August 2013

Memories of My Grandmother, Lucille Byard

Editor's Note: Any student of Black Adventist history will cite the untimely death of Mrs. Lucille Byard (1877-1943) as the crucial event that led to the establishment of Black conferences. Little is known about the woman whose death changed the administrative structure of the Church, however. We've asked Ms. Naomi R. Allen, granddaughter of the late Mrs. Byard, now residing in Bakersfield, California, to reach back in her memory and paint a portrait of her life. Here are her memories.

            My memories of Grandmother, I affectionately called "Nana," are very special. Although I only knew her a short period of time, (she passed when I was 8 years old), she had a profound impact on my life. She was quite a lady; an excellent musician and my first piano teacher. I remember my first piano lesson. I can see Nana placing my little fingers on the piano, first on middle "C" then "descending and ascending" for an octave. At the time, I was only 5 years old but that experience made a music lover. I loved to listen to her play the piano and organ. She was choir director for the Jamaica Long Island Church and although not a soloist she was a singer.

            Her musical talents were something she shared with my grandfather, Daddy Byard, [who] was quite a musician. He played the harmonica and one of his favorite hymns was "Never Grow Old."

            Nana and Daddy Byard had a loving relationship. I don't remember any loud disagreements, although they had differences of opinion. They loved each other deeply and that love extended to everyone within their reach. Their home became a home away from home for me. I divided half my time between their home and my home. With me as their traveling companion, we explored many towns and villages in New York State.

            Nana was a skilled vegetarian cook. Even now I taste her freshly baked rolls, breads, pies, cakes, nut loaves and gluten. She had a special gift for hospitality. Her home and her heart were open to everyone. Many ministers were entertained in her home—Elders F.L. Peterson, LB. Reynolds, R.W. Nelson, Armstrong, W.W. Fordham, Willis and others.

            Not only was she a talented musician and homemaker, Nana was a devout Christian woman. It was she and Daddy Byard who taught me to love and reverence the Sabbath. Nana was a strong, energetic church worker. She was one of five Black women who pioneered the work in New York City. All her life she worked untiringly to build up the church.

            I thought, as do most children, that Nana would live forever. I don't recall the events of that dark day. It seems that Nana became ill and requested to be treated at the Washington [Adventist] Sanitarium. Daddy Byard made all the arrangements. He took her by train to Washington, D.C., and then by cab to the sanitarium. Entering the hospital, the employees saw my grandfather, a very fair skinned man with blue gray eyes, accompanied by a very ill, light brown woman. Realizing the Byards were Black, they were refused admittance and directed to the colored hospital across town. I don't know if Daddy Byard ever told her why she was transferred to another hospital. Within a week Nana died.

            I remember clearly that fateful Sabbath evening. Mother received a telegram from Washington stating Nana had died. We didn't know the details until Daddy Byard came home. Grandmother's death sent shock waves through the church. Laymen and clergy united to protest her senseless death and to push for total integration within the church. The General Conference response: the establishment of Black conferences.

            In death as in life she was honored; hundreds packed the Ephesus Church to pay tribute to Nana. Thirteen ministers officiated at her funeral. She will be remembered by all for her unselfish devotion to the church.

-North American Regional Voice (August 1987), 4-5