COLUMBIA — When people talk about Willie Strickland, they talk about a woman dedicated to her community.
They talk about her witty sense of humor and her Southern cooking. They call her strong, wise, phenomenal and loving.
“She was just very sincere, kind and genuinely a good person,” said Michael Middleton, deputy chancellor of MU and a family friend. “I don’t recall her ever saying anything negative about anyone.”
Willie Pearl Elmore Strickland died Friday, July 4, 2014, at her home in Columbia. She was 84.
Mrs. Strickland moved to Columbia from Chicago in 1969 and had deep ties to the community. In 1976, she helped found the Kappa Chi Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. She also taught third grade at Lee Elementary School from August 1974 until she retired in July 1992.
Middleton said that community was one of the things Mrs. Strickland cared about most.
“The racial oppression in the '40s and '50s in the South, she lived through all that and always had a deep commitment to improving conditions in her community for all people," he said. "She was much more connected on a grassroots level through her church and social circles.”
Mrs. Strickland was known for many traits, especially her hospitality. She would treat people as if they were her own family and cook for them.
“Whenever I was with her, I felt like I was at home,” Middleton said. “I never went to her house and wasn’t fed something.”
Her eldest son, Duane Strickland, said his mother's hospitality made Missouri a good place to be.
“I don’t know how many lives she touched here in Columbia alone,” he said.
Family was above all to Mrs. Strickland. Her husband was professor emeritus of History and the first black tenured professor at MU. Mrs. Strickland was proud of him and supported him, Middleton said.
“She was a strong woman that helped support," Duane Strickland said. "Behind every successful man there was a strong woman, and that was my mom."
Even if they were on another continent, it didn't stop Mrs. Strickland from seeing the people she cared about.
When Duane Strickland was stationed in Wiesbaden, Germany, with the Army in 1990, his parents visited him. The couple also traveled to France and England, and even crossed Canada by train from Montreal to Vancouver.
Whether she went to Mexico or Las Vegas, Duane Strickland said his mother liked to travel even if it was just returning home.
“She enjoyed going back to Mississippi. It was home for her. It’s where she grew up,” he said.
But of all the memories of his mother, Duane Strickland remembers her in the holiday season of 2013.
“She came to my house in Indianapolis last Christmas," he said. "She hadn’t been here in a while and she got to hold her first great-grandson, Sullivan. That was probably the last special moment, was seeing her hold him.”
Mrs. Strickland is survived by two sons, Duane and his wife, Hope, of Indianapolis; and Bruce and his wife, Stephanie, of Dubai, United Arab Emirates; four grandsons, Marcell, Matthew, Stephan, and Quincy; four granddaughters, Janae, Rachel, Gabrielle, and Nia; great-grandson Sullivan Wells; and great-granddaughter Pearl Virginia.
Visitation for friends will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday at Millard Family Funeral Home, 12 E. Ash St. An additional visitation will be held from 10 to 11 a.m. Saturday at Missouri United Methodist Church, 204 S. Ninth St.
The Rev. Amy Gerhart will conduct services at 11 a.m. Saturday. Entombment will follow at Memorial Park Cemetery, 1217 W. Business Loop 70.
The Strickland family is currently setting up the Kappa Chi Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Scholarship Fund. Instead of cards and flowers, memorial donations can be made in Strickland’s name to the fund once it is established.
Condolences can be posted at Millard Family Funeral Chapels.