My Pops passed away last Monday. While it wasn’t unexpected (as he’d had a stroke in late summer) it still hurts – especially since he was on the up and up before taking a turn for the worse. But what’s done is done, and in my Christian experience, I know that all he did was change clothes. As the pastor says, “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” That sounds good to me.
My Pops was the best.
Along with my siblings, I planned my father’s funeral. We had to buy a casket, select a burial spot, pick out a vault, order flowers, call our entire family, notify all the various bar associations, take care of our mother (and grandmother) and still somehow console ourselves. I wrote the funeral program and the obituary. My brother designed some of it. My sister sang at the funeral. My other sister wrote a poem. My husband read Invictus. All my uncles sang a medly of songs.
One hundred members of Kappa Alpha Psi came to my dad’s funeral and serenaded him. County Commissioner Bobbie Steele was there, as was Alderman Will Burns and all of the other politicians that my dad’s life touched. The church was so packed that people had to smush into the choir stands to be seated. The funeral procession from the West Side to the South Side was some 80 cars long – escorted by state troopers. Friends and family came from far and near to be with us and to stay with us. In fact, many are still here – opting to spend Christmas with our family in solidarity.
My own friends showed up and showed out. My sister’s friends showed up and showed out. My brother’s friends showed up and showed out. My father’s friends showed up and showed out. And my mother’s friends showed up en force and showed out. I’ve learned a lot about the traditions of the Black family and the Black church in these last few weeks. The “ladies who lunch” (i.e. my mother’s good friends, the other barrister’s wives) came armed with reams of toilet paper, paper towels, rotisserie chickens, boxes of tissue, flowers, stamps, mac and cheese, greens, pistachios, fresh salads, cookies, cakes, cobblers and laughter.
They mopped and cleaned and cooked and hugged and kissed. And then when they got tired, they were replaced by uncles and aunts and neighbors and godparents and church members from seven different congregations. Even my brother’s ex-wife showed up and stayed for four days.
Everyone brought their children. And inexplicably, every child under the age of seven that came into the big house ran straight into my arms and hugged me in the way that only a child can. What a sweet present, that toddlers told me that my Daddy was ok.
We asked God for comfort and he sent us friends.
It’s only been a week since my Dad died, and it hurts something fierce. But, time heals all wounds, and I honored my father while he lived. I will continue to honor him in this new transition.
I wrote his obituary. Here it is.
Attorney Ronald Sherman Samuels was born on June 17, 1941 in Chicago. His parents, Peter Isaac and Lena Samuels, raised him to be a Christian, a man of strong moral fortitude and a force in the city’s political and legal communities. Ronald was one of seven children and came up in the Morgan Park neighborhood, where everyone simply called him Ronnie. He received Christ at an early age at Beth Eden Baptist Church, where his father was a deacon and today, much of the Samuels family still attends.
Ronnie, one of “the three babies” of the family, attended Esmond Elementary School and Morgan Park High School. His first job was as a paperboy, and he delivered to the nearby neighborhood of Beverly Hills. He determined that one day he would live there, in the area that at the time denied Black people the opportunity to purchase the pretty houses on the hill.
Ronald went on to graduate from Chicago Teachers College (now Chicago State.) He pledged Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Incorporated and was initiated on February 18, 1961. His line was known as “The Magnificent Seven” and he was called the “Beast of Iota.” In 1969, Ronald graduated from the John Marshall Law School, finally fulfilling his destiny to become an attorney. He was known for his quick mind, dominating presence and biting humor, and those skills served him auspiciously as he entered private practice – becoming a partner with Washington, Kennon, Hunter & Samuels – and dedicated his life to helping the legally disenfranchised.
Ron wed the love of his life, his beauty queen and Chicago Public Schools teacher and librarian Melva Jean Bryant, on August 15, 1970. They had met at a party, where Ron impressed Melva, now a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, with his Kappa moves. Ronald also loved the Lord, and after wedding Melva – also of Morgan Park – he joined her family church: Mt. Hebron Missionary Baptist. There, on the West Side, he later became a deacon with his Christian service including being a church trustee and a Sunday School teacher. To boot, he loved driving his big burgundy Cadillac brougham – with Samuels on the license plate – to church on Sunday.
The fight for Civil Rights was a major concern for Attorney Samuels and as such, he provided legal counsel for Operation PUSH, the NAACP, the Morgan Park Local School Council, the Progressive and National Baptist Conventions, Church of God in Christ and the United Methodist Church in addition to being the chief trial attorney for Dr. Martin Luther King’s Leadership Council for Metropolitan Open Communities. He was a key member of the election committees for Mayor Harold Washington, Cook County Commissioner Bobbie Steele and Appellate Court Justice William Cousins. His work for the Leadership Council led to the landmark case – Holmgren vs. The West Side Times – that remedied certain housing discrimination issues in Chicago associated with “redlining” – a practice that denied mortgages to minorities.
Counselor Samuels played the leading roll in the Seaton v. Sky Realty case, which recognized racial discrimination as a tort. He became the first African-American supervisor in the Cook County States’ Attorney’s Office, where he also was chief of the Consumer Fraud Division under Bernard Carey. In 1982, along with the CCBA, he organized hearings on the conduct of the Chicago Police Department in what later became infamously known as the Jon Burge Case. He also represented the music group The Spinners.
From 1993 to 1995, Brother Samuels served as Polemarch of the Chicago Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi. Kappa League, for teens, was a cause close to his heart – as was the annual Kappa cook out. He served as president of the CCBA and was vice president of the National Bar Association for two terms, and a board member for seven years. (One of his beloved events was the annual Cook County Bar Auxiliary Christmas Party.) He was also a member of the American Bar Association, the Illinois State Bar Association, the Chicago Bar Association and the American Trial Lawyers Association.
Ronald played as hard as he worked and he loved Melva’s family. He was a founding member of their family group, “The W-Right Connection.” He helped to spearhead many reunions, parties and fundraisers. He was a key part of many family trips, including excursions to Memphis, Acapulco and his forever favorite place, Las Vegas. The family could always count on him to demand excellence and require that absolutely everything be “in writing.”
Ronald received many awards and served on many committees during his life of service. His awards alone are too many to name in this short space. His was a tough, enduring, intellectual love that accepted nothing but the best and pushed all in his circle to try harder and to be better and to always do what’s right. His love was also honest – straight, no chaser. He suffered no fools, but he loved to laugh – as evidenced by his booming baritone that frequently rang through the big house in Beverly during his legendary Bid Whist tourneys, Super Bowl parties and family meetings.
Ronald lived as a soldier for God. And this poem, used as the benediction at Beth Eden, eventually became his creed: “I must live with myself and so I want to be fit for myself to know… I don’t want to come to the setting sun hating myself for the things I’ve done.”
Ronald leaves a family of hundreds to celebrate his memory.
– Lovingly written by Adrienne P. Samuels Gibbs, the baby girl