I was saddened to learn American businessman and civil rights activist Vernon Jordan passed away earlier this week. I was honored to have served his late mother, Mary B. Jordan, and Vernon, during my time at Wesley Woods
As I reflect back on our time together, I want to share an excerpt from my book, Hallowed Ground to showcase how they impacted my life.
“Mary was an African American business entrepreneur in Atlanta at a time when there were two sides of the tracks in the emerging Civil Rights era of the 1950s and 1960s. She started what became Atlanta’s premier catering service, Mary B. Jordan Catering. “Nor a prominent Atlanta wedding or bar mitzvah that she didn’t handle,” one Atlantan told me.
Mary B. Jordan had three sons, one is Vernon Jordan, one of America’s distinguished citizens in business, politics, civil rights and philanthropy. I came to know Vernon as Mrs. Jordan’s son. She had a severe stroke and had to live her final years at Wesley Woods. Vernon attended care conferences, traveling from Washington, DC. He called me frequently about his mother, asking me to deliver messages to her. Her eyes would widen, and she would manage a slight grin in her impaired state at the mention of Vernon’s name.
Vernon lived Atlanta civil rights history, challenges and transformation. He wrote an outstanding book about it called Vernon Can Read! Vernon’s mother saw that he went to college, wrote to him every day. admonished him to pray and set aside a dime of every dollar for his future and another dime to give to “the Lawd.”
Mary B. Jordan was a great woman in many ways. But her theological perspective was life-changing for Vernon. Vernon’s reputation as a civil rights leader was on a meteoric rise, as was that of his first wife Shirley. A dynamic couple – until she developed multiple sclerosis. At the time, there were few effective treatments. He foresaw tough consequences personally and professionally for both his wife and himself.
So, Vernon sought his mother’s counsel. He said he laid out the story and his fears for their future. His mother listened. When he got his lamentations out of his system, Mary B. Jordan responded simply, as he wrote in his book Vernon Can Read!
Vernon asked her:
“Why did this happen to Shirley. Why did this happen to me?” She said, “Son, the Lord doesn’t give you more of a load than you can tote. That’s your load. Now tote it. Is there anything else you want to talk about?”
“No, ma’am.” There was nothing more to be said: “That’s your load, now tote it.” I was still sad…but my mother’s words stiffened my spine and resolve…I knew we would have to…make a new future with a particular hand that life had dealt us.
Mary and Vernon left a huge impact on Atlanta and our country and they both are deeply missed.
Purchase my book, Hallowed Ground on Amazon, to read more stories that shaped my life and philosophies on aging.