Ethel Eugenia Grant Rollins passed away on Mother’s Day – the afternoon of the 10th May 2020 in Denver, Colorado, her home for the last 52 years.
She was born on the 16th February 1932 in Paris, Texas, one of eight children of Elisha General and Julia Johnson Grant.
She attended Gibbons High School in the town she was born, graduating in 1950, and going on to briefly work as a teacher in an elementary School in New Mexico. She applied to and was accepted to study at Jarvis Christian College, in Hawkins, Texas where she received her BA in Social Science in 1954. It was also there that she met Edward Cecil Rollins, who was in one of her classes. They married in 1956 in Dallas, Texas. In 1968 she moved with Edward to Denver, where he was employed by the Denver Finance Center which later he took up post as a civilian for the Department of Defense at Lowry Air Force Base.
Following her graduation, a gentleman in the Social Sciences community who had spotted her talent and work ethic and kept in contact, encouraged her application to the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work, where she obtained her Masters Degree in Social Work in 1958. She had a remarkable string of professional achievements for an African-American woman of her generation. She served as a Psychiatric Social Worker for the Dayton Children's Psychological Hospital and Child Guidance Clinic (1958-62); Family and Children’s Services Association Dayton (1964-65); as a schools social worker for Denver County Public School Psychological Services (1965-68); and between 1972-1995 at Fort Logan Mental Health Center, as an Associate Professor of Psychiatric Social Work starting in 1975.
Ethel’s spiritual life was strong; her links to the church communities where she lived and in which she served many – in both formal and informal roles. More specifically she pledged her life to serving the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) at local, regional, and national levels. Upon arrival in Denver, she and Edward, and subsequently their two daughters, RoJeune and Vyla, became active members of a local congregation at Park Hill Christian Church. Her passion and belief in continuing to serve members of the church and community at large was a driving force in her life, which was a catalyst in both she and Edward supporting the body responsible for the strategic governance, outreach and reconciliation efforts for the Central Rocky Mountain Region’s Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) community. Confident and unwavering in her belief in Christian service, and unafraid to share her views, Ethel was known for not allowing the challenges and trials of the communities and churches in which she served to dissuade her from sticking firmly to her principles – not only in support of those communities but also supportive of individuals within them. She often served on reconciliation projects designed to bring together and strengthen church and community relations. She also served for a time on the Board of the Colorado Christian Home, receiving her informal support alongside her husband, Edward later in her life.
Ethel was a driving force in the Civil Rights movement of the 1950’s and early 1960’s, supporting activism such as removing “For Colored Patrons Only” signs on municipal bus seats in her hometown of Paris, and the Woolworths Counters sit-ins taking place in a number of Southern American States including Texas. She delighted in sharing with friends and family the story of her meeting Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, late one evening at a secret rally. The First Lady’s request, to be driven in secret through the night in order to meet with a local group of Texan civil rights advocates and offer her verbal support and blessings for their efforts, made a great and lasting impression on her. In later life, her efforts in support of this same cause took on many different forms, but her self awareness, dignity, respect, resolve and insight always kept her a strong and steady advocate for Civil Rights.
Ethel’s driving passions throughout her life included bowling, tennis, golf, gymnastics (she was on school teams and won awards for her accomplishments), and she enjoyed watching all types of sports, including football and basketball. She loved classical music, the opera, fine art and creative arts, often peppering the home she lived in with her husband and children with her own highly creative arts and craft installations. Alongside her husband Edward, she enjoyed the classic American comedians of the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s including George Carlin, Nipsy Russell, Redd Foxx, Dick Gregory, and Flip Wilson. She enjoyed visiting new places, and felt blessed to have travelled so far and wide and visited abroad - from Cancun, Mexico, to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands; London, England; and Alaska, as well as numerous other states in the US.
She inspired the love and admiration of those old and young, near and far. We all wish to celebrate and forever fondly recall her sense of humor, bright and “cheeky” nature, and how she did not fear death, but reflected on it with a respectful but light regard. She was both shy and outspoken, bold and reserved, wise and insightful, firm, but always striving to be fair. To have known, loved, or spent any time at all with Ethel was a gift to everyone whose path she crossed. She was indeed a ‘force of nature’ to be reckoned with, who was very much loved and will be very, very deeply missed.
Preceded in death by her late husband, her mother and father, and 7 siblings, Ethel spent her final days at the Brookdale Lowry Memory Care and Assisted Living Facility – on the historical site of Lowry Air Force Base, and in a building formerly the airmen barracks for over 1,000 enlisted men, just a short walk from where husband Edward worked at the Department of Defense Lowry Air Force Defense Site.
Ethel leaves behind to celebrate her life, legacy and spirit, daughters Vyla Lejeune Rollins, now settled in London, England, and RoJeune (Sean) Rollins-Monroe, of Denver, Colorado; proud parents of her four grandchildren, Elijah, Isaiah, Santana and Judah; and a host of nephews, nieces, cousins, relatives and loving friends both within the United States and United Kingdom. Final resting place will be at Ft. Logan National Cemetery Denver, Colorado with her husband. Private family memorial service will be held at Colorado Community Church.
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