SHREVEPORT, La. (KMSS) – As we approach the end of Black History Month, we recognize a familiar face in Shreveport who has achieved countless accomplishments and awards during her decades-long career.
Dr. Ollie Tyler spent nearly 50 years in public service and continues that work to this day. But many may not know what it took for her to get there.
After she was nominated by a young woman she mentors as a KMSS Today’s Hero, Tyler shared stories from her childhood and who she credits for making her dreams a reality.
Dr. Tyler is first in many of her accomplishments throughout her storied life and career. The first black woman to serve as Shreveport mayor, first woman and first black person to serve as Superintendent of Caddo Parish schools, and first black person to be Interim State Superintendent of Education for Louisiana.
She says her success comes out a difficult childhood. She born and raised in the Blanchard area and grew up poor on a farm.
“We lived on a farm, worked in the fields,” Tyler recalls. “So, when I was 9 years old, I worked in the fields also during the summer up until the cotton crops were in. I recall having to do that ten hours a day in the hot, hot sun. In high school, I worked after school and on Saturdays cleaning houses and ironing for the people who lived around us. Doing things like that to earn lunch money.”
She used to sacrifice to achieve her dreams. Even later in life when she accepted top education jobs in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, she kept her home in Shreveport and traveled back and forth for years to be able to be with her son Tony and her family. She reflects on what it took for her to be able to go to college with her family’s limited income, and how she had to help care for her eight other siblings.
“Because we were so poor, I went to college because of a National Merit Scholarship. I couldn’t go to a lot of parties like other people did. I had to study to keep my scholarship and I don’t regret any of that. Even in high school, when a lot of young people were going to the movies and doing things like that, I had to go home because my mom was in the fields and I had to prepare the dinner. Sometimes when I finished with dinner it was time for me to study. I would sit by a little lamp because we didn’t have electricity when I was in elementary school and do my algebra and geometry.”
Her mother Ida was her inspiration to become a teacher. Starting as a high school math teacher, her career in education took her to the highest position in the state, along with travels across the nation for various conferences.
“Those are the kind of things I never dreamed I’d be able to do as a little girl. My lifelong dream as a little girl was to be the teacher that my mother wanted me to be. My mother was not allowed to go to school, so she could not read or write. But she wanted that for us. My mother passed away in 2004 and my dad in 2008. But before my mother passed away, God allowed me to be Superintendent of Caddo Parish and that was a very, very proud moment for her.”
She continued to overcome adversity with the death of her husband to cancer.
“That was a big blow. He was in his 40s and I became a young widow with a son who just graduated, went to college, and joined the US Army. At the time, he was in Germany when my husband came down with cancer.”
Tyler said she has a strong relationship with her son. She is one of the last still living out of her nine brothers and sisters. Tyler said she stays in constant contact with her last surviving brother, who also now has cancer.
In the years since serving as Mayor of Shreveport, Tyler continues to mentor young people and shares a message of hope through adversity.
“If you have a goal, you work at that goal, that dream. But you have to be willing to make the sacrifice and have to be willing to discipline yourself. You must be willing to serve not for yourself but for other people.”
“47 years in public service has truly been a joy and I just thank God for being able to serve.”