Benjamin Henry-Harrison Burgis Jr. made history by becoming the second African American to enlist in the United States Coast Guard as a seaman.
He died on January 14. He was 85.
Burgis was born March 25, 1926, in Philadelphia. He was the youngest of six siblings. He attended Overbrook High School where he ran cross country, and played basketball and football. He enjoyed traveling across the country with his father during the summer months.
Immediately after attending high school, Burgis chose to serve his country by joining the U.S. Armed Forces. He joined the U.S. Coast Guard at a time when Blacks were previously only enlisted as either cooks or servants. As a member of the Coast Guard, his travels spanned the globe to include three out of four oceans of the world: the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Indian Oceans.
During World War II, Burgis again set his mark in history by earning a Purple Heart. After his vessel was commissioned by the U.S. Navy to join their ranks, he was injured doing battle while aboard the USS Arthur Middleton. After the 2nd World War ended, Burgis returned home to help raise his young family.
Burgis held several prosperous positions throughout his life. He worked as a railway mail clerk on the New York–Chicago Line. After too much time on the road away from his family, he decided to take the test and become a Philadelphia police officer.
After a few years on the force, for the sake of his family, he was no longer to willing to put himself in harm’s way. By using the trade he learned while serving in the military, he changed his profession to that of a stationary engineer, a much safer occupation. Thirty-five years later, he retired from Holmesburg Prison as chief engineer. He also held the title as chief engineer at the Philadelphia International Airport for some time.
During his tenure as a city engineer, Burgis was appointed by the mayor of Philadelphia to the position of building superintendent at the construction site of the African American Museum. Burgis received a citation from Mayor Frank Rizzo for the “ontime” project completion and the grand opening of the country’s second African-American museum.
Burgis was always a hard worker. While working as an engineer, he and his wife Lilly successfully operated a fresh fish market and seafood restaurant for more than six years.
After he retired from the city of Philadelphia, he became the building manager of the Robert Morris building for the next seven years. Again, he retired only to find another position to keep him busy. He worked for five years as a chemist assistant in a research lab. He finally retired for good to enjoy the rest of his life with his family.
Whenever Burgis wasn’t at work, he enjoyed many endeavors. He was a practicing Mason for more than 40 years of his life. To him, photography was more than just a hobby, it was a passionate pursuit.
Burgis always enjoyed good company. He was a great storyteller of life’s events and historic moments. He loved to cook and entertain others. Conversations with him usually included honest advice shared over a good laugh.
Lilly, his wife of 40 years, was his passion, confidant, nurse and best friend. Together, they parented nine children — they had 17 grandchildren and eight grandchildren. Burgis is also survived by his older sister, Roberta Burgis Savage, and other relatives and friends.
Services will be held January 21 at Emmanuel United Methodist Church, 2346 North 17th St. #50. Viewing is at 9 a.m. Services will be held at 11. Burial is in Washington Crossing National Cemetery.
Congleton Funeral Home handled the arrangements.
Daisy Knight was a devoted church woman who held many positions at World of Life Baptist Church. She died October 29. She was 88.
Knight was born on April 11, 1923 in Roberta, Ga. where she lived with her parents Felton and Bessie Howard. At the age of 12, she joined the Shiloh Baptist where she was baptized and attended Sunday school Church.
At the age of 16, she moved to Philadelphia, where she lived with her older sister and brother-in-law, Mattie and Frank Miller until she met and married Charles Knight. From this marriage they raised two sons, Ronald C. Knight and Charles E. Knight.
In the late 1950s, she joined Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, where she was a member until 1984 when she joined Calvary Baptist Church and became a member of the senior choir. In 1997, Knight became a member of the “Word of Life Baptist Church” where she served as an usher, and sang with the praise and worship choir. In 1999 was made deaconess and pastor aide. In 2002, Daisy moved in with her son, Ronald Knight, in Skippack, Pennsylvania, but continued to be an active member in the Word of Life Baptist Church.
Knight is survived by: two sons, Charles and Ronald Knight; daughter-in-law, Theresa Knight; two granddaughters, Kristen and Katrina Knight; sisters, Ezell Felts, Marie Davis, Jean Battle, Elaine Hollis, Ardell Howard, Williemae Wonnum, Thelma Woods, Louise Baker and Brother Calvin Howard; sisters-in-law, Helene Howard, Geraldine Howard and Mary (Mae) Howard; brother-in-law, Rev. Phillip Baker; numerous nieces and nephews; godson, Benjamin Kahikina; goddaughter, Michele Nelson; and a host of other relatives and friends.
Services were held on November 4 at Word of Life Church Ministry. Terry Funeral Home handled the arrangements.
Mary Elizabeth Hundley, known to some as “Mel” or “Liz,” loved speaking with people and traveling. In addition, she had a passion for cooking and eating, creative sewing by machine or hand, and simply enjoying life. She was also known for being well dressed and incredibly coordinated from head to toe, accessories included. She died October 23. She was 85.
Hundley was born on June 23, 1926 to Mary Alice Wilkerson and Charles Housier, in South Boston, Va. Her family migrated to Philadelphia, where she stayed with her aunt and grandmother. Later, she moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked as a seamstress and an elevator operator. She was courted by and soon married her first husband, A.R. Lee.
Of this union their daughter, Patricia, was born. They later divorced, but remained friends.
She and her daughter returned to Philadelphia, where she resided permanently, raising her daughter with the assistance of family and friends. She worked as a housekeeper and Licensed Practical Nurse in various nursing facilities including Byberry State Hospital and later doing private duty work from which she retired. Early in her life, Hundley knew, cherished and loved the Lord, accepting Christ as her savior. She and her daughter joined Nazarene Baptist Church where both were baptized. Active in church, she became a member of the Ladies’ Auxiliary. During this time she was introduced to and married her second husband, B. Hundley, who preceded her in death in 1975.
She sought a spiritual home that heightened and enhanced her needs. Changing church affiliations, she fellowshipped and later joined Mount Airy Church of God in Christ where she flourished through their growth and expansion; attending Sunday school, enjoying the sermons, the various church activities and outings while interacting with her church family. As one of the Founding Mothers, she bonded with a host of friends and associates touching many hearts.
Her family said she cherished, loved and deeply adored spending time with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She acknowledged that she lived to see quite a bit that included four generations of her personal life and to also witness a person of color in the White House in President Barack Obama.
Hundley became ill when she suffered her initial stroke, a mild one that subsequently led to another major stroke. Between her strokes, she suffered several mild seizures and a major seizure leading to stays in the hospital and numerous rehabilitation facilities.
Her last stroke left her totally incapacitated and with no voice. However, as she would say “I’m a tough ol’ bird,” or “You can’t kill an iron horse.”
Hundley leaves to mourn: daughter, Patricia Greenwood; grandchildren, Mr. William Greenwood II and Alia Greenwood; five great-grandchildren, Alecia, Isaiah, Ryan, Nevaeh and Christopher; Poppi, her dog; and a host of family, friends and acquaintances.
Hundley was preceded in death by grandchild George Greenwood and her two husbands.
Services will be November 1 at Mt Airy Church of God, 6401 Ogontz Ave. The viewing will be at 10 a.m. The service will start at 11. Wood Funeral Home handled the arrangements.
In 2001, Daily News columnist, Ted Silary wrote a piece titled “A Groundskeeper’s Labor of Love” about a dedicated West Philadelphia High School groundskeeper named Ronald Nichols. On June 1, 2012, Ronald Nichols died of heart failure after a lengthy illness. He was 62 years old.
Born Jan. 3, 1950, to the late Mamie and Russell Nichols, Ronald grew up in South Philadelphia, one of six children. He graduated from South Philadelphia High School and attended Spring Garden College, where he studied carpentry. He worked in the construction trades for a short period, before joining the Philadelphia Board of Education, where he worked as an athletic field caretaker for more than 35 years. He retired in July 2011. Assigned to the West Philadelphia Athletic field house and field, Nichols’ job allowed him to combine three loves: horticulture, sports and young people.
An avid gardener with a green thumb, Nichols not only lovingly maintained the West playing field, but also kept an amazing collection of indoor plants, some reaching the ceiling of his field house office and workspace. In an early South Philadelphia home, he designed an outdoor garden filled with bursts of color, pathways and a fish-filled pond. Neighbors often came to sit quietly in the garden, admiring its beauty and calm in the midst of all the city concrete.
A former high school football player, Nichols loved all kinds of physical activities. Over the years he was an ardent cyclist, biking to Atlantic City to help raise money for charity; a student of Tai Chi and martial arts; a fitness buff, researching exercise regimens as well as balms and home remedies for aching and bruised muscles. He loved football, and as the Daily News column stated, “When he does have a chance to ‘relax,’ he stands on West’s sideline and cheers and encourages the players, many of whom he knows by name. His voice is louder than most of the coaches.”
Nichols, however, was more than an unofficial football coach. He served as a mentor and father figure to many West Philly high school athletes and students, male and female alike. He urged them to work hard in school and helped them to pursue college and/or work. Students also sought him out for personal guidance.
“Over the years, he helped me grow as a man,” said West Philadelphia High School graduate, Terrell Roper. “Everything that I saw as a negative: football, college, love, he helped me to see as a positive. It felt like from high school on, he was molding me.”
Ronald Nichols was a family man. Married to Cynthia Broadnax Nichols for 25 years, they raised two daughters, Nia and Imani. Nia, who recently graduated from Temple University, said, “My father was always there for us. I knew he was really sick when he could not attend my graduation last month. Wild horses could not have kept my dad from something like that.”
Ronald Nichols was a member of Bethel Deliverance Church. He is survived by his wife, Cynthia; daughters, Nia and Imani, and Shirley Greene from a previous union; three grandchildren, Cassandra, Keith and Kareem; nine great-grand children; his twin sister Rochelle Nichols-Solomon and four other siblings, Rebecca McJett Dennis, and Russell, Reginald and Richard Nichols; his sister-in-law, Tasshenia Broadnax; and a host of other in-laws, nieces and nephews, cousins and close friends.
A private funeral service will be held Saturday, June 9. In keeping with his wishes, contributions can be sent in his name to The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, 100 N. 20th Street, 5th Floor, Philadelphia, Pa. 19103.
Constance May Burrell, also known as “Connie,” died Aug. 15, 2012.
She was 78.
She was born April 24, 1934 to the late Margaret and Melvin Tripp in Philadelphia. She was the second of eight children. She received her formal education in the Philadelphia public school system and attended West Philadelphia High School and Pierce Business School.
Burrell was the pioneer of her siblings as she was the first of them to convert to Catholicism. Many other family members followed her example.
She married the late Robert H. Burrell in 1955 and became a stay-at-home mom to her only child, Donna Lynn.
She returned to the workforce when her daughter started school. When she entered the workforce, she started in retail. She went on to work in banking at CoreStates and later became a legal assistant at Crawford Law Firm. She retired in 1995.
Burrell spent her leisure time traveling, gardening, attending family functions, reading and watching professional tennis. She had a passion for preparing gourmet meals laced with a healthy sprinkling of love.
“Her quick wit and sense of humor were her legacy,” her family said.
“A quiet woman of few words, she showed her love in her actions.”
As the keeper of family history, Burrell documented special family moments through photography.
She was known to her family as the one who had your back.
In addition to her daughter, Burrell is survived her sister, Cynthia Allen; brother, Larry Tripp; and other relatives and friends.
Services were held Aug. 24 at St. Louis Roman Catholic Church, 821 West Cobbs Creek Parkway in Yeadon. Burial was in Eden Cemetery.
James L. Morse Funeral Home handled the arrangements.
William T. Valentine Jr., known as “Bill,” will be remembered by his family as a humanitarian.
Valentine’s family said he had a passion for helping others. He was a dedicated life member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. for 30 years. He was also an active member of Concerned Black Men, The Frontiers, the Big Brother and Big Sister Organization and the Free of Life Ministry.
His family said he had a carefree spirit and attitude. Valentine died on January 30. He was 58.
Valentine was born on October 27, 1953, to William T. Sr. and Florine M. Valentine. He was baptized and confirmed at the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas. He was a dedicated member for 50 years. He served diligently as an acolyte, youth instructor, music committee, basketball coach, Sunday school teacher and also as a lay Eucharistic minister and a lay reader.
He received his education in the Philadelphia Public School District. He obtained a bachelor of science degree from Drexel University and a master’s degree in education from Cheyney University.
A highlight of his work experience is his 16-year career at the Defense Support System and five years as a teacher in the Philadelphia Public School District. He was also employed at the Philadelphia Department of Human Services as a social worker for nine years at the time of his death.
He was also an official referee for football, softball and basketball in the following organizations: UBBO, Tri State, ABC and PIAA Associations. He also taught and played tennis. He would take time out of his activities to get to the gym to workout and play racquetball.
He loved watching sports with his Aunt Catherine, who is known as Miss Kitty, especially the SuperBowl.
Valentine leaves to mourn: aunt, Catherine; companion, Norma; godchildren, Isaac George, Zuleka and Samaria Mesquita, Lynette Dickerson; godfather, Emory Thomas; many cousins and extended family.
Services were held on February 9 at the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas. Wood Funeral Home handled the arrangements.
Willis Edwards was a civil rights icon and NAACP leader.
He died July 13, 2012, of cancer. He was 66.
In 1982, Edwards was elected president of the NAACP Beverly Hills/Hollywood Branch. More recently, he served as first vice president of the Beverly Hills/Hollywood branch. Edwards is credited with by many helping to build the coalition of producers and funders that led to the first NAACP Image Awards live on national television in 1986.
NAACP Chairman Roslyn M. Brock said Edwards embodied the spirit of the organization.
“Willis attended his duties with great humility and greater passion. His accomplishments in the civil rights arena speak to a career that defies narrow definition. Willis promoted and protected the image of African Americans in the arts; he shaped and expanded the vision of the NAACP National Board of Directors; and he tore down barriers to honest conversation about HIV/AIDS in communities of color. He will be greatly missed.”
Edwards served on the National Board of the NAACP for 12 years in many different capacities. His roles included vice chair of the Image Awards, member of the NAACP Crisis Magazine Committee; member of the executive committee and the budget and finance committee; member of the national health committee and chair of the sub-committee on HIV/AIDS. He recently stepped down from the board of directors and joined the NAACP board of trustees.
“Willis Edwards was a towering figure in the NAACP, and his legacy will be remembered for generations to come,” stated NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous.
“As a civil rights crusader, he continued in the tradition of those who came before him but also created new avenues to pursue justice in a changing world. His ingenuity made him a strong leader and a trusted advisor to so many freedom fighters across the country.”
Diagnosed with HIV/AIDS late in life, Edwards developed a reputation as a strident spokesman for HIV/AIDS education and advocacy. He was instrumental in guiding the NAACP’s work with HIV/AIDS. He also worked with the Minority AIDS Project. His final project was the development of the NAACP manual, “The Black Church and HIV: The Social Justice Imperative,” a handbook to help congregations stem the spread of the virus.
“Willis Edwards was a national leader for the NAACP and a partner with the City of Los Angeles in the struggle for equality and justice for all people,” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa said in a statement.
“I was proud to call him a personal friend for over 20 years in the struggle for civil liberties.”
Edwards was born in Carthage, Texas, on Jan. 1, 1946. He was raised in Palm Springs, Calif.
He later attended California State University, Los Angeles, where he became active in politics.
Edwards began his life in activism as a staffer on the Robert F. Kennedy presidential campaign and earned a Bronze Star in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.
He worked with Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks, arranging for Parks to sit with first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton at the 1999 State of the Union Address. He served as vice president of development and planning for the Rosa Parks Museum and Library in Montgomery, Ala.
Lloyia Anne Harvey Vance, 68, of Elkins Park, died March 31, 2012, at home after a long battle with Lewy Body Dementia, a degenerative brain disease.
Affectionately known as “Aunt Llo” and “Aunt Lloyia Anne,” she was born to the late Lloyd William Harvey and Gladys Pendleton Harvey on May 29, 1943, in Abington.
She was raised in the Crestmont section of Willow Grove. Lloyia was baptized at an early age at the First Baptist Church of Crestmont, and in her early teens her family became members of Salem Baptist Church of Jenkintown.
Lloyia graduated from Abington Senior High School in 1961 and attended Temple University for a year before going to work as a teller for the Philadelphia Savings Fund Society (PSFS). She served as a teller at PSFS branches in Center City, North and West Philadelphia, and Cheltenham and Willow Grove in Montgomery County. Lloyia’s final assignment was a mortgage processor for Meritor Mortgage Corporation, a division of PSFS. She semi-retired in 1986. She went back to work to help pay for her children’s college educations, and she worked at various institutions including ADP, GMAC and the U.S. Census Bureau in 1990.
Lloyia met the love of her life, Oscar Palmer Vance Jr. during the mid-1950s.
Her husband remembers that he met Lloyia when he was in ninth grade and she was in seventh. “The first time I saw her, I was sitting on the detention bench, and she was walking down the hall,” Oscar fondly recalled.
The couple dated through the time Oscar joined the Marine Corps in 1959. They were married in 1964 at Salem Baptist Church of Jenkintown by the late Dr. Robert Johnson Smith.
They lived in North Wales, Jenkintown and on a four-acre farm in New Hanover. In 1971, they built their final home in the McKinley community in Elkins Park. Her husband called his wife “Loyal Lady Lloyia” in her final years because as long as she was able, she supported him in every endeavor he pursued, including serving as his bookkeeper and tax preparer for his family business, the Able Janitorial Service, which later became Vance Enterprises, Inc. For all her years, Lloyia was his rock, building the strong foundation allowing him to support his law enforcement career.
In addition to being a financial whiz, Lloyia was a woman of many talents. Her family often referred affectionately to her as the “Black Martha Stewart.” She loved to entertain family and friends and she had a knack for making an everyday get-together a special event. Lloyia loved people and music and was an avid singer. All of these talents, she shared generously with her church home — Salem Baptist Church of Jenkintown.
Lloyia was “Mother of the Year” in the 1970s at Salem, a member of the Board of Trustees, a member of the Inspirational choir, a Maxi-Wagon driver for the students as well as the Adult Citizens Program, and a long-time Salem Federal Credit Union board member for over 25 years.
In addition to her husband, who was at her side when she died, Lloyia is survived by her mother, Gladys Harvey; brother, Wesley Harvey; daughter, Nicole (Walter); son, Oscar III (Wendy); and son, Lloyd (Kelley). She also has eight grandchildren: Sienna, 17; Joshua, 14; Taylor, 14; Maxwell, 12; Shelby, 11; Heaven, 8; Nathaniel, 6; and Brayden, 3; whom she adored and dedicated her retirement years to. She will also be missed by a host of family and friends.
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday, April 5, 2012, at Salem Baptist Church in Jenkintown. There will be no viewing.
Donations may be made “In Memory of Lloyia H. Vance to raise awareness of Lewy Body Dementia” to: Abington Memorial Hospital’s Office of Philanthropy, 1200 Old York Road, Abington, Pa. 19001.
Deacon Wesley Tyrone Tilghman Sr. served as vice president of the deacon board at Mt. Hebron Baptist Church.
He died March 27, 2012. He was 58.
Tilghman was born March 15, 1954. He was the youngest of eight children to the late Lucille Farmbry and Samuel Tilghman.
Tilghman was educated in the Philadelphia public school system. In 1972, he served in the U.S. Marine Corps and received an honorable discharge. While serving his country, he married Diane Alfreda Hawkins on the military base at Camp Lejeuan, N.C.
He worked as a boiler cleaner at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, then later as a laborer for Local 332 Laborers Union until he retired in 2009.
Tilghman joined the Church of the Redeemer and was ordained as a deacon at New Comfort Baptist Church under the leadership of Pastor Tyrone Kilgoe. He served at House of Prayer Baptist Church, Church of the Redeemer Baptist and Mt. Hebron Baptist.
He found joy in serving God, spending time with his family, pleasing others, working, singing on the choir, serving on the praise and worship team and providing for his family.
He took pride in doing many of the family’s home repairs and baking his famous 7up cake, but most of all he took pride in bragging about his children.
“The one word that we can all use to describe Wesley would be ‘loving,’” his family said.
He is survived by his wife, Diane Tilghman; daughters, Tyesha and Chelsie; sons, Wesley and Rashiem; adopted son, Glenn; brothers, Chester and Jerry; sisters, Barbra, Ardena and Mary; grandsons, Kevin, Kareem, William, Jordan, Justin, Damien, Dyshawn and Malachi; granddaughters, Saphira, Makayla, Myla and Zion; great-grandson, Kevin Jr.; daughters-in-law, Myesha and Malaika; sons-in-law, Damien and Donald; aunt, Lillian Cooper; brothers-in-law, Albert, Carl Hawkins and John; sisters-in-law, Alvena and Patricia; nieces, Gwendolyn Mitchell and Aniah Tilghman; and other relatives and friends.
Services will be held April 7 at Mt. Hebron Baptist Church, 1403 Wharton Street. Viewing is at 9 a.m. Services will follow at 10. Burial is in Eden Cemetery, Collingdale, Pa.
Slater Funeral Home handled the arrangements.
ST. LOUIS — Singer David Peaston, who had a string of R&B hits in the late 1980s and early 1990s, has died, his family said Thursday.
Peaston, 54, died Wednesday of complications from diabetes, his niece, Neuka Mitchell said.
Peaston was born into a St. Louis family with deep musical roots. His mother, gospel singer Martha Bass, was one of the Clara Ward Singers. His older sister, Fontella Bass, is a noted singer whose single “Rescue Me” reached No. 1 on R&B charts and No. 4 on pop single charts in 1965.
Peaston’s highest charting song was “Two Wrongs (Don’t Make It Right),” which reached No. 3 on the Billboard R&B chart in 1989. “Can I?” got to No. 14 R&B that year, and “We’re All in This Together” reached No. 11 R&B and No. 45 on the dance charts in 1990. His first album, “Introducing ... David Peaston,” reached No. 7 on the Billboard R&B album chart in 1989. At the height of his career, he toured with Gladys Knight.
Peaston earned a degree in elementary education and taught in his hometown of St. Louis before moving to New York to pursue a career as a singer. He began doing session gospel and R&B work. His career got a big boost after winning several competitions on the “Showtime at the Apollo” television show in the late 1980s, winning over fans and the judges with his powerful rendition of “God Bless The Child.”
Singer Cheryl Pepsii Riley recalled traveling with Peaston on several shows.
“I soooooooooo loved this man with the hearty laugh, great sense of humor, that incredible voice, and he was the most amazing friend!!!” she said in a statement to the website eurweb.com. “This hurts so much. He had a gift that commanded the room. David will be sorely missed.”
Despite a rich tenor voice that awed fans, crossover success eluded Peaston.
“He’s the greatest unsung artist ever,” Mitchell said. “Fabulous. A great father, husband, uncle. A great man.”
Peaston’s Facebook page described him as a “joyful independent double amputee.” Both of Preston’s legs were amputated below the knees due to diabetes.
Survivors include his wife of 24 years, his high school sweetheart Marilyn, and two sons. Funeral arrangements were incomplete. — (AP)