DPS teacher, coach ‘had an impact on people’s lives’

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

On the basketball court, at work and in the community, William Washington welcomed chances to mentor and help others.

“He had an impact on people’s lives,” said Larry Williams, a friend and former co-worker. “They listened to him.”

Mr. Washington, a longtime teacher and coach, died Tuesday, June 6, 2017, after battling pneumonia. He was 72.

For more than 30 years, he built a career with Detroit Public Schools. Working at elementary, middle and high schools including Winterhalter, Cody, Redford, Emerson, Bow and Southwestern, he often taught gym and art, relatives said.

“He had a way of connecting with kids,” said his son, Gino Washington.

His presence loomed so large, “people loved to show up just to see him in the hallways,” said DonJuan Gross, who attended Redford High School. “He always had a smile or joke to tell you.”

Mr. Washington also coached basketball and track in the district.

Years later, young athletes remembered him urging them to focus on excelling not only in athletics but academics.

“He really cared about our discipline and our future,” said Gross, who played for him in the 1980s. “He treated everybody like a son. He was always one to push you to do better.”

Mr. Washington also shared tutelage coaching at Southfield-Lathrup High and while helping with a youth basketball program associated with the Detroit Pistons — the latter role gained through a former coach, scout Will Robinson, his son said. “He loved working with kids and using basketball as a means to keep them out of trouble and also teach them how to have fun and teamwork.”

The foundation of his efforts was framed early.

Born Feb. 23, 1945, he was the seventh of 13 children William Sr. and Ora Washington raised in Detroit’s Conant Gardens neighborhood.

While attending Pershing High School, he excelled at sports and academics, playing on a city championship-winning basketball team as well as setting a record in track, relatives said.

Mr. Washington earned a scholarship to attend Lincoln University in Missouri, where he studied art and education as well as joined a chapter of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.

He later transferred to Wayne State University and earned a bachelor’s degree in 1971.

While teaching at DPS, Mr. Washington worked in security at Cadillac Motor Car Division’s headquarters in Detroit.

His strong advice and commitment to hard work impressed Williams, who eventually returned to school and earned a bachelor’s degree. “He was a good example — all about family and taking care of business,” he said. “He carried himself in a respectful way.

After retiring in the early 2000s, Mr. Washington indulged another hobby: art.

A talented painter who once displayed pieces at the New York World’s Fair, he continued producing works and sharing them with others, his family said.

“He was a great artist,” Gross said.

In later years, he still enjoyed following sports and entertaining family during gatherings.

“He was very resilient, extremely smart and really funny,” said his niece, Felisa Mirasol. “He was just an amazing human being.”

Other survivors include his wife, Donna Washington; sons William “Billy”, Sean Carvaggio and Christopher; seven grandchildren; five sisters, Marie Parnell, Rosa Robinson, Daisy Gross, Shirley Lewis and Betty Wade; and five brothers, Willie, Gino, Ray, Roy, and Grady Washington.

He was predeceased by his parents; a brother, Lee Dell Washington; and a sister, Minnie Ruth Washington.

Services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at Vernon Chapel AME Church, 18500 Norwood, Detroit.