I tucked into the very back pew before the Wake began. My plan had been to quietly pay my respects at what I thought was a public viewing, I had not realized that a more formal service was planned.
When I arrived at Mount Olive AME Church I made my way up to the open casket to view a woman I had never formally met. It seemed odd to introduce myself in these circumstances but it was important to me to honor and thank someone I had watched and admired for years.
I actually made a point to say thank you out loud. I hoped that my words traversed the physical world and made their way to her heavenly ears.
I thought about just leaving it at that and making my exit. I would leave the experience of the service to her close friends and family. But the few moments and few words didn’t seem enough so I took a seat.
Quickly I realized this would not be a somber affair but rather a celebration of a community icon and a well loved Mother, Grandmother and Aunt. As former senators, neighbors, business leaders, friends and family shared stories everything seemed so familiar to me. I felt more emotional than just a casual observer when people spoke of her life even though I knew I had no right to include myself in her circle of friends or colleagues.
I struggled to think of why I felt that I knew her so well. I had never been in her famous flower shop in Dunbar, nor worked on a project with her or even exchanged words.
At the Southwest Florida Community Foundation we stay connected to our donors after they have passed. There are countless stories of remarkable philanthropy that has been entrusted to us even though I have never met the donors I feel as though I know a little bit about their heart and their desire to change our community. I don’t know them but I know about them.
The same was true with the woman I came to honor. I didn’t know her but I knew about her. Sitting in the church it occurred to me that I actually had been introduced to her a few years earlier through the work of a young documentarian JJ Gamba.
When I first saw the documentary Mr. Gamba wrote, produced, directed filmed and edited I was astonished to learn that he was a student in the 8th grade at Canterbury School in Fort Myers.
Mr. Gamba captured the spirit and essence of his subject so well and she was willing to be authentic and transparent with him and that made for powerful story telling. I remember feeling as if I had met her through the lens of his camera. He went on to win state awards for the film and Ms. Shoemaker also gave her stamp of approval.
I was inspired by the fact that despite the difference in age and life experiences they were able to connect and share a compelling portrait. Apparently I had carried that with me and felt connected to her. If you would like to see JJ Gamba’s video go to https://vimeo.com/45078154 I am thrilled he gave me permission to share the link.
Thank you Veronica S. Shoemaker for who you were to the community and your family and thank you JJ Gamba for introducing me to such an incredible woman. I am grateful to you both.
As leaders, conveners, grant makers and concierges of philanthropy, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation is a foundation built on community leadership with an inspired history of fostering regional change for the common good in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Community Foundation, founded in 1976, connects donors and their philanthropic aspirations with evolving community needs. With assets of more than $93 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $63 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves. Last year, it granted more than $3.2 million to nonprofit organizations supporting education, animal welfare, arts, healthcare and human services, as well as provided regional community impact grants and scholarship grants.