronged at work, she would just always encourage me to stand up for myself, get everything in writing in case I ever had to prove something. Just making sure we were good financially, emotionally.”
She also carried her maternal instincts into the schools. Even before becoming an official foster mom in the early 2000s, Dr. Stafford would take a child home with her if the kid was having trouble at his or her own home.
After retiring from the school system following 37 years of service, Dr. Stafford refused to slow down. The kids still needed her. Besides running programs like New Beginnings, she was ubiquitous at community functions such as City Council meetings or police town halls, where she made herself heard.
“She was vocal and very direct,” said Charlene Jones, director of programs for the John and Janice Wyatt Foundation.
“I loved the conversations that we had about the children of this community,” remembered Mayor Rideout. “When we talked and listened to one another, we very often wound up in complete agreement. When there appeared to be disagreement, such as with the curfew ordinance, we only disagreed on how to solve the problem but not that the problem did not exist or did not need to be solved.”
Eventually, Dr. Stafford decided to take an even more active hand in things. She ran for the Board of Education because she felt she could lend her expertise to help get the county schools where they needed to be. She won and became the representative for District 2 last December.
“Working with her on the Board was great,” said Dr. Morgan, “even though she would call or text me as late as 1:30 at night or as early as 6:30 in the morning. It seemed like she never slept. Her mind worked 24 hours a day.”
And that mind constantly worked for the children, thinking of more ways to help them.
“I remember Dr. Stafford sponsored a basketball team with Recreation and Parks so more children had an opportunity to play,” said Jones.
Even as she was losing her long battle with cancer, she didn’t give up on the kids. For Thanksgiving, she had made plans to take a bunch of children to Great Wolf Lodge in Perryville. When she got noticeably ill, her spouse tried to make her face the reality of the situation.
“I said, ‘I think you’re gonna have to cancel that because you’re not gonna be able to do that,’” recalled Lewis Stafford. “And she said, ‘No way. I will not disappoint them children.’” Fortunately, Ashley agreed to take the kids, and several of the Stafford grandchildren went along as chaperones.
But finally the force of Theresa Stafford’s will had to give way, and she died on December 14. Scores of people have expressed their grief while also remembering her strength and how she influenced and inspired those around her.
“She set the standard, but she also left the blueprint,” said Jones. “Dr. Stafford has impacted a lot of lives, mine personally and professionally, and I am ever so grateful.”
“I’ve never met anyone like her,” said Dr. Morgan, “and I doubt I will in the future.”
“The ladies of Iota Chi Zeta Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., will work diligently to ensure her legacy lives on in Cambridge,” wrote Tonya Lewis, president of the sorority chapter Dr. Stafford helped to begin. “Her memory will live on in the hearts and lives she touched.”