Family History

Family History

William and Lillian Callender

Ethel Callender & Josiah Neblett

The following is a tribute I wrote for my father.


I hope that I can get through this without getting very emotional but this has been a very emotional time for me. You know, when I think about my father's life I think that he was an ordinary guy that was extraordinary, if you can understand that. I mean he was sort of a paradox. The world won't skip a beat because Jimmy passed on but the world did lose someone special and there is a tremendous void in "our" world.
In thinking about what I wanted to say about my father I didn't know where to begin. As I looked at the program I thought about where it says sunrise and sunset, the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. I didn't know if I should talk about his early life or the illness and suffering that consumed him at the end of his life. Then I thought about something that a good friend of mine shared with me a few years ago. You know we all have a number and when we bury my father on Monday the head stone will say 1937-1999 but it really doesn't matter when you are born into this world or when you leave. What matters is the dash! That dash represents your life, it's who you are and what you have done. And when you think about going before the lord on judgment day, that's how you will be judged, by your dash. And Jimmy did a lot with his dash.
My father use to always talk about leaving a legacy for his children. And the way the world is now he thought about that in monetary terms. You know, he wanted to leave an inheritance for his children or some property. But little did he know that he did leave a legacy for his children which was just like his life, ordinary but extraordinary.
For example, his work ethic. Jimmy always went to work everyday and he took pride in what he did. Not because he was trying to please some boss, but because his work carried his name on it. Once when we were traveling about the country he had me pull over and walk into this building because he wanted to see how they used the light fixtures that he had designed. He created many types of light fixtures, sheet metal designs and other things that were sent to places all over the country like Wal-Mart stores, Target, The Meadowlands, and even some places over seas and he was extremely proud of his work. He was very meticulous and to say that my father was a perfectionist is an understatement. And he passed this work ethic on to his children.
Another thing is family values. Family was real important to James because he lost his father at an early age and he had to help support his family and help raise his younger brothers and sisters. He was very close with his brothers and sisters and would do anything for them and his mother was his whole world. In fact I can remember all the stories Piggy would tell about what my father and his brothers put him through before they would allow him to even go with their sister much less marry her. And because of that Marlene got the right man, her prince charming. He had five children of his own and he worshiped them. At a time when many black men are accused of not taking care of their children, of being fathers and not parents, and of abandoning their families and responsibilities, no one could ever say this about my father. He was always there for his children. He had three sons and he passed on to them the importance of not just being a father but being a parent. He taught his sons how to be men, fathers, and husbands because you know he and my mother were married for 46 years which again is something that is lost in todays society. His example of manhood was a yardstick for his two daughters so that they would know what a real man was like. In other words, he set an example and he was a positive role model. I work with children every day and I see what happens to our kids when these things are not present in their lives and I realize that he gave us something special.
My father also showed us something about friendship. Although they were brother-in-laws my father and Otis were childhood friends. They were inseparable. In fact you could say that their friendship was very spiritual like. My father was like a father to Otis' kids and uncle Otis was like a father to all of us. The bond they had was very special and they both taught us the meaning of friendship. Like I said, ordinary people that were extraordinary.
In the obituary there is mention made that Jimmy was an master electrical sheet metal mechanic. When he joined Local #3 he was one of only three African-Americans in that union at that time. He did not really take a lot of pride in the fact that he was one of the first, but he felt that he had an obligation to bring in as many other black men as he could. He helped many brothers to gain access to this union during those early years, (we're talking here about during the Civil Rights period of our history). He got Otis, Darryl, Eddie, and later Lawrence and Gerald into the union. He also was on the negotiating committee of Local #3 and taught many of these same men so that they could get their GED. In this way he carried on a family tradition like his cousin John B. Skeete of helping put family and friends into much needed positions.
My father and Otis were the patriarchs on this side of the family. For many years they helped keep this family together and my father indeed left us a legacy that we all could be proud of and help to pass on to our children. We will all miss him very much! "Ah Choo-choo baby."

Jan. 21, 1937   James F. Neblett   Sept. 20, 1999


Gladys Elizabeth was born from the uniting of the late Irma Carter and George Brown in Brooklyn, New York on February 11, 1938. She attended Elementary and High School in the NYC public school system in Brooklyn. As a young girl Gladys often enjoyed spending summers in Virginia with her grandmother and family. Later, she attended York College in Jamaica, New York while living in Queens. It was while in public school at the tender age of thirteen years old that she met the man she would marry, James Neblett. At the young age of fifteen, Gladys married the love of her life, James Fitzroy Neblett on September 5, 1953. Of this union their legacy began with five children, Josiah (Amoye), Dennis (Dean), Diane, Gerald and Deirdre. After some years as a homemaker, Gladys began work as a telephone operator for NY Telephone and eventually took a job with the City of New York where she held positions as Timekeeper, Social Worker and Food Stamps Administrator until her retirement in 1993. During her years of working with the City of New York she was helpful in getting John Lindsay elected mayor. She also found opportunities to work as a Guidance Counselor with troubled teens at High Schools in Brooklyn. One of the most noted teens she worked with is now the Rev Al Sharpton. Gladys always wanted the best for her family. We moved frequently and had many addresses while living in Brooklyn. Whenever the neighborhood would seem to change for the worst, we moved to a better neighborhood. We used to joke that we were like gypsies, always on the move at any given moment. Our family moves continued until they bought a house in Hollis, Queens. The next move was about 20 years later when they moved to Virginia. Whichever home we lived in always became the place where the neighborhood kids would love to come and eat and have a great time. Shortly after her retirement Gladys and James moved to Chesapeake, Virginia where they planned to spend their retirement years in a slower paced city. Unfortunately, soon after their relocation, James became ill and she cared for him until his transition to be with the Lord on Sept 20, 1999. Gladys loved the Lord and the Lord loved her. She joined Allen AME Church (now The Greater Allen AME Cathedral) in 1976 under the pastorate of The Reverend Doctor Floyd H. Flake, and now Co-Pastor Reverend Doctor Elaine Flake, she was an active member in the church as a Missionary, devoted member of the New York Club, and worked in the Women’s Ministry as a Committee Chairperson for several years. Gladys enjoyed her opportunities to worship at Allen and the many friendships that she made during the many years she worshipped there. Gladys was gifted musically and had the opportunity to sing with the great Mahalia Jackson. After moving to Virginia, Gladys joined Little Zion Baptist Church for a brief time where she sang in the Choir, served as a Missionary and was President of the Deaconess Board before becoming a member of New Bethel Baptist Church several years ago, where she also served as a Missionary. .Gladys had a gift for giving of herself. No one who has met her could ever say that she never helped them in some way. Gladys loved using her creative gifts and talents. She was glad to see all of her children get married and come to know the Lord. From the first “wedding broom” that she made for her oldest son to jump almost 37 years ago to almost every wedding after, you got a wedding broom decorated just for you and your wedding theme. The always hat-wearing Gladys ways always on top of the latest fashions and trends, knowing before most of us, what everyone would be wearing. Gladys believed in family and in marriage, and stayed married for over 46 years, until her husband died. Gladys also had lots of loving nicknames – from James calling her “Harriet” at special times, to others calling her “Gabby” to “Mama Neblett” and let’s not forget “Turtle”, while the grandchildren often called her “Nana”, she had many names to answer to. But she loved it all. Gladys touched the lives of so many people by her smile, her warmth and her spirit. We can’t think of anyone who could honestly say they did not like her. For to know her was to love her! While we will miss her tremendously and our hearts are heavy, we rejoice that she is with the Lord and together forever with James. Gladys leaves to mourn: Her children – Amoye Josiah (Sheretta), Dennis (Charisse), Diane (Kevin) Watson, Gerald, Deirdre (Duane) Johnson, Grandchildren – Anneke, Turiya, Saidia, Tawana, Dennis, Chanét, Tameeka, Duane, Gerald, Akira, Darrell, Dorian, Keva Ingham and Kinye Watson; Goddaughter – Donna Williams, brothers - Joseph (Marion) Carter, “Georgie Boy”, Henry, and Donald Brown; sister – Jackie Brown; In-laws – Debra Valentine, Norma (Otis) Walsh, Betty Neblett, Esther Neblett and Arthur Harden; nine great grandchildren, a host of nieces, nephews, great nieces and nephews, cousins, special girlfriends and friends, including the Survivors Club, the Red Hatters, and the Portsmouth Senior Center.
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