Eulogy: Ethel Lee Lance










She was funny and a pleasure to be around

A strong woman who kept the family together

Granny was the heart of the family

I could call on her for anything

If she saw something wrong, she’d tell you

She wasn’t going to sugar-coat it

But she was happy, full of joy

Custodian, noun–

: someone who keeps and protects something valuable for another person

: a person who cleans and takes care of a building.

For thirty years, you kept that church

next to godliness, and the Gaillard Auditorium too,

where you took your children and grandchildren

to see the ballet, the symphony, the boys choir on tour.

All such riches were yours.

Others may have overlooked your stature, swept past

the lady with the broom, but there was nothing that belonged to them

that did not belong to you. A sexton of the church,

you rang that bell, calling on Christians to remember,

even as those recent, radical testaments

challenged them to forgive. 

The massacre of nine people on Wednesday, June 17th at the historic Emanuel A.M.E. church in Charleston, South Carolina, is a tragedy of national proportions. I feel strongly that this is a time for all Americans to act in whatever way we can to address the racial hatred that lives on in our country in ways both great and small. This is the sixth of a series of poems honoring the victims of the Charleston shooting.

The words that open this poem are those of Ethel Lee Lance’s grandson, Jon Quil Lance, her daughter, Esther Lance, and her former coworker, Cam Patterson. Ethel Lee Lance was seventy, a mother of five, grandmother of seven, and great-grandmother of four; she was known to spoil children by buying them gifts and taking them to the movies. She was the cousin of Susie Jackson, who was also killed in the Charleston massacre.


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