Fairbanks, who was born Nov. 14, 1915 in the Florida Everglades of African American and Seminole ancestry, according to her birth records, never was accepted into competitive skating and was denied a shot at the Olympics because of the color of her skin. But she still had the moxie to make her own moves on ice.
That caught the attention of others, including figure skater and coach Maribel Vinson (nine times U.S. Ladies Champion) who recognized Fairbanks' talent and offered advice on technique. Howard Nicholson, another well-known coach of the era, joined Vinson in contributing to Fairbanks' development. Fairbanks also benefited from watching and listening while the white children received formal instruction. She copied and practiced their moves.
"Her death is a tremendous loss to the African American community, the skating community, and to people who didn't know her as well because she was a gracious woman, classy, effervescent and full of integrity," [Atoy] Wilson said.
"I and everyone else who was ever coached by her knew that she was coaching her students not only to become great skaters but, more than anything, to become great human beings.
"Her students have gone on to become lawyers, doctors, teachers, writers. She coached them to stand on all those podiums even though she never got to stand on one herself. That's what made her a human champion."