Feb. 14, 2006 – Healing the sick through medicine and soothing souls through cooking are the legacies Laura Moorhead White left her birthplace. She was born in Frederiksted, St. Croix, on Jan. 2, 1915, but her profession as a public health nurse allowed her healing hands and nurturing spirit to be felt all over the territory.
She died Jan. 23, 2006, after a brief illness. Those who knew her agree that a beacon of light in this world was extinguished with her passing.
Maxine A. Nunez, professor of Nursing at the University of the Virgin Islands, knew Moorhead White for many years. "She was a dear fiend and neighbor to my entire family," Nunez said, adding that Moorhead White was admired by all for her "courage, frankness, purpose, and sense of fairness and rightness."
Moorhead White earned an undergraduate degree in Public Health Nursing from Lincoln School for Nurses and a graduate degree in Maternal Child Health from Columbia University. She also graduated as a nurse midwife from Maternity Center in New York.
She is credited as being the first insular director of the Bureau of Public Health Nursing for the territory, the first faculty member of color at the South Dakota School of Nursing, and one of the original writers of the Virgin Islands Nurse Practice Act, which enabled V.I. nurses to gain membership in the American Nurses Association. Moorhead White also worked with the team who revised the act in the 1980s. She served for several years as a board member of the Virgin Islands Board of Nurse Licensure.
Moorhead White was admired by her peers for her professional demeanor and her stamina, according to Nunez. "She worked to elevate the stature of nursing. She was a great person, with a definite purpose.
"Her mantra was excellence, she would accept nothing less," Nunez said. "She was a fighter would do the unconventional to get her point across."
Always an independent person, Moorhead White lived alone, taking care of her own needs, and even visiting sick and shut in friends and family until weeks before her death.
The University of the Virgin Islands recognized Moorhead White as a Virgin Islands treasure, and in 2004 she was selected to be the guest lecturer in the school's fifth Bennie and Martha Benjamin Lecture Series.
According to UVI public relations archives, Moorhead White, an "historical figure in Virgin Islands nursing," lectured on the topic "The Impressive Legacy of Health Care Bequeathed to the U.S. Virgin Islands: A Charge We Have to Keep."
In a public statement following her death, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull said Moorhead White was considered "one of the pioneers" of nursing in the Virgin Islands.
Besides nursing, Moorhead White's other passion was cooking. She was revered for her recipes, and in the late 1970s wrote a cookbook titled "Krusan Nynyam from Mampoo's Kitchen" to share of her favorite recipes.
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In observance of February as Black History Month, the Source will be highlighting a number of contemporary and historic individuals born in the Virgin Islands who have made major contributions in areas including civil rights, science, literature, sports and entertainment.