Today I shared in the homegoing of a beloved classmate and church member. These words will never capture her essence. A poor attempt to speak about someone loved by many. In honor of Nancy Patricia Payoute.
Will the graduates of MESH please stand. Will the class of 93 remain standing. Class of 93, You may be seated.
Will the past and current members/attendees of Community Christian Church please stand. You may also be seated.
I was charged by the family to speak as a classmate and a church member. I asked my classmates to help me come up with one word that came to mind when you thought of Nancy.
Some shared words like:
Great sense of humor
Banana Bread Baker
These words come attached to some poignant memory of a friend who only we can speak of because of our personal connection to her.
You who walked the halls of Edison Senior High may have known her as a flagette, fellow honors and AP student, lunch buddy, class president, math club historian, or HOSA club member,or senior Superlative winner for “Most Dependable.” Our yearbook lists the the special someone’s in her life to be God, her parents, Henry Payoute. The photos we have of her speak of an active student who never missed a spirit week activity and was always engaged in being that renaissance student. While some of us chose to be either or, Nancy choose to do it all.
But records and memberships only speak the half of who we knew then as Nancy Pierre. Most of us go through like catching beef with people, knowing full well that if we were truly honest with ourselves, we know we were partially at fault.
But If YOU didn’t like Nancy, everyone knew that YOU were the one with the Problem. She got along well with everyone and even if she didn’t see eye to eye with you, she certainly didn’t have time to dwell on it. After all, Nancy knew it took two to fight and life was just too short to dwell on inconsequential drama.
Anyone who has ever been a senior in high school knows to run and win class president is no small feat. It meant that for the most part, your classmates had observed you for four years and some since middle school. They knew you were a person of your word and whether they knew you or not, liked you or not–they understood and were confident you would represent them well. Nancy was that person. She truly represented us well.
When it came time to host our tenth reunion, TyPical Nancy didn’t want to be in the limelight. And thanks to her, I assumed the role of class reunion president. “I’ll help you plan it but I don’t want to lead it,” she said. She was true to her word. She didn’t let me down. I knew once people realized that Nancy was still in the picture, everything was going to be okay.
Imagine my surprise when I walked into Community Christian Church the spring of 1986 to see my sixth grade classmate in the same church! By this time she was really tall for our age group and I marveled cause she got to hang with all the cool kids. Her older siblings, Avener and Aliette had paved the way and she held her own even back then. When many moved away, left for college, or moved on, Nancy remained committed. Her commitment paid off in bringing not one but both of her parents to our church. It was a big deal to see two Haitian parents sitting in an English speaking Sunday service. Nancy did that. And when her father went on to be with the Lord, she kept bringing her mom, our now deaconess, Ms. Pierre.
I realized the other day that as I look around the church, she is a part of the few female members who I can honestly say can remember the Community Christian Church of the 1980s. She kept the faith, rode the tides of change and remained steadfast.
Nancy was that member who people would think was serious. And for once in my life I got to use the words others have had to sometime use on my behalf. “she’s really not mean, she just looks mean, you just have to get to know her.”
That’s the beauty of church ministry. The beauty of knowing Christ. Nancy knew That getting to know our brothers and sisters would never happen warming a church bench and leaving right after the benediction. She made it her priority to be involved in God’s work. Whether it was doing manicures at a nursing shelter, planning a breast cancer awareness luncheon, supporting the prison ministry in any way she could, Nancy did what was needed and she would quietly recede back into the background. “whatever you need, just let me know,” she would say.
My last real memory of Nancy was being at the Circle of women’s spa weekend this past spring. We had been on hiatus for two years and when it came to plan for it, I thought well not many will want to come. I’m glad we planned it. Nancy was one of the first to sign up. She had signed up every year since we started this because she knew self care was the best care.
In the spa outing, I knew I was going to get to watch people shocked to see that other side of Nancy. The one that had you laughing nonstop. The one that had your marveling at how such a serious looking person could really be so down to earth. I loved hearing her stories about her family. Those famous Payoute family trips. Najah the extrovert who wanted to do and go and be everything–related to two low key parents and a low key big brother. JR getting ready for prom and graduation and off to college. Henry being Henry. You two were created for each other. She loved you all very much.
For the past 12 years Nancy and I had this countdown to summer thing. As much as we loved our jobs, even we knew it was time to go home. Three more weeks Nancy! Yes Girl! I can’t wait. And we would talk about our plans. “Two more weeks Nancy! Girl I started packing up my class. Girl it’s five more days! …”
And then we would start the back to school countdown. Those countdowns, However, were usually done with reluctance.
This was my first year no longer working in education and I remember telling Nancy, “Girl you on your own with the back school countdowns. No more of that for me.” We had a good laugh and moved on. Little did I know this was truly be the year of no more countdowns.
Be at rest now my classmate. Be at rest my sister in Christ.