TAMPA — Beverly English embraced her role as a pastor's wife. She welcomed new members at the First Baptist Church of College Hill, and her good cheer spread to others.
At church, her dress and style earned her a nickname: "Miss Sassy."
"When you see her, she was always dressed up, and she always had a smile," said Linda Simpson, a friend. "If anybody had a sad face when she walked in, they didn't have it no more. That was just her personality."
She acted as a lifeline to African refugees, helping them learn English and get their children into schools. In an area known for its crime rates, she walked the streets with her husband, the Rev. Ronald English, inviting neighbors to church.
They met at a high school football game in Charleston, S.C., on a blind date, when she was a student and he was in the Air Force. They married in May 1961.
She graduated in 1965 from the Poro School of Beauty Culture, one of the first African-American cosmetology schools. Her husband's career in the Air Force meant moving several times: Louisiana, New Jersey, Minnesota, Florida, Indiana. He retired in 1978 as a sergeant and technical specialist.
They settled in St. Louis, where he became ordained as a minister and she launched a career in customer service with Federal Express.
They moved to Tampa in 1998, where he became pastor to new members at the First Baptist Church of College Hill. The church has 2,000 members on the rolls. Mrs. English worked for church groups focusing on refugees, missions, hospitality, drama, women's group and couples. She also shared a talent for floral arrangements.
In partnership with another church, she took charge of moving a Liberian family in a guest house, pasting yellow sticky notes to identify household objects by their English names. If the schools needed to talk about the family's children, Mrs. English told them to call her.
When another refugee couple from Somalia welcomed a new daughter into the household, they showed their gratitude by asking Mrs. English to name the baby.
She reached out to the church's neighbors, too, including those who openly sold crack. "They respected us because we were with the church," said Rev. English, 72. "If they wanted to talk, we would sit and talk with them."
A thread of conscious choice ran through her life.
"She wanted to be a mother," said her son, Ronald English II, 40. "It wasn't just, 'I got pregnant and I had a child, so I have to deal with these responsibilities.' "
Though Mrs. English drew a firm line of authority, her son said he never had an argument with her. Nor, as time went on, did his parents quarrel with each other.
"In marriage," her husband said, "(couples) go back and say, 'Well, you said this,' or, 'You said that.' "
About 20 years ago, it dawned on him that arguments about who said what depend on each person's memory.
"The lord opened my eyes," he said. "If he could play it back like TV, we would both be wrong. So we said, 'Hey, let's not argue anymore, because I might have mis-said it and you might have misread it.' "
They gave up having to be right, her husband said. But they held onto a humor that had always sparked their relationship from the first date. Among friends, it was not uncommon for Mrs. English and her husband to break up laughing suddenly, as if triggered by some private joke.
"You didn't know what it was," Simpson said. "But they did."
This year, her family faced another choice — to let her go.
They gathered at the house as her lung and liver cancer worsened, and stayed by her bed for two days at the end. Family members touched her hands and face, sang hymns, laughed and cried.
"We just had church," the Rev. English said.
Mrs. English died May 22, at home. She was 69.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.