A daunting thunderstorm with no end in sight did not discourage parishioners from celebrating 96-year old Beatrice Spencer at her beloved Corinth Missionary Baptist Church in Columbus. Love, laughter and song filled the church’s small basement room.
Five generations of her family gathered with five generations of neighbors and church-family to honor a woman known for her unwavering faith and her easy words of praise and encouragement for loved ones who crossed her path.
“She loves the church, she loves us,” said parishioner Bertha Douglass. “To her, all of us are her children, and that’s how she refers to us.”
Douglass directs the Beatrice Spencer Food Bank Circle, the monthly neighborhood food bank that Spencer founded with another church member about 20 years ago. The church recently named it in Spencer’s honor.
Every story told recalled how she loved to sing. Wearing yellow T-shirts with images of Beatrice from throughout her life, choir members belted out hymns, harmonizing “I love to praise Him,” “Jesus will pick you up,” and “I know the Lord will make a way.” Spencer was a lifelong choir member and her younger sister, Annie Bell Pitts, now 91, directed the youth choir.
“She was real smart,” Annie Bell said of Beatrice, a Spencer High graduate. “She taught school. She had all them kids,” she added, laughing. “Oh, I love my sister.”
Beatrice Spencer has outlived two of her eleven children. She has outlived three of her 31 grandchildren. She has 62 great-grandchildren, and 11 great-great-grandchildren, many of whom were at the Beatrice Spencer Day celebration.
“It’s a blessing,” said granddaughter Tiffany Bryant, 35. “Our family is very entertaining, we keep each other laughing.”
Many of the younger generation gathered outside the church during a break in the rain to talk about their “BI.” That’s Beatrice’s nickname, but no one knows why, according to the grandchildren. Everyone in the family grew up singing in the choir. “BI” made 31 birthday cakes a year, remembering the dates for each of those 31 birthdays.
She gave out “a lot of butt whippings, too,” remembers grandson son Tobias Williams, 31, to an outbreak of laughter. “She had to whoop a lot of grandkids, because if one person did something, everybody got a whooping.”
She was a good cook, and all of her children are good cooks, the family reminisced, with everyone always welcome.
“She would have a hundred kids,” Bryant said. “When our friends meet our family, they become family. And that never stopped to this day.”
“She don’t turn nobody around,” added Williams. “No matter the situation, she was there.”
Pastor Thaddeus Spencer of New Providence Baptist Church, who is related but not a grandson, held Beatrice’s hand during the celebration and preached praise upon her.
“Back then, everyone was your mother,” he proclaimed to a chorus of applause and amens. “Back then, being elderly meant something. Back then, when they said, ‘sit down,’ that’s what you did.”
Pastor Spencer was one of the fortunate ones nurtured in Beatrice Spencer’s fold.
“The reason I was able to grow up to be the man God has meant for me to be,” Spencer continued, “is she touched me, and has been inspirational in my life.” Turning to Beatrice, the pastor added, “Because of you, I’m able to tell it on the mountain.”
Her daughter Dorothy Walton, 69, is the third of the eleven siblings. “She had a heart that was open to anybody,” said Walton, recalling a story of how her mother would let her brother and his friends sleep in the house after too much partying. “It made me mad when I was a teenager. But now that I’m older, I see the blessing in it. She put faith in my heart.”
Beatrice and her sister, Annie Bell, sat in the their wheelchairs, side by side, during the singing, storytelling and honors. Corinth pastor, the Rev. James Gant, spoke of the sisters through the heart of their faith.
“What they do is they work hard, and they work quiet, and that’s when you know that you’re working for the Lord,” Gant told the gathering. “What they have done is exemplify the spirit and the oneness of the church.”
Topping off the accolades, Patricia Gant, Lady Elect of Corinth church, placed a crown atop Beatrice Spencer’s head and proclaimed to shouts and applause from the crowd, “a golden crown for a beautiful 96-year-old lady.”
“It feels good, I hope to come back. I hope this ain’t the last time,” Beatrice said, smiling. “I couldn’t feel no better. He has blessed me with everything. Father God was blessing me and I didn’t know. He still blesses me. That’s the truth.”