Thelma Lawrence turns 98!
Special to the Outlook
Following nearly 40 years in education as both a grade school teacher and principal, Thelma Gaines Lawrence and her husband, Freeman Lawrence, retired. Her late husband, was the last principal at the Original Lincoln High School in Frenchtown and a retired Assistant Superintendent of Leon County Schools following integration. Although retired, Freeman and Thelma were still no less connected to young people. For the next thirty years Thelma and Freeman would remain involved with their former students and their children and the young people they encountered at Bethel AME Church.
For decades, Thelma Lawrence was responsible for the kitchen at Bethel AME Church. She was joined by other retirees (the “Courtesy Guild”)—together, they would prepare all meals at Bethel AME Church for funerals and special events. But, it was the home-cooked meals that Mrs. Lawrence and the “Courtesy Guild” prepared for college students, summer campers and the Young People’s Division (YPD) that kept Mrs. Lawrence connected with another generation of young people who were impacted by her kind nature, loving instruction and delicious meals. Still, other students had the great joy to break bread with the Lawrences’ in their home.
“When we were in college, we didn’t miss Church, because we knew we would enjoy Aunt Thelma’s cooking as soon as it was over,” said Stephen Smith, a FAMU graduate and attorney in New Orleans, Louisiana. “Almost thirty years ago, my friends and I had Aunt Thelma and Uncle Freeman to embrace us like we were family, and to now be able to bring my kids back to Tallahassee to meet her and for them to know her at 98 is just real special.” A. Brion Gardner, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon in Washington D.C. recalls important lessons shared at the Lawrences’ dinner table. “To still have Aunt Thelma around at 98, still giving advice, and telling us how proud she is—that’s priceless.”
Thelma Lawrence’s nephew, Jacques Paul Meadows, recalls coming to FAMU from Palm Beach and connecting with his cousins—Freeman and Thelma. “When I arrived as a freshman, there was no negotiating whether I was going to Church or not—I was going and I was going to Bethel A.M.E. Church, and I was getting involved.” “So at eighteen, I sang in the Male Chorus every second Sunday because it wasn’t enough to attend Church, I had to be active like they were.” Darryl Jones, former Executive Director of the Bethel CDC and Bethel’s Holy Steward, credits Mrs. Lawrence with his adult church activism. “Through Aunt Thelma, purpose in my adult life was revealed—to serve the Lord and His people with joy, enthusiasm and integrity.” “I’m almost 50 now, and I can’t imagine what direction my life may have gone had it not been for Aunt Thelma inviting me to Bethel AME Church 30 years ago, and giving me a family and an opportunity away from home.”
“What makes Thelma Lawrence so important to me is that she is a bridge in my family—I met her through Jacques in college, but then she would meet my parents and younger brother and they would come to love her and now my wife and my children know and treasure her too—that’s three generations of Mathews that Mrs. Lawrence has touched,” said local business owner, Raymond Mathews. Gerri Thompson, who has known Thelma Lawrence for nearly fifty years credits Mrs. Lawrence for being an inspiration as a woman of God. “Miss T exemplifies the true beauty of a wisdom-filled, well-lived and well-kept life.” “Love is evident in the glow in her eyes and the eyes of those she has loved.”