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Patricia Eaton; D.C. Teacher, Africa Aid Worker

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 21, 2004; Page C11

Patricia Frances Eaton, 60, a District high school English teacher who also lived and worked throughout Africa, died Oct. 22 at Capital Hospice in Arlington of obstructive pulmonary disease. She lived in Riverdale.

Ms. Eaton was chairman of the English department at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School in the District, where she taught from 1986 to 2003. In 1995, she introduced a media studies class at the school, with the idea of analyzing television, movies and music with the same critical understanding brought to literature.


Patricia Eaton divided her career between development work in Africa and teaching in the District.

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"Many of us have thrown up our hands and said, 'If we cannot fight them, we might as well join them,' " she said in a Washington Post interview in 1995.

In one of her classroom exercises, students wrote the lyrics of rap songs and read them as poetry.

"No one wanted to read them aloud," Ms. Eaton said. "They were just embarrassed. We started talking about how it is possible to listen to the music but miss the message."

At Wilson, she was also director of the international studies program, which emphasized the study of foreign cultures and included mock United Nations assemblies.

Ms. Eaton's interest in the wider world was a natural outgrowth of her experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in the southern African nation of Lesotho from 1967 to 1970. She lived in a remote thatched-roof house, and her only mode of transportation was a horse.

After returning to Washington in 1970, she joined Africare, an organization that raised funds for agriculture, health care and water supplies in West Africa, working as director of communications and chapter development. She also taught at McKinley Senior High School in the District in the 1970s.

During this time, Ms. Eaton was a consultant for a United Nations program focusing on women, for which she toured rural villages throughout Africa, working on a variety of development projects and helping women market handmade jewelry. She was executive director of the Black Women's Community Development Foundation Inc. in Washington in the late 1970s and later directed the Africa section of the League of Women Voters' Community Development Foundation. With these groups, and as an independent contractor, she worked in 22 African nations, from Botswana to Egypt.

After returning permanently to Washington in 1983, she became director of the West Africa section of the African Development Foundation, a federally supported corporation that promotes economic and social development in Africa. In 1986, she joined the faculty at Wilson Senior High.

Ms. Eaton was born in Washington and graduated from Palmer Memorial Institute, a historic academy for African American students in North Carolina. She attended Howard University and received a bachelor's degree from Texas Southern University. She did graduate work at the University of California at San Diego and at Trinity University in Washington.

Before moving to Riverdale three years ago, she lived in the District and was active in D.C. politics, as was her late brother, the Rev. David H. Eaton.

Survivors include a son, David Howard Kuria Eaton, from a relationship in Africa; and a brother, Harold Eaton Jr. of New Carrollton.


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