Essie Mae Armstead went from working on the family farm near Selma, Ala., to Philadelphia, where she became a busy entrepreneur and dedicated family matriarch.
"Essie never allowed obstacles or negatives to deter her from any goal," her family said. "In fact, Essie did not believe in the negative and was a strong and fierce believer in God."
She died Friday at the age of 86.
Essie was born in Selma to Leola and Samuel Lowery. She took a somewhat circuitous route to get to Philly, moving first to Cleveland at age 16, then to River Rouge, Mich., and then to Detroit.
At each stop, she lived with relatives, and while living in River Rouge, helped out by working in the candy store of cousins, William and Candis Lowery.
She married Henry Armstead in 1947. They started their married life in Philadelphia, where they raised seven children.
Essie was a woman of many talents, interests and accomplishments. She operated a number of businesses, including day-care/nursery, seamstress, custom draperies, and was the owner of the Women's Apparel Shop and the Assertive Driving School in Philly.
The pottery and paintings she created have been exhibited at the Moore College of Art.
With the pressures of raising a large family, Essie didn't get around to earning her high-school diploma until June 1979 when she was 54.
She attended Community College of Philadelphia where she earned a degree in early-childhood education, preparing her for the day-care and nursery operation.
Essie was a member of a number of churches, including Everdale Baptist in Selma, Mary A. Simpson Methodist and Mount Airy United Methodist in Philadelphia.
In 1989, she joined Deliverance Evangelistic Church, where she served on the mothers board.
In her later years, Essie enjoyed swimming, painting, sewing, refinishing antique furniture, shopping at flea markets and reading. Her favorite author was Maya Angelou. She also enjoyed reading her Bible.
Besides her husband, she is survived by five daughters, Pamela Mitchell, Beverly Stuart, Diandre Armstead, Majuel Armstead and Melanie Turner; a son, Eric Armstead, 12 grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren. She was predeceased by another son, Henry Armstead Jr.