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Lillian B. Fortson, devoted to her church, dies at 89

LILLIAN BEATRICE Fortson was a pastor's wife with a strong need to help people. "Helping others, that was her pleasure," said her son Michael Fortson. "It made her feel good to help people."

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LILLIAN BEATRICE Fortson was a pastor's wife with a strong need to help people.

"Helping others, that was her pleasure," said her son Michael Fortson. "It made her feel good to help people."

Lillian partnered with her late husband, the Rev. Abner L. Fortson, pastor of Christ Calvary Church, now Christ of Calvary Covenant Church, in West Philadelphia, for 48 years.

She died Monday at age 89. She was living in Greensboro, N.C., but had lived in West and Southwest Philadelphia most of her life.

Lillian was born in Gloucester County, Va., the fourth of the five children of Mary E. and Clemmie Wyatt.

She got her early education there and enlisted in the old Women's Army Corps in World War II. She attained the rank of corporal.

While in the service, she met a fellow soldier, Abner Fortson, and they were married in 1944. They moved to Philadelphia.

Working in tandem with her pastor husband, Lillian served the church as superintendent of the Sunday-school department, church clerk, member of the Senior Choir and the Senior Gospel Chorus, the Usher Board and other activities. She also cooked for church events.

"Lillian was known throughout much of her church life as 'Sister Fortson,' " her family said.

"She was seen as a virtuous woman who always had a smile."

Church members recall hearing her sing "I'll Tell It Wherever I Go:"

If I was dying with just one word to say, I'll speak it for Jesus and breathe my life away.

Lillian suffered from dementia in her final years, but nevertheless insisted on attending three church and prayer services a day, at 5 a.m., noon and 5 p.m.

"While she was unable to always recognize family and friends in later years, she remained constantly aware of her relationship with God," her family said.

"Despite her loss of memory as a result of her illness, she was able to recall all the stanzas of church hymns, that she often sang to fellow residents of an adult day-care facility."

Her son recalls growing up with his mother singing the hymn, "He Leadeth Me:"

Sometimes 'mid scenes of deepest gloom,

Sometimes where Eden's bowers bloom,

By waters still, over troubled sea,

Still 'tis his hand that leadeth me.

"Lillian lived the life that she sang about in her songs," her family said.

In 2006, her church honored her by creating a missionary organization called the "Lillian B. Fortson Spiritual Women of Distinction, Sisters of Mercy."

"Lillian truly embodied everything that this organization represents," her family said.

Her dedication to helping others wasn't confined to her church activities.

For many years, she prepared meals, cleaned houses and shopped for the elderly and the disabled in the neighborhood.

"She truly enjoyed giving of herself to benefit others," her family said.

After her husband died in 2005, she moved to Greensboro, N.C., where she attended the Love and Faith Christian Fellowship Church.

She became known as "Mother Fortson."

She also is survived by two other sons, Wendell and Kenneth; a sister, Ruth Tiffany; 14 grandchildren, and 16 great-grandchildren. She was predeceased by three other sons, John, Edgar and Emanuel.

Services: 10 a.m. Tuesday at Christ of Calvary Covenant Church, 500 S. 61st. St. Friends may call at 9 a.m.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Christ of Calvary Church Mortgage Fund, at the church. The ZIP code is 19143. *