Remembering Lillie A. Estes

Friday, February 1st, 2019

Our hearts are heavy with the news of Lillie A. Estes’ passing. We at VPLC send our condolences to Lillie A.’s family, and we mourn the loss of a remarkable leader.

Lillie A. was a dedicated VPLC board member for more years than we can remember. She played an integral role in VPLC’s Advocates for Credit, Employment, and Shelter (ACES) program and served on the Campaign to Reduce Evictions (CARE) Steering Committee. “Lillie A. was a leader among leaders, never hesitant to share her views, grounding our group when our plans strayed too far from what the community really needed,” said Christie Marra, ACES & CARE Project Director. “With her signature blend of directness and wit, Lillie A. reminded us time and again of the importance of community engagement.”

Lillie A. left a lasting impact on all of us at VPLC. “We are all the better because we knew her and the worse for losing her so early in her life,” said Jack Harris, first executive director of VPLC and long-time board member.

“This is a big loss for Richmond, the Virginia Poverty Law Center, and for all the causes we worked on together. We must push forward to honor her,” said Executive Director Jay Speer. VPLC Board Chair Gobind Sethi said, “What a tragic loss for Lillie’s family, friends, colleagues, and the Richmond community. We lost a warrior.”

“Lillie was light years ahead of everyone in recognizing injustice, mobilizing advocacy forces, solving community problems, and telling it like it is,” said VPLC Board Member Helen Hardiman. “She had a mind like a steel trap when it came to names, faces, dates, and events. Lillie used her superior memory to educate new organizers, hold politicians accountable, and prevent us from repeating mistakes that were made in the past. Lillie was the consummate matchmaker—not in romance, but in power brokering. She knew everybody, and she had a keen sense for connecting those who needed to meet in order to move justice forward. I was always awestruck by Lillie’s ability to transform her well-placed fury at glaring inequities in our country—those that she felt personally in her bones—into a loud, short laugh that signaled tireless commitment to getting us to the place where she knew we could be. A place where the violence of poverty no longer silences voices of reason and where everyone is empowered to be their best self.”

Last year, we highlighted Lillie A. in our 40 Faces, 40 Years photography project, which is currently on display on the third floor of the SunTrust Center in downtown Richmond. Next to her photograph lies a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. that she selected for the project: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.” We’re reminded through this display of Lillie A.’s courage, powerful love for her community, and dedication to justice and equality for all. We grieve her loss but celebrate all that she accomplished in her lifetime, and in reflecting upon her legacy, we are reminded to continue our important work as we know she would.

We’ll end our remembrance of a woman who’s life is an example for all with the same greeting Lillie A. always used in her emails.

Peace and Blessings.

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