Gaye Johnson: A Saint Remembered

all-saints-day-1A eulogy delivered to First Christian Church, November 3, 2005 by Jarrett Banks

When some of us who loved Gaye received word on Monday that she was gravely ill, call it superstition, call it childishness, or just plain silliness, some of us thought to ourselves and even said aloud, “Please God, don’t let this very good, very kind woman die on Halloween.”  For whatever reason, most people would tend to agree that there are perhaps better days on the calendar to pass away.

However, I do not believe a better day exists on any calendar, Christian or secular, for a woman as loving, as compassionate and, yes, as saintly, as Gaye Johnson to go to be with the Lord than November 1.  Because this day, the day that Gaye died, is the day Christians have historically and traditionally celebrated as All Saints’ Day.

It is the day that Christians throughout the centuries have marked to remember remarkable people of faith who have gone before us to be with the Lord.  And there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that knew Gaye and loved Gaye that she was indeed a remarkable person of faith.

For six years, I had the wonderful privilege to work with Gaye, along with A.C. and Vivian Turnage, every second Tuesday of the month, passing out food to the needy and assisting people financially through Farmville Benevolent Ministries.  It was a wonderful privilege, not only to be able to serve the poor in our community, but to serve with this saint who indeed had the compassion for others of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It takes a special person to volunteer and commit to such service each month.  Distributing food and helping folks pay rent and utility bills is enough to make anyone a saint in itself, but Gaye enjoyed going the extra mile.  She loved to bring a trunk load of jars of molasses.  Each month anywhere between thirty and fifty people would come by the community center, or where we currently are at Lost and Found, and get a small bag of groceries and then line up at the back of Gay’s Buick to get their molasses.  That’s something she did not have to do.  Giving them canned goods would have been a plenty.  But like her Lord, Gaye gave to all, especially to those who needed the most, abundantly and extravagantly.  Anyone who has ever tasted her chocolate pies knows a little something about Gaye’s extravagant love.

Indeed, this entire town has tasted of this extravagance as her ministry to others through Farmville Benevolent Ministries was not her only service to this town.  Many days after she left Farmville Benevolent Ministries, she would hurry to the community center to deliver meals on wheels.  She also volunteered in the soup kitchen and played Bingo with the residents of Farmville Healthcare.  Gaye volunteered reading to Kindergarteners who needed extra help through the FACTS program.  No, I can not think of any better day for this dear saint to go to be with her Lord who is now giving himself to her as she gave herself to others abundantly and extravagantly, than All Saints’ Day.

Everyone knows that we pastors are not supposed have favorites.  We are supposed to love everyone equally.  But I’ve got news for you, we pastors are human beings, and like all human beings, we have favorites.  To stay out of trouble, we just try our best to keep it undercover.  We just try to pretend that we love everyone the same.

With Gaye, I must not have done a very good job in pretending, because Pam has introduced me to every member of her family as Mama’s boyfriend.

There was nothing in the world that I would not do for my girlfriend, Gaye.  And I am not the only one who felt that way about this saint, named Gaye.  Many of you who were in this room last night saw an extraordinary sight as hundreds of people filled this room to let Gaye’s family know how much she has meant to them over the years.  But, for me personally, nothing was more extraordinary than seeing Gaye’s childhood friend, Dan Satterthwaite come though the line to speak to the family.  Last night, I said to Dan who has been very ill, very weak for a very long time, “Dan, I can’t believe you are here.”  He said, “I can’t do this for everyone, but I’d do anything for Stella, as I call her.”
As I said, Dan, grew with Gaye and became very good friends with Gaye’s husband Shane.  They hunted together and Gaye, Shane, Harriet and Dan loved to go and spend time at the beach together.

Not long, after Dan was diagnosed with his cancer almost two years ago, Gaye told me one Tuesday after Benevolent ministries, that when I went to the hospital to be sure to crawl up in the bed with Dan and give him a great big kiss on the cheek and tell him it is from me.

Well, like I said, I’d do anything for Gaye.  So I marched right up to the third floor in the WestTower, walked in Dan’s room, crawled in his bed and laid one on him.  You should have seen the look on his face!

He looked at me like, “Preacher, are you crazy?”  But when I told him that it was from his good friend Gaye, he said, “Well, that’s alright then.”  Now for all of you who know Dan, that’s more than enough to reveal how saintly this woman was.

But what truly revealed to me how saintly this woman was, when I went to see this woman in the hospital this past week, Gaye, so ill, that she had a sign placed on the door restricting visitors, one of he first things she asked me when I entered was how her ol’ buddy Dan was getting along.

Even when she was facing her own death, Gaye was still more concerned about others than she was about herself.

The First Christian Church, the entire community of Farmville, and yes, even this world, has experienced a great loss this week.  But if Gaye had to die, as one day, we will all have to die, there is no better day on any calendar for her pass away than November 1—All Saints’ Day.  For if there as ever been a Saint, Stella Gaye Johnson certainly was one.  Thanks be to God for the wonderful privilege of knowing and loving and being known and loved by this saintly woman.

4 thoughts on “Gaye Johnson: A Saint Remembered

  1. PamFlynn

    I have just finished work, and sat to read this beautiful tribute given by Jarrett, for my best friend for life, my Mama, Gaye Pippin Johnson. She lives in my heart each and every day, and I strive to be just like her. Hers are big shoes to fill for sure. I am so thankful to have had such a loving, devoted mother; such a wonderful role-model and thoughtful, generous, kind soul… with a special twinkle in her eye…so young-minded and so much fun to be with. I’m glad Jarrett reminded the world that he was Mama’s boyfriend, as indeed he was! She talked about him with such joy and was so touched by his compassion and grand sense of humor.

    Thank you again, Jarrett, for sharing this message. It will be cherished forever by our friends and family. I’m especially thankful that Mama’s grandchildren can read this and remember the great tribute given to my very special Mama that sad fall day.

    Best wishes to my Farmville church family. I love and miss you all!

    With warm regards, Pam Johnson Flynn

  2. Helen Tugwell

    Thank you for posting this. Gaye was my very best friend and I loved her dearly. She was a wise and caring person, a fun friend who could always be counted on to give good counsel and wise advice. I still dream about her, she is always alive and herself in my dreams.

    1. PamFlynn

      She is alive in all our hearts, Helen! She loved you dearly! I know she would love to be eating seafood with you! Thanks for being her true blue forever friend.

  3. Debbie Keel Vincent

    When my mother Ruby died Gaye told me she would take over as my 2nd mama. When we went to luncheon Gaye would sit with Pam, Jilayne and me and she said I am filling in as your mama today. When I was in the hospital Gaye was my first visitor besides my family. I looked up and she was just standing by my bed. Debbie Keel what the world is going on. I loved her like a 2nd mama and still do today. She has touched everybody’s life that knew and loved her.

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