Juliette Carolyn Brooks Herring

Juliette Carolyn Brooks Herring

Celebration of Life set for Aug. 17.

For anyone who ever attended a fundraiser or charity event, Carolyn Herring was a familiar face. She never sought the spotlight for herself but was always quietly in the background cheering on and supporting her daughter Charniele, a Virginia State Delegate (D-46) since 2009.

“She was my best friend,” said Charniele Herring in announcing a celebration of life for her mother, who died May 11, 2022, at the age of 82 of congestive heart failure. “This has been a difficult loss and is taking me time to process.”

Charniele Herring formally announced the death of her mother after taking time to grieve.

“Grief is hard but grief also teaches us lessons,” Charniele Herring said. “It has been a year since our mother’s passing, and we have learned over the months that grief is truly one of the most difficult things that we as humans endure.”

Known to her friends as Carolyn, Juliette Carolyn Brooks was born May 9, 1940, in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, to Julius Caesar Brooks and Parmis Blane Brooks. She became curious about piano when she was visiting her cousin down the street and saw her taking lessons.

“Mom was struck by what she described as ‘the beauty’ and asked her mother for lessons,” Charniele Herring said. “She started playing at the age of 8 and never stopped. Indeed, in 1958 she enrolled at Tennessee State University and studied performance piano.”

Combining her passion for piano and love of children, Herring earned a B.S. in Music Education in less than four years and started her master’s studies before graduating Tennessee State University in 1962. She was also a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.

“Mom’s first job was in Tennessee, where she would travel in her pink and white 1958 Ford from school to school teaching children music,” Charniele Herring said. “The schools in which Mom taught were still segregated despite the Brown decision. Black students were impacted by segregation and lack of equal investments. Some of her students were still in one room schoolhouses and had no instruments. Mom had a small budget and salary and used most of these sources of funds to purchase instruments for her students.”

In 1963, Herring married Charles Herring and continued to teach music in schools that would hire “trailing spouses” -- partners of active-duty service members.

Herring became an advocate for former military spouses, working on Capitol Hill to secure benefits for spouses and children of service members. She proudly wore her button “We Served, We Deserve.” As a result of her work, the protections of the Uniform Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act and healthcare benefits for ex-spouses and children remain in place today.

“She was an unsung hero,” Charniele Herring said. “She never looked for recognition but she was always doing drives and getting supplies for military families. She never talked about it, she just saw something that needed to be done and did it.”

In addition to music, Herring loved to travel, taking road trips and jetting off to Scotland after she traced some of her roots back to the European country. She also enjoyed painting and dancing, often joining her daughter in dance classes until she was 75.

“One of her biggest joys was watching my brother play sports and travel around the country to see him play football for Duke University,” Charniele Herring said.

In addition to her daughter Charniele, Herring is survived by her son, Charles L. Herring Jr. MD, daughter-in-law Cynthia Mathis Herring MD, and grandchildren Cameron, Chandler and Crystin Herring.

A Celebration of Life will be held Thursday, Aug. 17 at noon at The Lyceum, 201 South Washington Street. In lieu of flowers, contributions be made to the George Mason University Juliette Carolyn Brooks Herring Memorial Scholarship Endowment. https://advancement.gmu.edu/JCBH

“The scholarship fund has been established to go to an undergraduate music education major, in need, who will follow in her steps bringing beauty, music and joy to children,” Charniele Herring said.

A reception will follow the Celebration of Life service.

“Mom had a great sense of humor,” Charniele Herring recalled of her mother. “She kept me laughing a lot but also kept me grounded. She was proud of my accomplishments but also let me know when my slip was showing. She always wanted to make sure I stayed on the right track. I will always carry with me her sense of purpose and working for the greater good.”