Nancy Fitts Donaldson, 93, of Newtown Square, a longtime Quaker school educator and the mother of Inquirer cartoonist Signe Wilkinson, died in her sleep Thursday, Sept. 26, at White Horse Village.
Ms. Donaldson attended Quaker schools and in turn became a teacher, principal, and mentor to younger Quaker educators in schools throughout the Philadelphia region.
"She was a careful thinker with long and deep perspective, who was always open to new learning,” said Lynn Oberfield in the winter 2011 issue of the Media-Providence Friends School bulletin. Oberfield was a former head of the school. Ms. Donaldson had been a student there in the 1930s.
Born Anna Mary Fitts in Gradyville, Delaware County, Ms. Donaldson did not like her first name so she changed it to Nancy.
She did like to reminisce about growing up near a peach orchard. When she was 13, she and her sisters served up their father’s homemade peach ice cream and sold it for five cents a scoop, and 10 cents for two scoops, on the side of Middletown Road in Gradyville.
In 1946, she graduated from Swarthmore College, where she was known as “Fittsy.”
Ms. Donaldson married Peter B. Wilkinson in the late 1940s. After living in Texas, Atlanta, and Pittsburgh, the couple settled in Paoli to raise three children. Daughter Signe later became an Inquirer cartoonist who won the Pulitzer Prize for her work in 1992.
Ms. Donaldson and her husband divorced in 1978. When her children were old enough to attend school, Ms. Donaldson did, too, earning a teaching certificate in education from West Chester University.
In the late 1950s, she began her career as a fourth-grade teacher at the now-closed Paoli Pike Elementary School in West Chester. She took a job at the Wilmington Friends School in Delaware and continued teaching until 1971, when she became the head of Lansdowne Friends School.
Ms. Donaldson was named lower school principal at Abington Friends School and then played the same role at the Shipley School in Bryn Mawr. Later, she supervised student teachers for Swarthmore College.
Throughout her career as a school principal, Ms. Donaldson was in demand as an adviser and mentor in Quaker education circles.
“She went from being a wonderful, trusted school leader to being a wonderful, trusted support for school leaders,” Oberfield said.
Ms. Donaldson retired in 1990. She volunteered to serve on the board of directors for Friends’ Central School and Media-Providence Friends School.
She was the first clerk for the board of Stratford Friends School in Newtown Square, which specializes in teaching children with learning differences. She tutored pupils in the city of Chester and supported the Chester Children’s Choir.
In 1984, Ms. Donaldson married Orlin Willits Donaldson, a retired photographer for Bethlehem Steel Corp. The couple rented one of the tiny, ramshackle houses on old Forge Road in Ridley Creek State Park. In exchange for paying nominal rent, they rehabilitated the building.
“He leveled the floors, she planted banks of daffodils and daylilies,” the family said.
They traveled widely and enjoyed “dropping in on friends” in Maine and Nova Scotia.
Her husband died in 2008 after 24 years of marriage. In her later years, she remained active in a book club and kept in touch with friends and family. For several years, she was secretary of the White Horse Village residents’ association.
In addition to her daughter, she is survived by sons Gregg and Geoff Wilkinson; stepchildren Storm Snaith and Kyle Donaldson; five grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; and a sister, Ellen Millick. Her first husband died in 1983.
A memorial meeting for worship will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 5, at Willistown Friends Meeting, 7069 Goshen Rd., Newtown Square, where she was a longtime member. Burial is private.