Bertha Lucille Rainey, 91: Loving mom, poet lost 4 of her 5 children

Although Bertha Lucille Rainey only had a fourth-grade education, she became a talented seamstress, prize-winning quilter and published poet.

After enduring the heartbreaking loss of four children to cystic fibrosis, her resilience and resolve to overcome adversity amazed family and friends.

“What I remember the most was Lucille’s strength,” said her cousin Bonnie Little Haas of Conyers. “If she had crumbling moments, I never saw them. She did what she had to do to take care of her family. I admired her ability to keep going.”

Rainey of Stone Mountain died Dec. 9 on her 91st birthday of complications from dementia and heart disease. Her funeral was Dec. 15 at Wages & Sons Funeral Home in Lawrenceville.

Born in 1924 in Pendergrass, Ga., Rainey was the third of 10 children. She quit school after the fourth grade to help her mother take care of her younger siblings.

After a few lessons, Rainey showed a knack for sewing. She went from helping her mom stitch flour-sack dresses for her siblings to making curtains and Easter frocks for her own children.

In 1946, she married Navy veteran Robert Rainey. The couple lived in Winder for a few years before relocating to Atlanta.

Both were carriers of the cystic fibrosis gene, and four of their five children were diagnosed with the genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections and difficulty breathing.

Their first two children succumbed to the disease in 1949 before the age of 2. Their third child, Fred, lived with CF until age 23, and their fourth, Betty, married and had two children before her death at age 50.

Although relieved that her youngest, fifth child did not have the disease, the losses took a toll. Yet Rainey fought depression and got on with life.

“When I would get frustrated with her, I would look at the picture of this sad, 24-year-old girl standing between the cemetery plots of her two children,” said her granddaughter April Taylor of Sandy Springs. “She began 1949 with a toddler and a baby on the way. By the end of the year, she had nothing. That put a lot in perspective. I learned from her to make every day count and to be thankful for what you have.”

In the early 1950s, her seamstress skills landed her a job at the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills in Cabbagetown, where she sewed and added grommets to truck tarps.

After a stint making custom draperies for Rich’s department store in the 1960s, she spent the rest of her career working in upholstery shops. Most of that time was at Dean’s Upholstery, where she had the opportunity to reupholster the tour bus for singer Kenny Rogers as well as some furniture in his home.

Known for her hard work and handicrafts, Rainey focused more on her crocheting and quilting after retirement. One of her quilts won a prize at the Gwinnett County Fair in 1990.

She enjoyed cruises, bluegrass music, casino gambling, Lotto scratch-off tickets, yard sales and a good rack of ribs with a baked sweet potato.

“She was almost 70 when we met, but she didn’t seem that old. She acted young. She went wherever she wanted to go,” said friend Barbara Cheek of Hoschton, Ga. “I’m fortunate I met her and had some good times with her. She was an amazing person.”

While visiting nursing homes to check on relatives and friends, Rainey would stop by to greet people she didn’t know. If she saw something that she thought a friend would like while browsing a yard sale, she’d surprise them with the find.

“Some people have that knack of being more considerate of people,” Haas said. “They remember things about people and connect with them. She was just that kind of person. She was an everyday person, but she was an outstanding person.”

Her poetry, mostly dark expressions of her frustration and grief, became a catharsis, said her daughter Karen Rainey Forte of Canton. Her poem about unrequited love was published by the International Library of Poetry.

Rainey also faithfully donated to cystic fibrosis organizations, a cause that was dear to her heart, Forte said.

“If she had a full education, who knows what she would have done,” her daughter said. “Her hands were a big legacy. They were a gift, and she used them wisely to create something and love something.”

In addition to her daughter, Rainey is survived by her brother Frank Boyd of Hoschton, four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.