Strength, Resilience, Wisdom & Humor

Photo courtesy of Anthony Cooper

Verline Gee-Fleming was a name that resonated strength, resilience, and wisdom in the hearts of those who knew her. Born on November 10, 1939, she carried herself with grace and determination, leaving an indelible mark on her family and community. Her son, Alex Gee, stood before a gathered crowd on February 3rd, 2024, at her Homegoing celebration, to share stories of her life that painted a portrait of a remarkable woman.

As Alex began his eulogy, he spoke of his mother’s beauty, brilliance, generosity, and humor. Verline was not just a mother but a pillar of strength and guidance to her children, including her daughter Lilada Gee. Alex reminisced about his mother’s cousin, Carrie Bea (5 years old at the time), who prophesied Verline’s name even before her birth. “If that’s a baby in that bag, you better name her Verline!!” She blurted to Verline’s midwife as she came through the door.

Verline’s childhood was marked by curiosity and wit. Alex recalled how she cleverly convinced her statistics professor to allow her to retake an exam on Thanksgiving Day.  She surprised him with a sweet potato pie.  Her thought was… “A way to a professor’s grade book was through his stomach.”  

Alex shared three quotes that encapsulated her philosophy on life: “It’s never too late to do something new,” “Make them tell you no three times,” and “Love God, others, and yourself.”

Verline’s forward-thinking nature was evident in her choices, from promoting healthier living in the 1970s to embracing technology before its time. She believed in the importance of education and empowerment, especially for young African American women in the community.

  • She made us drink 2% milk because it’s healthier.
  • She made us eat White bread because it’s healthier.
  • She installed a 10-foot antenna so we could pick up more TV stations
  • She said Black progress was interrupted by “Integration”
  • She was reading Donte’s Inferno while most people were reading Jet, Ebony and the National Enquire.

Despite challenges and societal barriers, Verline never wavered in her pursuit of progress and equality. She advocated for swimming lessons for black children, defying eviction threats to provide a safe space for learning. “We learned to swim, but we had to move!”  Verline instilled in her children the belief that they were worthy and capable, challenging authority when necessary to uphold their self-worth.  

  • Mom created (LOL) Mental health days in the 70s (we didn’t have to lie…we just told her that we didn’t feel like going to school and that was enough for her.) When she called our middle school, Lincoln Elementary, to tell them that she was keeping us home, the office told her that she couldn’t. Her response was hilarious: “What do you mean I can’t keep my own child home from school … this isn’t Russia… yet!”

Her legacy extended beyond her family, as she mentored and inspired many individuals who became influential leaders in various fields. Verline’s blend of intellect and faith was a guiding light for many, shaping the lives of those she touched with her wisdom and compassion.

As dementia clouded her mind in later years, Verline’s spirit remained unbroken. Alex recounted moments of humor and kindness, showcasing her unwavering love and care for others. Even in her struggles, she continued to uplift and support those around her, leaving a lasting impact on all who crossed her path.

  • Mom once randomly hugged an employee at the registration desk at her clinic. When mom went to the bathroom, I tried to explain that she had dementia and liked hugging people. That employee explained that when she was eight months pregnant with twins and no one would rent to her, your mom rented me an apartment.  The employee told me that she was currently a homeowner, and her children were doing well. She owed her stability to mom’s intervention!

Verline Gee-Fleming’s journey was a testament to strength, resilience, and love. Alex honored her memory with gratitude and admiration, highlighting the profound influence she had on him and the community. As her Homegoing celebration ended, the echoes of Verline’s legacy reverberated in the hearts of those who cherished her presence and her lessons of love, faith, and perseverance.

  • She was part of the generation that loved their own, taught their own, built their own, led their own, shaped their own… follow their own, and elected their own. The likes of my mom’s generation will never exist again! She was a sharecropper; lived through the Great Depression; attended segregated schools; couldn’t vote without threat of harm; experienced integration; leaned into the American Dream;  and raised children who’d succeed in a white world. We need to recognize what we are losing! Are we learning from them? I’m so glad her example has influenced my sister, my wife & my daughter!
  • The caregivers at MyChoice or St. Marys Hospital, or UW Hospital or Hospice would often say to me: “She is really lucky to have you & your sister.” I was quick to reply… “No… We are so lucky to be her children.”