Vivian Louise Motley, 89, public-school gym teacher for 4 decades

Posted: April 04, 2014

THE PHYS-ED kids at Germantown High called her Sergeant.

In other words, Vivian Motley was a demanding gym teacher who didn't hesitate to raise her voice when called for and pull the ears of recalcitrant students.

They loved her.

A little discipline didn't hurt when the kids knew that Vivian's heart was in the right place and that her concern was always for their welfare.

"As a child, upon entering first grade, I fell in love with teaching," she once said. "Upon entering junior high and finding out that you could teach one subject, I fell in love with gym, and have been in the gym ever since."

Vivian Louise Motley, who taught in Philadelphia public schools for four decades, a civic leader with an emphasis on the African-American experience, and a devoted singer of church music, died Tuesday at age 89. She had been living in the Golden Living Center-Stenton nursing home and previously lived in East Mount Airy.

"She loved singing," said her daughter, Andrea L. Petrocelli. "She started out as an alto, then somebody told her she was a soprano. So she became a soprano."

Vivian sang with the Senior Choir of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, the Omega Omega Ensemble and the Absalom Jones Choir.

In 1989, she went to Boston for the installation of Philadelphia native Barbara Harris as the first female bishop of the Episcopal Church.

"It was a banner year," she once said.

Vivian was the oldest of the six children of Randle and Grace Gibson Moore. She graduated from Overbrook High School in 1942, and went on to Temple University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in physical education and recreation in 1950. She later received a master's degree in administration from Temple.

She taught briefly at Sulzberger Junior High School, then left to start a family. She returned to teaching in September 1953 at Vaux Junior High School. She remained there until 1965, when she transferred to Germantown High. She retired in 1982.

Vivian held leadership positions in numerous organizations, including the Philadelphia Women's Coaches Association; the Pennsylvania State Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance; and the Owlette Alumni Club of Temple University.

She chaired the dance and gymnastics program for Temple's Women's Supervisory Committee on Athletics. She scheduled gymnastics competitions, including championships, and hired the officials.

Vivian was a Golden Soror of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, which she joined more than 50 years ago. She was a docent of the African American Historical & Cultural Museum, now the African American Museum in Philadelphia.

She was active in her family's church, the historic African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, where she was a Girl Scout leader, camp coordinator, member of the Chancel and Senior choirs, acolyte sponsor and member of the Actor's Guild. She was a charter member of the Girls Friendly Society.

She received many awards: the 2007 Clarence E. Farmer Spirit of '08 Volunteerism Award from the African American Museum; the Distinguished Service Award from the Germantown Home & School Association, in 1976; the St. Thomas Women's Day Service Award; and the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Soror of the Year Award, in 1977.

Vivian also was a devoted traveler, having gone with her sorority across the U.S., to Mexico, China, Alaska and Brazil.

"She was very dedicated to all her passions," her daughter said. "Her sorority was extremely important to her."

Besides her daughter, she is survived by a sister, Geraldine Bramwell; a brother, Jack Moore; six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Services: Requiem Mass 11 a.m. April 10 at African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, 6361 Lancaster Ave. Friends may call at 10 a.m. Burial will be private.

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