About an hour into the service celebrating the life of Barbara Jackson Alexander on Saturday, a soloist launched into a rendition of “I’m Free.”
Listening you knew Myra Walker believed what she was singing, knew for sure that Mrs. Alexander was indeed free now and that her soul was at rest.
That is the promise of the Christian’s eternal hope — to live forever in heaven.
In less than two weeks, God had not only called Antioch Baptist Church North’s Pastor Cameron Alexander home, he’d summoned his beloved “Honey” home as well.
He left us first just five days after Christmas. Then just days after gathering to celebrate his life at the Atlanta church he led for almost five decades, she was gone.
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And so there we were again on Saturday, gathered to mourn and celebrate once more. This time, the memory of Mrs. A, as we called her, held us captive.
For nearly three hours, friends, family and former colleagues shared stories — mostly funny – of their time with her.
They were repetitive, not because they were the same. They were repetitive because Mrs. A, much like Pastor Alexander, had a way of making all of us feel special.
And much like Pastor Alexander, she’d made a name for herself. She was the wife of a powerful man, but she was also an astute businesswoman who deftly balanced the demands of family, career and church.
William Clement, the former president of Atlanta Life Insurance who knew Mrs. A for more than 45 years, recalled talks they had about her starting what would become the Barbara J. Alexander Realty Company and the moment in 2008 when the two of them were inducted into the Atlanta Business League’s Hall of Fame.
“She was a woman ahead of her time,” he said.
Clement called her a visionary, at once feisty and charming and gracious. Real estate attorney Carlton Morse’s voice cracked as remembered having her support as a young African-American professional.
“She was solidly behind me,” he said, introducing him to the movers and shakers in the business.
The rest of us, Morse said, would do well to follow her example.
Karen McKinney-Holley and Felicia Robinson were among the hundreds of ministers’ wives who benefited from her wisdom saying she encouraged them to be themselves.
Robinson recalled the time she referred to Mrs. A as Mother Alexander and she quickly corrected her. “You can call me Mrs. Alexander, Sister Alexander or Mrs. A. but not Mother,” Alexander told Robinson, adding, that title would perhaps fit if she ever joined the church’s mother board but she assured Robinson that wouldn’t happen.
There were as many stories like that as there were people seated and listening.
People said that just as Pastor Alexander had a way to cut you deep then bandage you up, Mrs. A could be the same way. I only remember her gentle side: Mrs. A seated at my kitchen table dishing out wisdom to members of the Ministers’ Wives Ministry. Mrs. A and I on the phone discussing upcoming newsletters. Mrs. A, pretty as a picture, blowing kisses to the Antioch congregation.
As the eulogist said, we could’ve gone on all day about her.
What had been confirmed and proven was Mrs. A was the virtuous woman found in Proverbs 31:10, said the Rev. Rodney Turner.
“Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised,” he said, quoting Proverbs 31:30-31. “Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.”
Turner said Mrs. A was tough and determined. No one could make her quit. She was multi-talented, a role model for all ages.
A virtuous woman, he said, knows how to take care of her man and her family. In fact, she’s a woman after God’s heart.
“I’ve watched her,” Turner said. “Her loyalty was first to God, and as a result of being God-fearing, she represented God in every way she could.”
Turner then launched into a story about a renown organist that Pastor Alexander shared. The story goes that when the organist walked in he’d get a standing ovation and when he sat to play he’d stretch his fingers for a warmup. On this particular occasion, the man sat to play and when his hands hit the keys, there was no sound. He did it again and there was still no sound.
The man soon realized that he hadn’t introduced the pumper. After doing so, he sat down again and the organ sounded.
Remembering that story recently, Turner said it hit him that for all these years Mrs. A was Pastor Alexander’s pumper.
“Behind every great man is a great woman,” he said to applause
And so, the other day, he said, a great transaction took place. Pastor Alexander arrived in heaven, walked around and realized there was no more sickness there, no more suffering, no more nurses. And realizing it was a good place, he came back for Honey.
“I can see them like peas in a pod, strolling down heaven’s street,” Turner said. “I can hear them saying, ‘Antioch everything is going to be alright.’”
Yes, heaven will make it so. That is, after all, the promise of our eternal hope.