Mardena Dobson always brought extra money on field trips — if a student couldn’t afford lunch or snacks, the D.C. teacher would sneak them some pocket change for food. The longtime educator at Kimball Elementary in Southeast Washington loved teaching young students, delighting in seeing first- and second-graders learn how to read.

Her own home in Northeast Washington was filled with books, and her daughter recalls her mother always reading with her — and later with her grandson. Her daughter, Rhonda Allard, grew up to become a medical librarian.

“She loved her first- and second-graders,” Allard said. “She really enjoyed seeing them get it and just light up and progress. It gave her joy.”

Dobson, 89, died on April 25 of covid-19 at Adventist HealthCare White Oak Medical Center, after being transferred from Hillhaven Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Adelphi, Md. She was a breast cancer survivor and had retired from the D.C. public school system in 1991, after more than three decades there. In addition to her daughter and grandson, Jonathan Allard, she is survived by two sisters.

Dobson was born in Sanford, N.C., the third of five children. She graduated from Shaw University in Raleigh in 1954 and moved to the nation’s capital to be with her husband, who owned a barbershop with his brothers in Northeast Washington.

In 1964, the couple moved into her beloved Michigan Park neighborhood, where Dobson gardened and cooked for her neighbors, whom she quickly befriended. She was involved in the community and taught Bible studies at Bethesda Baptist Church, where she was a member for more than 60 years.

“She made great biscuits — her specialty was country toast,” Allard said. “She could make dirt grow.”

Dobson’s husband died in 1973, when their daughter was just 11 years old. Dobson became a single working mother, taking care of her daughter and home on her own, and still managing to save enough money to send her daughter to private school and a trip abroad during high school.

Dobson doted on her only grandson — when he and Allard lived in New York, the young boy still spent his summers with Dobson in Washington. Dobson joked that, after all her school field trips to the zoo, she never wanted to go back. But her grandson loved it, and she would always accompany him there.

Allard and Dobson’s close friend, Janette Anderson, described the retired teacher as thoughtful and kind to those around her.

When an elderly neighbor said she didn’t like the home-delivered meals for seniors that she received, Dobson cooked her meals instead, Allard said. When another neighbor was in need, Dobson would organize the people on her block to send a letter of support with all of their signatures.

In 1989, the mother of one of her young students died after she was struck by a stray bullet from a gunfight over drugs while she sat on her front porch in Southeast Washington with her husband. The Washington Post reported at the time that Dobson went to the 7-year-old’s home to comfort him, bringing with her a letter that the child had written for a class assignment. In the letter, titled “My Three Wishes,” he said that he dreamed of being a doctor or a pirate. The pirates, the boy wrote, could help fight the city’s pervasive drug epidemic.

“The children loved her and she loved teaching,” Anderson said. “She was just very nice and thoughtful, that’s how I envision her.”

Anderson and Dobson first met while both were teaching at Kimball, but became close friends years later because Anderson attended church near Dobson’s home. They spoke on the phone every week and, at one point, Anderson says she must have told Dobson that she loved marigold flowers.

One day, she opened the door to her Maryland home and was met with a bouquet of marigolds on her deck. Dobson had grown them in her garden and made a surprise delivery to her home.