Thelma Irene Askew was born on January 15, 1927, to the late Roosevelt and Roxie Askew in Hertford, North Carolina. She attended and graduated from the public schools in Perquimans County and attended Elizabeth City State Teachers College. Early in life Thelma moved to New York City where she remained until her departure on February 19, 2022, in the loving arms of her son.
She was employed as a housekeeper for a hotel for several years and then gained employment with the New York Department of Social Services as a case manager until she retired. One of life’s lessons that she taught us from her work experience as a housekeeper was always leave a tip for the maid. Early in life she joined Saunders Grove Missionary Baptist Church and then became a part of the ministry at the Greater Central Baptist Church, in New York City. She was married to the late Ludet Waller.
Thelma worked hard and sacrificed much for her children, other family members, friends, co-workers, and strangers that she met on the streets. Mother lived Proverbs 11:25, “Generous persons will prosper, those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.” She was an excellent southern cook living in New York City, where she often prepared meals for her elderly neighbors. She would make request to have a box brought or mailed to her from Layden’s Supermarket that contained items enough to share with ALL of her friends and her aunt/sister Blue. She believed in sharing.
Ensuring that others acquired an education was a priority for her and she would go to great extremes to ensure that her children, grandchildren, and cousins received her financial support, words of encouragement, as well as questioning them about their progress, voicing the paths she believed would make them happy and successful and sometimes some reprimands and threats if she did not see that happening. Education was not an option or choice it was mandatory!
She often shared the story of her dream to become a nurse and how she was deterred because of the words of a counselor at the college she wanted to attend. Her experience inspired her to inspire others to push regardless of obstacles. Although she never pursued her career as a nurse the name Thelma means nurturer or nurse and she nurtured many from behind her desk at the Department of Social Services using her on special tactics.
We believe that her life’s hardships were the strength that she used to persevere much like the women that Langston Hughes references in his poem of "Mother to Son."
Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
We the family honor her legacy and every seed of wisdom and knowledge that she imparted into us, and we commit to continue to carry the torch and pass it on to future generations.
Thelma leaves to cherish her memory one daughter, Thelma Finch-Copeland (Simon) of Hertford, North Carolina and one son Roy Smith of Buxton, North Carolina, a very special aunt Doris McLeod of Newport News, Virginia, five grandsons Johnnie Finch, Jr.(Meron) of Hertford, North Carolina, Brian Baker of Atlanta, Georgia, Darnell Walcott of Long Island, New York, Stefan Finch of Greenville, North Carolina, Roy Smith Jr. of Charleston, South Carolina, and one granddaughter, Shanedell Carson of Bronx, New York, five great grandchildren and a host of cousins and adopted children that lovingly called her "Ma".
A viewing and visitation will take place on Thursday, February 24, 2022 from 4:00pm-7:00pm at the funeral home. A celebration of life will be held on Friday, February 25, 2022 at 12:00 Noon at Greater Saunders Grove Baptist Church. Her final resting place will be at West Lawn Cemetery, Elizabeth City, NC.
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