When Isaiah Tidwell was dating his future wife in college, on one occasion they had registered for classes and paid for his books.
Afterward, he reached into his pocket. He didn’t pull out a ring, but his last thin dime.
His father was a laborer and his mother was a domestic worker who could barely afford to send him to school.
With that dime, he bought Hellena Huntley a double-stick Popsicle. They split it and shared it.
Decades later, framed Popsicle sticks adorn their Atlanta home and reminded them of where they came from.
Isaiah Tidwell, Wachovia Bank’s former executive vice president and director of wealth management for Georgia, died Sunday, Aug. 4, of cancer. He was 74.
Tidwell’s funeral will be Friday, Aug. 9, at 10 a.m. at Friendship Baptist Church, 80 Walnut Street SW, Atlanta.
A native of Charlotte, Tidwell was born Feb. 13, 1945, to William and Anna Davis Tidwell.
He graduated from West Charlotte High School in 1963, at one point skipping his lunch period to get tutored in advanced bookkeeping to fulfill his dream of going into accounting and business.
“He was an outstanding person ever since he was born,” said Charles Jordan, who grew up with Tidwell and was his best man. “He was just a good friend of mine and someone I looked up to. In fact, everybody looked up to him. He was always a leader.”
After high school, Tidwell attended what was then North Carolina College at Durham (later North Carolina Central University), where he was elected as president of his junior and senior classes.
He graduated in 1967 with a degree in commerce and later got an MBA from the Babcock Graduate School of Management at Wake Forest University.
It was also at NCCU where he met Hellena Huntley when she was on silent probation as a Delta Sigma Theta pledgee and he was a member Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, the most popular fraternity on campus.
“He distinguished himself because he was a very serious student. He was an Omega, but he wore a three-piece suit with an attache case every day,” said Hellena Tidwell, adding that he constantly sent her flowers and invited her to dinner for their first date. “He courted me, and that was very important. I saw real serious potential in him, and I knew I could take him to the White House or the juke joint and he would be equally comfortable.”
They were married May 25, 1968, in the recreation room of her dormitory on campus — the day before Huntley’s graduation from NCCU. The Rev. Lorenzo Lynch, the father of former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, officiated.
“He was not just my husband, but my best friend, partner and cheerleader,” Hellena Tidwell said. “He brought out the best in me.”
He landed his first job at a textile factory before joining Wachovia. Through a 32-year-career, he worked his way through several departments and states, retiring in 2005.
In 1993, when NCCU created endowed chairs on campus, something that had never been done before, Tidwell steered a $500,000 donation from Wachovia to establish a chair.
Tidwell, who became a member of the NCCU Board of Trustees, also created a separate endowment in the name of his parents, which sent dozens of students to school.
The Tidwells also endowed scholarships for artists at the Penland (N.C.) School of Craft and funded the creation of a couples’ ministry at Friendship Baptist, where he served in multiple positions.
“His passing is indeed a great loss for his family, the NCCU community and members of the Eagle alumni family,” said NCCU’s current chancellor Johnson O. Akinleye.
Tidwell was active with the Southern Education Foundation, the Woodruff Arts Center, the Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta, the Atlanta Area Boy Scouts of America and the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.
Local attorney Tom Sampson, who remained one of his closest friends, described him as "a kind and gentle soul."
“We are in several organizations together, and with any organization it is not unusual to have distinct differences of opinion,” Sampson said. “He was somebody who always brought a level of dignity to the discussion. He had a certain gravitas, and you knew that he was going to be reasonable and non-offensive while giving good, sound, thoughtful advice. He brought that to everything he was involved in.”
Along with his wife, Tidwell is survived by two sons, William DeVane Tidwell and Damion Lamar Tidwell, both of Atlanta; his sister, Ann Loretta Tidwell of Pennsauken Township, N.J.; and four grandchildren.