My precious friend Alice Pollard died Monday morning a week ago. Physical death is such a weird thing — one minute someone’s here, the next they’re not. My heart aches with the loss of her, but when people talk about a “life well-lived,” I know absolutely Alice’s life was one of those. Her days were filled with acts of quiet service that will forever be an example to me that no matter what your circumstances, no matter how simple or complicated a life is lived, there are opportunities for small acts that profoundly affect other people’s lives and, thus, our community.
I met Alice through the Waco Community Race Relations Coalition. She was a member and a regular attendee at our events and so, often, were the many children she would have in tow. I always told her that her “babies” as she called them (which were any children she happened to be with at any given time) were the best-behaved children in all of Waco and were definitely the best volunteers, bar none, who helped with CRRC events.
Alice believed service to humanity is service to God. She modeled it, lived it and helped her babies experience the joy of it for themselves.
Alice grew up in Waco, experienced racial integration in Waco schools and was one of the first four black students to graduate from La Vega High School. She lost her brother Melvin in Vietnam when she was still a teenager, graduated from Paul Quinn College with degrees in history and physical education, married and had two sons, adopted a daughter, became the first black female police officer in Waco, taught school for 23 years and retired ... but not really.
All the while she was working with children and youth, whether through her beloved Zeta Phi Beta Sorority or NeighborWorks Waco or her church or the Dewey Rec Center with the city of Waco or simply hearing about children who needed something. Alice had friends everywhere and if she learned that a teacher friend’s students had shoes that were falling apart, she got those children shoes. Each fall she started buying, collecting and distributing coats for children for the winter. Alice paid attention to every detail of the lives of everyone she encountered and found opportunities for her selfless service in some way to every soul she met, at every turn putting others before herself.
These seemingly simple but constant acts of kindness defined Alice. This was her identity, her station, her name. She was the perfect example of humility, devotion, selflessness and sincerity. With no expectation of reward, gratitude or acknowledgement, Alice went quietly about serving. As her niece Mary pointed out to me, “She did what she did no matter what was going on in the city, the state or the community.”
Of course when someone close to us dies, we are reminded that we have but a short life in this physical world. Since we are spiritual beings, this must be our focus, which Alice understood very well. Each of us has opportunities within our lives, no matter how simple or complicated the lives we lead, to be of true service to others. The far reach of Alice’s influence is evidence that small acts of true service have a profound effect.
For me Alice embodies a quote from my own Baha’i Faith — “Behold a candle, how it gives its light. It weeps its life away, drop by drop, to give its flame. You must die to the world and so be born again, and enter the kingdom of heaven.” And with your example to guide us, sweet friend, we’ll see you there.