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April 8, 2019

Faces of Fauquier: Passion for education motivates her

Photo/Don Del Rosso
“Every day, I tell my daughter and granddaughter: ‘No matter the circumstances, your circumstances don’t define you, it’s what you do with the circumstances’,” Brenda Chichester says.
We’ll see what next year brings me. I think the hardest thing is going to be able to walk away from those kids.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
First as a student and then a custodian, she has spent most of her life in schools.

Brenda Chichester of Warrenton wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I love kids, I love being around them,” said Ms. Chichester, who since 1988 has maintained the spit-and-polished appearance of St. John the Evangelist Catholic School in Warrenton. “I love my job.”

From her earliest years, Ms. Chichester found herself surrounded by young people. One of 11 children, she grew up in the Haiti neighborhood, a historically black section of Warrenton.

“We didn’t have a lot, and we didn’t always get what we wanted,” explained Ms. Chichester, whose mother raised the children and whose father worked as a master bricklayer. “But, we always got what we needed.”

Her family’s home served as kind of a social hub for neighborhood children, she recalled.

“It was where everybody came to play, because my mother was very strict, and they knew if the kids came there to play, they were going to behave themselves,” said Ms. Chichester, smiling.

A 1968 graduate of William C. Taylor High School in Warrenton, she always wanted to become a teacher.

“It never happened,” Ms. Chichester said. “But, you know what? Being able to be at the school, to see my daughter and granddaughter achieve their dreams, has been the most satisfaction for me.”

For a few years, she has toyed with the idea of retiring from the Catholic school on John E. Mann Street.

“We’ll see what next year brings me,” Ms. Chichester said. “I think the hardest thing is going to be able to walk away from those kids. I look at them, and they are so innocent. They accept you for who you are.”

• Age
67

• Home
Warrenton

• Work
Custodian, Saint John the Evangelist Catholic School, Warrenton,1988-present.

• Why do you do work at the school? 
I love the kids and I love the school. I have an amazing boss — Father (James) Gould.

• Family
Daughter, Kantrese Chichester, and granddaughter, Kamara Chichester.

• Education
William C. Taylor High School, 1968.

• How long have you lived in Fauquier?
All my life.

• Why do you live here? 
I’ve visited other places, but it’s home. Once you really establish your roots here, it’s kind of hard to move away. A lot of people can, but I love living here.

• How do you describe this county? 
I’ve seen so much progress since the time I was growing up, in segregated times. We seem like we move forward. My greatest wish is that we continue to go forward and embrace the changes of the times.

You go to places like Culpeper — they really have opened up to new things. Nothing wrong with being a small town, but you’ve got to keep the young people here and make them want to stay here, come back here and raise their families.

You have to give them more opportunities here. It’s a beautiful county; it’s rich in history.

• What would you change about Fauquier?
There should be more opportunities for kids. We have nothing to offer kids. We don’t have a movie theater; we don’t have a bowling alley; we don’t have a skating rink. Kids have to go all the way to Gainesville, Manassas or Culpeper to be entertained.

• What do you do for fun? 
I love to read. We go to the movies. I like to work. Go to church. I love the school; I like the different activities with the kids. They bring me a lot of joy.

• What’s your favorite place in Fauquier?
My church (St. John). It’s such a sense of community, a sense of acceptance. I have met so many people during 30 years of being there. And, I’ve seen so many kids come and go out of the school. When I see them now — after they’re gone — they come up to me and say, “Oh, Ms. Brenda, how are you doing? I’m so glad to see you.”

• What will Fauquier be like in 10 years? 
More growth. Not get as big as Manassas or Gainesville, but add things for people to do, bring in restaurants — not the same old restaurants, something different. We have little or no recreation things to do.

• Favorite TV show?
I love old, classic TV shows — “I Love Lucy,” “Andy Griffith Show” — all those 1950s and 1960s, black-and-white TV shows.

• Favorite movie? 
“Steel Magnolias.”

• Favorite book?
“If Beale Street Could Talk” by James Baldwin.

• Favorite vacation spot? 
Virginia Beach.

• Favorite food? 
Soul food. My mother cooked the old-fashioned way, with ham hocks, greens, fried chicken, sweet potatoes, baked macaroni and cornbread.

• What is the best advice you have ever received? From whom?
My mother taught us to be strong and independent. She always said be yourself and believe in yourself and never doubt who you are. 

• Who’s your hero and why?
My first-grade teacher, Ms. Haskins. She would always say: “You can be anything in life you want to be. Just because you’re in a segregated community, in a segregated school, that doesn’t mean you can’t reach for the stars.”

Every day, I tell my daughter and granddaughter: “No matter the circumstances, your circumstances don’t define you, it’s what you do with the circumstances.”
 
• What would you do if you won $5 million in the lottery? 
I would make sure that my daughter and granddaughter and my sister would be OK. I would give a lot of it to the church, because money is not going to make you happy.

Visit Africa. I would like to know exactly where my family came from. I think it would be an amazing journey.

Have a suggestion?
Do you know someone who lives in Fauquier County you would like to see in Faces of Fauquier? E-mail Cassandra Brown at cbrown@fauquiernow.com, Don Del Rosso at don@fauquiernow.com or Editor Lou Emerson at LKE@FauquierNow.com.
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Kankam · April 9, 2019 at 10:20 am
Such a wonderful, amazing, beautiful, intelligent woman. If you ever get the chance to be around her and to get to know her, you are very lucky. So few many, especially in such a small town get recognized for the positive impact they have on their community, for my mother to be so respected, admired, loved, and appreciated by so many people, to have the spot light shining brightly on her is really inspiring me, she the hardest working woman I know, she taught me so much throughout my life. She is the best mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, cousin, friend, confidant I know. I could be more proud of her, my hero. Such a blessing.!!!❤️❤️❤️
Cammie Rodgers · April 8, 2019 at 11:45 am
For anyone who is new to the area, it's Haiti (Hay-Tie) street not Haiti (Hate-E). Wonderful woman that would have made an outstanding teacher. She is teaching in her own way and has been for many years, teaching kindness is a gift.
cjlane2 · April 8, 2019 at 11:00 am
One of my very favorite people. Brenda is such an inspiration. It will be hard to find someone more loving, kind and dedicated as her. This was a great article. Thank you! Gail Lane
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