No doubt, Vivian Lee would rather I not write this particular column about her.
But she invited me to a luncheon, and what I saw made my pen wiggle.
I’ve attended a healthy harvest of luncheons in my personal and professional time, but none compared with the one Lee hosted last week at The John P. “Top” Greene Community Center.
In March, Lee was honored with the A Woman’s Worth Award 2013, a first-time award created by Jmeka Cherrel as an annual tradition to honor unsung community heroines during Women’s History Month, much like we do during Black History Month and other dedicated months.
Lee is well known around Raleigh, particularly in the Southeast area of the city. While many of her contributions are hard to number, she’s been applauded for her service at Shaw Farm, home of the Shaw University alumni where she volunteered for years to cook and serve breakfast to the community. She’s also well known in the Chavis Park circles as the city works to preserve and revamp the historic park, and for helping organize various events for the Broughton Enloe Sanderson Together, or B.E.S.T. group.
To celebrate receiving the inaugural A Woman’s Worth award, Lee did what’s in her nature to do: she invited several friends from the community to have a home-cooked lunch and fellowship – on her, with host and hostess help from a few friends.
So, yeah, that turned the page in my notebook. Unable to separate who she is and what she does from what she’s accomplished, rather than just let somebody celebrate her for once, Lee shared herself with all of us – again.
“Miss Vivian is always recognizing other women, other people in the community,” said Cherrel, 35, who met Lee nearly 20 years ago at N.C. State University, where Cherrel was a student during Lee’s decades-long career there.
“Anything with people, she’s always there, she’s always involved,” she added. “She is the epitome of a woman who knows her worth. She recognizes her purpose, the same one we all have, and that is to serve other people.”
During the luncheon, Lee served heavy hors d’oeuvres and home cooking buffet style to more than 50 guests, a mix of retirees, workers on lunch break and youths. She even included a vegetarian table, as anybody who knows Lee knows she’s a connoisseur of meatless delights. While we dined and quietly chatted, the video of the inaugural A Woman’s Worth event played. We learned that Cherrel had to sneak a bit to pull it all off using Lee’s favorite color, yellow, and to include her favorite music by India Ari and reggae artists. Cherrel and others performed contemporary dances; others sang, performed poetry and played music.
“I was totally overwhelmed,” Lee said. “To me, it was about an outpouring of people sharing their talents. It was fantastic.”
True to personality, Lee couldn’t define her role in our community. She doesn’t want any definitions.
“I don’t look at it that way,” she said. “I just do.”
Retired middle school counselor Susan Bryant recalls Lee in their neighborhood before she became a teenager.
“She was always very pleasant and willing to help, and very mannerly, even when she was a little girl,” said Bryant who attended both the awards ceremony in March and the June luncheon.
Shawnette Price-Lucas, 42, met Lee about five years ago while she was a student at N.C. State, too. They’d chat occasionally but became fast friends once they realized they lived down the street from one another.
“She’s been a motivator, she’s been an inspiration, she’s been a great friend,” said Price-Lucas. “I’m more active in the community because of her. She does what she does from a position of love, not just for the black community but for everyone. She is loving to everybody she meets. She just adopts you into her heart.
“The award fit her perfectly,” Price-Lucas said. “It’s really who she is.”
J.E. Williams said Lee has always been that way.
“Vivian, with the kind of personality she has, if she doesn’t know you, she will know you in a few minutes of being in the same room,” said Williams, who has known Lee since she was a girl. A longtime Wake County educator and administrator, Williams also taught Lee’s sister and brother at Ligon.
“She has really always been a lightning rod of happiness and success, doing whatever she can to help people in need,” he said. “That’s extremely rare.”
Also rare, Williams agrees, is an award recipient who celebrates the community that celebrates her.
Rare, he said, but clearly another matter of Lee doing yet another good deed.
“It’s quite unusual, but if this kind of award continues, other folks will surface as nominees, and we then know what contributions they are making,” he said. “It’s just another attempt on Vivian’s part to share her experience and motivate others.”