Saturday, December 11, 2010

The end of an era: Lydia Wilkins 1904 - 2010

A Message from the Rector
December 10, 2010

I want to share with you sad news of the death of All Saints’ oldest member, Lydia Wilkins. She passed peacefully from this life to the next yesterday, two months shy of her 107th birthday.

It is almost impossible for me to imagine a Sunday morning without her determined spirit, warm smile and quick wit emanating from the front pew. The many wonderful stories we have to share with one another about her long and influential life in Pasadena will continue for the rest of our lives.

A memorial service celebrating her life will be on January 16th at 5:00 p.m. Please keep her daughter, Marjorie, and her family in your prayers. And give thanks for the gift of Lydia, knowing that heaven is an even more interesting place now that she is there.

Yours in Christ’s love,
Ed Bacon, Rector
All Saints Church, Pasadena

Give rest, O Christ, to your servant with your saints
Where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing but life afterlasting.

Read the the Pasadena Star News tribute to Lydia here.

Lydia Wilkins
January 12, 1904 - December 9, 2010

from the January 2008 Pasadena Star News feature
Pasadena woman celebrates her 104th birthday

PASADENA - When Lydia Wilkins was born Jan. 17, 1904, women didn't have the vote and voting was difficult or impossible for most black men. Now, at 104, Wilkins is getting ready to cast her ballot for a woman or a black man for president of the United States in the November elections. "I didn't think I'd live that long - I think it's wonderful," she said of candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. "But I think I'll vote for Obama. Yes, why not?"

As Black History Month begins this month, Wilkins is a living link to a century of hard-fought change in race relations. "I have lived in some terrible times," she said, sitting in the tidy bungalow she and her late husband, the Rev. William Alfred Wilkins, retired to more than 30 years ago. "People were still black and white. It made a difference."

Growing up in East Orange, N.J., Wilkins said she was spared much of the overt racism experienced by blacks in the South and elsewhere. She graduated from a racially mixed high school. "New Jersey didn't have strict segregation," she said. "No one at school was allowed to call names, and most of the children did a lot to fight segregation. The boys played football, and they played so well they were always on the team."

Her mother and grandmother were strict, and neighbors were always on the watch for misbehavior, she recalled. "My parents were right on their toes," she said, smiling. "The least thing that happened at school and they were right there. We didn't have all this killing when I was growing up."

But she still remembers dropping out of Temple University in Philadelphia because of swimming class. "That's why I didn't finish college," she said. "They encouraged the girls to get out of the pool if I got in. It was terrible. Boys aren't as bad as girls, are they? When they did that, I wouldn't go back and that's what they wanted."

But she did meet her husband at Temple. The couple came to Pasadena in 1933, when her husband became vicar of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church on North Fair Oaks Avenue. They and their two daughters stayed until 1942, when he became a World War II Army chaplain, and they retired here after he had headed churches in Texas and North Carolina.

In 1982, the couple celebrated their golden wedding anniversary at All Saints Episcopal Church, where Wilkins still attends services every Sunday and goes for lunch across the street at McCormick and Schmick. "It's one of the highlights of her Sundays," said Barbara Jackson, who has helped "Miss Lydia" since July - and is the beneficiary of her advice on etiquette, table-settings, grammar and the proper way to clean silver.

Wilkins is still "sharp as a tack," said her daughter, Marjorie Jones, 74, who lives in Vallejo and visits often. "Nothing gets by her." Her mother was always politically active, Jones said, and her father was "very much involved in the NAACP."

"Dinnertime conversation was always political, and she didn't go a day without reading the paper and having something to discuss," Jones said. "She always goes to vote, and she won't do an absentee - she has to go there."

Until she was about 101, Wilkins drove herself to the polls. "When she turned 100, she went out and purchased a brand new car," said Andre Vaughn, her next-door neighbor. "She gave it up when she was involved in an accident. She wasn't at fault; someone ran a red light." Vaughn recalled a police officer coming to his door. "He asked, `Is she really 100?' and when I said yes, he was flabbergasted."

Wilkins doesn't dwell on the past, Vaughn said. "She's always in the here and now. Once in a while she'll reminisce, tell some funny thing, something bad she did as a little girl," he said. She spends her day watching television - "Dr. Phil, he's my favorite," she said - and being out and about, regularly getting her nails and hair done.

Her secret to a long life, she says, is that she's never had a cola drink. "My grandmother said it wasn't good for me." Jones said her mother has a few other secrets for longevity, too.

"She still likes her martini," Jones said, laughing. "What's interesting to me is for breakfast she likes half a grapefruit, all the sections cut out, sprinkled with sugar - and then rum."

1 comment:

  1. It will be a year ago tomorrow that I went to the memorial service for Lydia Wilkins, the only person I know of who attended both All Saints and Saint Barnabas for long periods of time. Today I am especially missing Lydia. I was only an acquaintance to her, but now I wish I could invite her over for tea (or martinis, if she preferred) to help me understand the relationship between All Saints and Saint Barnabas.
    I went to the 8 a.m. Eucharist at St. Barnabas this morning. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday was celebrated there, as it was at All Saints, but with a difference. Instead of giving a sermon proper, the priest in change invited members of the congregation to share a story illustrating the difference that King made in their lives. All of the stories were moving, if uncomfortable for a Caucasian person visiting this still overwhelmingly African American church, but the story that I would most like to sit down and talk over with Lydia was that of an 80-something lifelong Pasadenan who explained how subtle the "rules" were that kept African Americans in their place in the years before the civil rights movement. There were no signs directing African Americans to one side of a Pasadena movie theater and Caucasians to another, no law forbidding African Americans to eat in Pasadena restaurants, no locked gates preventing African Americans from meandering south of Villa Street. And yet people knew where they were welcome and where they were not.
    When the service ended, a white member of the congregation who knew I was from All Saints intimated to me how keenly people at St. Barnabas still feel the unwelcome they thought they received from All Saints in the 1930s, an unwelcome still felt in the financial relationship between the two congregations--or the lack thereof. I learned that St. Barnabas, a small church with a congregation of modest means, had recently reached such a financial state that they had to let their rector go. The current priest in charge serves on a 100-percent volunteer basis.
    Immediately after the 8 a.m. Eucharist at St. Barnabas, I drove over to All Saints, arriving late for the 9 a.m. service. As I found my seat, a guest preacher, Stephanie Spellers, priest and lead organizer of The Crossing, a Christian community in Boston, was teaching the congregation an a cappella African American spiritual. She preached—and spoke in the rector’s forum afterwards—on the topic of “radical welcome” and “mutual transformation.” For the most part, she was very complimentary of All Saints, as were others who spoke up in the forum, and with good reason. I find plenty of things to complain about at All Saints, but lack of welcome is not one of them. When the rector asked Reverend Spellers to speak about her experiences with Occupy Boston, however, and to bring that experience to bear on the notion of radical welcome and mutual transformation at All Saints, what she came around to was that the Episcopal Church in America is rare in the worldwide Anglican Communion in holding each congregation separately responsible for paying its own clergy and other staff. Elsewhere in the world, all the churches in a diocese pool their resources and set a baseline salary for clergy and staff at churches in that diocese. There can then be adjustments based on cost of living and scope of duties and such, but there is some consistency from one congregation to the next. She said she hoped the day would come for this sort of resource-sharing in the Episcopal Church in America and in Pasadena.
    I don’t know if resource-sharing would heal the wounds at St. Barnabas. But I would be curious to know how Lydia and her husband managed to heal from those wounds.