Billie Silvey
Willa
Myers
--a Woman of
Gratitude
November 2006
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She wasn’t beautiful, she wasn’t rich, but she had a
smile that warmed your heart, and she was one of the most
grateful people I’ve ever known.

Some people might think she didn’t have a lot to be grateful
for.  She’d lost a leg in an auto accident as a teenager, and
she grew up a black woman in the South, caring for other
people’s houses and children.  But she was grateful for the
employers who had been kind, especially a Jewish woman who
taught her to keep house well and take pride in herself and her
work.

Then Fred Myers, who had ridden the rails to California to find
work in the dark days of the Depression, returned to marry her
and take her West.  There, she met the woman who brought her
to Christ.  She was grateful for her husband, and for the woman,
who was later killed in an auto accident.  Willa talked about her
often, and if she ever questioned God’s goodness, it was to
wonder why such a woman had to die.  But she always
concluded that we just had to trust God and lean on him.

The Myerses began attending the Vermont Avenue Church of
Christ in South Los Angeles.  That’s where I met them.  
Deeply devoted to each other, they were a study in contrasts.  
She was tall and large-boned with dark skin and a warm
personality.  He was short and slight, light complexioned black
man with shocking pale eyes and a shrewd sense of humor.

Their two-bedroom house on 76th Street was immaculate,
tastefully furnished with sturdy wood furniture Fred had gathered,
piece by piece, from alleys where residents had left them.  He
had a good eye for quality.  He’d take a piece home and
repair it, then Willa would clean it up and polish it to a glow.

Their house was warm and inviting, and they loved people.  Fred
liked to fish, and Willa was a great cook.  Her fish fries were
legendary.  She would remove her artificial limb and zip around
the kitchen on her crutches, singing hymns and talking about all
God had done for her.

When I was pregnant with Robert in 1973, Frank and I tried to
think of a place to take Kathy, who was four at the time.  She
stayed with the Myerses, and Frank went by to let them all know
when he’d arrived.  The Myerses were our first visitors to
the hospital.  They filled in for grandparents who lived in Texas
and  seldom were able to come.

In the photo above, Willa is holding Robert while we watch
Kathy perform with the kindergarten in a program at Normandie
Christian School.

We worked and worshipped together at the Vermont Avenue
Church, where Fred co-taught an adult Bible class.  Neither of
them had much formal education, but they were avid Bible
students, respected for their wisdom.

The only clutter I recall seeing in their house was the top of the
table, which was often spread with open Bibles, commentaries
and other study aids.  I remember their delight when they
received a copy of Josephus.

Willa and I worked and socialized together as officers of District
6 of the Associated Women for Pepperdine, together with
Elizabeth McCaleb, Ruby Green and Hattie Shelton.  AWP
helped raise money for scholarships for Christian students at
Pepperdine.

As the Myerses grew older, Fred suffered from emphysema.  
This time, I visited him in the hospital, where the nurses
wondered at the couple’s large, multiracial family.

Willa was troubled with arthritis, and one day she fell in her
backyard.  She just lay there, praying to God, and, she told me,
after a while, “he lifted me up.â€�  Being with Willa often left
you feeling that you’d been in the presence of God.

She used her doctor visits and hospital stays to testify to doctors,
nurses and other patients of God’s goodness.  After she was
diagnosed with cancer, we were pleased that a niece came to
move her to Connecticut.  What a shock when the disease went
into remission and she found that the niece had stolen her checks
and savings.

A nephew moved her to Nashville, where a friend, Betty
Bridges, and I visited her little home.  She was still rejoicing at
her good fortune in having nephews to care for her and friends to
visit and send her cards.  And she cooked a fine meal for us.

Not long after, she died--still singing the praises of the God who
led her all the way and lifted her when she was down.
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