Praise the Lord, for the life of Nannie Mae Berger Hairston

The funeral service for Nannie Mae Berger Hairston took place on Friday, July 21, 2017, at the Jubilee Center in Radford. Officiated by Nathaniel L. Bishop, President of Jefferson College of Health Sciences, in Roanoke, it was a remarkable service, which lasted for three hours, and was a mix of song, and praise, and Scripture, personal remembrance by  family members, and a sermon by the Reverend Lee Suggs, of Schaeffer Memorial Baptist Church. When the pallbearers, at the beginning of the service, closed the casket, I knew that I would never see Nannie again. The finality of this shocked me, to a degree I had not been prepared for. As Alvin Humes put it, “she was kind of woman you supposed would just always be there.”

I was one of the speakers for the service; here is the text of my remarks–

Gone! Nannie Mae Berger Hairston, Mother Hairston, is gone from this world. Yet we still hear—will always hear—her words of counsel. Especially the words she learned from her mother:  you can never overcome hate with hate, you can only overcome hate with love. Easy words to speak, hard words to live.

         Could there be anything harder than loving, when you are hated! In a world deliberately constructed from hatred and mistrust of you—in everything! From voting rights, to where you could go to the bathroom.

        Easy—very easy, under those circumstances, to feel hurt, grow resentful, and withdraw. But Mrs. Hairston and her husband John T. Hairston did not withdraw. For the words are clear: we must overcome hate. That requires engagement with the hating world. And so they engaged.

       But she was not angry in the task, or disruptive, strident, abrasive. Nor was she all smiley faces, or simply “nice,” so that other people, at least, would be nice back. No!  She was polite, respectful, queenly in dress and bearing, and resolute. Standing on principle. We shall not be moved. And artful. Oh, she was artful!  She had a way of lifting people up because they wanted—we wanted–to be as good as she was! Her example will continue to inspire us to be good, in the here and now, where we find ourselves, each and every day, secure in the love which overcomes hate.

      And we hear something else she often said: “Praise the Lord!”

Praise the Lord indeed, for the life of Nannie B. Hairston