Eulogy for Elsie Mitchell Rice

Marjorie Hobbs

In the year 1913, times were good and many exciting things were happening in America. The new Studebaker "25" came out and the 28th president of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, was inaugurated. Perhaps a more meaningful event for those of us in this room occurred on May 8, in Stokes County North Carolina. In a modest log house hidden away in the hills were a young farmer and his wife waiting for their first child to be born. Her name was Elsie Pauline and her proud parents were Mattie Belle and William Luther Mitchell. Little did Mattie and Will know how their family would grow and flourish after this day and what a wonderful woman this small baby would become. She would be the first of many......11, in fact.

Being the oldest, Elsie took on some responsibility for looking after her siblings from an early age. She was no older than three when sister Ruby climbed up into the hay loft while in her care and no matter what she tried, Elsie couldn't coax Ruby down. Elsie never remembered how Ruby actually got down.....but she did remember receiving a spanking.

At four years old, Elsie stood by her mama's knees and heard the story of Jesus. Her mother told her that Jesus was coming back to get His own. Because of her mother and grandmother George's impact on her life, Elsie had a simple belief in God early on and earnestly looked for Jesus' return. When Elsie was 14, she gave her life to Christ in a public way at a local church meeting. That day, she began a spiritual journey that would not end until May 18, 2003.

As the years went by, more and more playmates for Elsie were born into the Mitchell household. She spent much time playing dolls with her sisters or playing ball on the lawn, but mostly they made play houses in the corn crib. There were always many cats and kittens around the Mitchell house and once her father even brought home a bulldog which everyone loved.

Elsie always loved to sing, a characteristic she most likely received from her Mother. She and her sisters often sang together at home and Elsie would sing alto or even tenor. She even had a part in an operetta during her senior year in high school, singing alto in a trio. Elsie learned how to play the piano by taking lessons through the mail. Her love of music would remain constant throughout her life.

All of childhood was not play, however. There were chores to do, children to care for, and schoolwork, too. Elsie attended a one or two room schoolhouse in her early years and then went on to finish her schooling at Trinity High School. The teachers always loved Elsie because she worked hard and performed well in school. Her peers even labeled her as the teacher's pet in 3rd grade. Once Elsie won a ten dollar gold piece for memorizing more scripture verses than any other child. Elsie dreamed of being a teacher in those early years, but by the time she graduated from high school the Great Depression had set in. There was no money for college and times were difficult.

While still in high school, Elsie had met a handsome young man at church named Guy Franklin Rice. Guy later became her school bus driver. In those days, students were often drivers. Elsie had caught his eye and Guy set out to win her heart. Guy would often make Elsie's stop the last on his route and sometimes she would climb over and share the driver's seat with him on the way home. One night in 1933, Elsie confided in her sister Mary who shared a room with her, that she planned to run away and get married to Guy. Mary kept her secret and on July 15, Elsie and Guy eloped and were married in the Halifax, Virginia courthouse by a local Baptist minister.

The young couple moved in with Guy's parents where they helped with the tobacco farming. Both Guy and Elsie worked hard during those years. It wasn't long before Elsie was "that way" (as she would say) and her first child, Anne, was born. She gave birth to two more, Betsy and Dick, before the family decided to move north. In 1939, with three small children in tow, Guy's parents, Guy and Elsie moved north to Chesterfield, Virginia where Elsie's folks had already settled a few years previous. It was an answer to Elsie's prayers to be near her family once again.

The forties brought two more Rice babies into the world, Barbara Jean and Billy. The house was full and Elsie stayed busy raising her five children, caring for her ailing mother and father-in-law, and being an able help mate to Guy. Times were tough and farming wasn't bringing in enough money. In the early-forties, Elsie went to work at Liggette and Myers cigarette factory to help with the financial side of things. She worked there for a few years, but never really liked it except for the paycheck. But even though life had its difficulties, Elsie always made the most of it. She willingly took care of Guy's parents until they died. She sought to serve, honor and please her husband. She made life delightful for her children......making special birthday cakes, going on picnics, taking walks in the woods, or sending her "famous" desserts in their school lunches. She didn't have much to work with, but she used what she had to celebrate life with her family.

Elsie always enjoyed getting together with her sisters, working outside in her flowers, sewing (usually without a pattern), visiting her neighbors, singing in the church choir, and listening to good preaching whether on the radio or live. She made beautiful wedding cakes for many in her community. Her creativity could be seen in her garden, her home decorating, and many types of crafts and handwork. She was always trying out a new artistic endeavor.

The years passed by and each child grew up and left home. Every departure brought both sadness and joy for Elsie. She always told of how difficult it was to watch her youngest, Bill, go off to fight in the Vietnam War and her second child, Betsy, leave for the mission field in South America. She loved and was proud of each of her children and wanted the best for them.

In the second half of her life, Elsie took on the role of grandmother with much vigor. By 1976, the tally was in at 16 grandchildren. As "Grandma", Elsie taught, nurtured, disciplined, and loved all 16. Her grandchildren treasured the time they spent with her and loved her dearly.

In 1972, Elsie lost her beloved father and grieved. In 1977, Elsie experienced another heartache at the death of her husband, Guy. They had been married for 44 years and she loved and depended on him greatly. His death brought many changes......getting her drivers license for the first time, selling the house in the country, living with Barbara's family for a while and then getting a place of her own. It was in those years after Guy's death, that Elsie decided to move her church membership to Immanuel Baptist Church. She became a vital part of her Sunday school class, Women's Missionary Fellowship, and the senior citizens group. Her faith continued to grow in these later years as she looked to the Lord for guidance and strength and sought to serve him every day.

As each new year came and went, Elsie continued to encounter new losses..... Her dearest mother, her brother John, her son-in law George, her sister's Marjorie and Ruby, and perhaps the most difficult of all sorrows......the loss of her two oldest daughters, Anne and Betsy. As Elsie faced her grief over each death more and more of her heart was broken, but more and more of her heart was also in heaven.

Those last years were not only marked by loss, but by gain as well. Those 16 loving grandchildren attempted to populate the world. At present, she has 34 amazing and beautiful great-grandchildren and all but the last have been held in her arms.

Elsie lived a long and meaningful life, loving God and walking in faith. We knew Elsie for her love of family, her humility, her creativity, her love of the outdoors, her easy laughter, her beautiful voice, and her strong convictions. We will miss her because of the part she played in each of our lives, but we know that she is now rejoicing with the angels and resting in the arms of Jesus.

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