D.C. police said a silver Mercury Mountaineer speeding about 15 mph over the limit and driven by a suspected drunk driver plowed into Whitfield and kept going, dragging her 86 feet down the pavement. The retired cafeteria worker at Sidwell Friends School, where she spent 44 years serving lunch to students before leaving in 2008, died at a hospital half an hour later.
Whitfield was beloved at Sidwell’s main campus on Wisconsin Avenue, where she doled out not just a hot lunch but also wisdom to countless students and teachers in the middle and upper schools. She and Chelsea Clinton were often seen talking, and a tribute to Whitfield posted on the school’s Web site says she was invited to Clinton’s graduation party in 1997.
“I was so sad to hear of Ruby’s tragic death,” Clinton said. “She always had a smile and hug ready at Sidwell, and I know I am only one of countless students whose days she brightened over her years as part of the Sidwell community.”
Kay O’Neill, a retired Sidwell teacher who wrote the Web tribute, quoted Whitfield saying of Clinton: “I loved that child. She’d seek me out at school and say, ‘Hug me!’ ”
In an interview, O’Neill, 80, said Whitfield “would always tell you to pray. . . . She told us, ‘Bring your troubles not to Ruby but to God.’ Then she would say, ‘But I’m here anytime you need me.’ ”
D.C. police arrested Joel R. Bromwell, 32, of Annapolis about 10 blocks from the crash site. He is charged with voluntary manslaughter, and court documents say he failed sobriety tests, including jumbling the alphabet on his first two tries. The documents say his blood alcohol content was measured at 0.11 percent; the legal limit in the District is .08.
A D.C. Superior Court judge on Friday ordered Bromwell detained until a preliminary hearing Monday. His attorney, David Benowitz, declined to comment.
Whitfield was born in Columbus, Miss., and moved to Washington when she was a child. She married Thomas Whitfield, now a retired printer, and moved to her house, which is near the crash site, in 1972. The couple had one daughter, Tasyha Whitfield, who is 42. She also is survived by her 21-year-old granddaughter, Symone.
A friend persuaded her in 1963 to work at the Sidwell cafeteria. The meals were family-style, O’Neill said, with a teacher at the head of each table. It was tasty and fresh cafeteria fare — including chunks of creamed chicken, fresh rolls with strawberry jam and beef stew with cornbread.
“She was known to everybody, if you ate lunch,” O’Neill joked. “And she was a friend to everybody. If she knew you were late, she would put something special aside for you.”