Brand DNA: Connecting My Roots with My Late Father, Willard John Vital de Grandpré, LMSW
Updated: Feb 13
By Tanika Vital-Pringle, Global MBA
Born to EDUCATE. Born to SERVE. Born to MENTOR. My father, Willard John Vital de Grandpré was a great man. His humility, empathy and service to others made him great. He was a Human Rights Giant, Community Servant and Family Man. He epitomized diversity and inclusiveness and was passionate about understanding people's roots, indigenous culture and socio-economic trajectories. He was not wealthy; yet content and rich with resources. He had a loving circle of family and friends and was an influencer who took an active role in improving the lives of others around him, always.
I endeavor to honor my father's legacy of servant leadership by sharing this story with the world. It is my intent to inspire others so that they will be proud of their roots and be inspired to live full and purposeful lives.
About the time President Thomas Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803, a young slave girl, Charlotte Dubuclet (given names), fell in love with and married a free mulatto man by the name of Carlos Vital de Grandpré. She was born in Africa (believed to be Senegal-Gambia region) and he was born in Havana, Cuba as reported to the U.S. Census Bureau in 1870 by their son, Charles Carlos Vital de Grandpré II. Charlotte was owned by and lived with the families: Darby/Dubuclet/Dauterive, on a plantation in St. Martinsville, LA. It is believed that Carlos, her spouse, may have migrated there to work as a sugar-cane cutter and carpenter.
The Vital de Grandpré's had a family of four children who all lived on the St. Martinsville, LA plantation: Rosalie, born in 1807; Charles Carlos II in 1810; Pierre Ulger in 1812; and Edward in circa 1816.
Unfortunately, the children were “not free born” because their mother, Charlotte, was a slave. Instead, their father, Carlos Vital de Grandpré, paid the owners $400.00 for the freedom of each one of their children which totaled $1,600 back in the early 1800s. In 1846, Charlotte must have been considered “a good and faithful servant” since she was manumitted (freed) by her owners who also gave her a donation of some neighboring property acreage at the same time. *
My father, Willard John Vital de Grandpré, is a direct descendant of Charles Carlos Vital de Grandpré II (son of Carlos and Charlotte Vital de Grandpré) who married Melanie Benoit about 1844. On July 23, 1813, Carlos Vital de Grandpré, a free mulatto, purchased his 2 1/2-year-old son, Charles Carlos II Vital de Grandpré, for the price of $400 from Claire Dubuclet.
The Arrival of Willard John Vital de Grandpré
On July 23, 1938, one hundred and twenty-five years (125) later to the date, my father, Willard John Vital Grandpré, was born to Dorsey Vital de Grandpré and Eva Bertrand in Welsh, LA and the African Diaspora smiled 😘. He had 8 siblings and was raised in a large loving family consisting of 4 sisters and four brothers.
Hence, Willard John Vital de Grandpré was born to EDUCATE, born to SERVE, and born to MENTOR. He was the first in his family to have the opportunity to attend college and was recruited to attend a Historically Black College & University, Jarvis Christian College, under the “Fundamental Education” program. He was the first in his family to attend college and always remembers the first “family day” when his parents and some of his siblings visited him at Jarvis, and then returned when he graduated in 1961 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Integrated Social Sciences. He considered his time at Jarvis to be “some of the happiest days in his life".
Post College, Willard taught school in Welsh before attending training in New Mexico for a planned stint in Brazil with the Peace Corp. Although he did not serve in Brazil, he started learning Portuguese in preparation for the trip. Willard furthered his education in his field and successfully obtained the Master in Social Work from the University of Houston in 1976 and became a licensed Social Worker after receiving his Certification in Social Work. His political aspirations motivated him to run for Texas State Representative in the early 80s.
Willard had a passion for family, people, service, human rights and helping the poor. He stayed active in a number of community service organizations such as the National Black Social Workers Association, The Black Heritage Society, The Knights of Peter Claver and volunteered his time to feed the homeless and help others for over 5 decades. Accordingly, he was presented with the Good Samaritan Award in September 2007 by the St. Vincent de Paul Society for giving of his time, talent and treasures to console and care for the sick, poor and abandoned in the Houston community.
He was the founding President of the Black Heritage Society – worked in this capacity as President of the Board to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with a commemorative annual MLK Parade, along with a statue in MacGregor Park (1978-2021). He worked alongside, his friend, Mr. Ovide Duncantell, to start the movement of naming streets after MLK across the United States.
My beloved father, Willard John Vital, LMSW, passed on March 24, 2021, at the age of 82. When he passed, the City of Houston called me to present a proclamation from Mayor Sylvester Turner to proclaim, March 24th as "Willard John Vital Day", I was truly humbled. My father never spoke of his accomplishments, he was always focused on helping others and making an impact. He would have lunch with me near City Hall often when I worked downtown and never spoke of his involvement in these movements that impacted the lives and trajectories of many.
My siblings and I were honored when Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee presented a proclamation for the legacy and mark that Willard John Vital left on this world and named April 10th as Mr. Willard John Vital's Day as well.