Mrs. Willie Beatrice (Bea) Burke was born in Tipton County, TN on Monday, August 16, 1920 to George and Mary Alice Ida Bell (Springfield) Somerville Dye. She was fondly named after her cousin, Willie Beatrice Hawkins, the former Jackson-Hughlett Matriarch. Almighty God was the source of her strength. She lived ninety-seven years with one kidney although she was not expected to survive beyond the age of twenty.
Throughout her life she was known as: Ma, Cousin Bea, Auntie, Gramma, Willie Bea, Ms. Burke, Bea, Ms. Wright, Willie B., Mother Burke, The Bossy Woman, Sister Burke, Peaches, Hat Lady, Ms. Know-It-All, Good Looking, Matriarch, Neighbor. She was patient, determined, and smart, and practiced the art of forgiving.
Willie Bea was raised in a Christian home and was baptized at an early age soon after moving to Chicago, Ill. She became a faithful member of Monumental Baptist Church in 1981 under the pastorship of the late Reverend D.E. King. She served in the August Club, Seniors on the Move, and Genesis Ministry. Monumental Baptist Church is currently under the leadership and guidance of Reverend Cleophus J. Lee.
Willie Bea excelled in the Chicago Schools. She skipped the fourth grade and ranked fourth in her senior class, attending DuSable High School. Hard work was a part of her strong character. She never used the word "tired" to describe her feelings. She said the word "tired" was a bad word. People often called her strong-willed because she welcomed a good debate and enjoyed giving her opinion whether you asked it or not. One of her famous phrases: "I am right, even when I am wrong, I am right".
In the 50's Willie Bea graduated from the prestigious Madam C. J. Walker School of Cosmetology. Her keen business sense and entrepreneurial ingenuous inspired her to open & operate Willie Bea's Beauty Nook, better known in the Chicago southside neighborhood as, "The One Stop Beauty Shop". Customers raved about their hair styles, because Mrs. Willie Beatrice Burke curled hair to PERFECTION! Her "press & curl" lasted for weeks. The burning sun, the heavy rain, the blistering Chicago snow, nor any sporting activities made her curls fall. Besides this, she sold household merchandise in the shop. Neighbors and customers frequented the shop to purchase make-up, jewelry, toys (dolls, yo-yo's, marbles, and coloring books), dishes, hosiery, clothes, greeting card, seasonal fruitcake, and furniture. Her mother bought the merchandise from auctions and vendors. Willie Bea was a licensed beautician for more than fifty years. She also worked for the Dept. of Public Aid Nursing Home Service as a File Clerk for thirty years, finally retiring at the age of eighty.
Being civic minded, she became a member of the Order of the Eastern Star, Eastgate Chapter #94-OES-PHA Jurisdiction of Illinois. A dedicated member, she participated in numerous events and attended annual affairs.
Willie Bea was a "walking encyclopedia" and the family historian. With ease she recited the Jackson-Hughlett and Springfield family tree, tracing our heritage back to our enslaved ancestor, Andrew Jackson. Willie Beatrice Burke loved, loved, loved, loved her family; traveling by train or bus to Tennessee, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and who-knows-where to attend family weddings, reunions, funerals and visit the sick. On every trip she carried extra-heavy luggage filled with jewelry, hosiery, candy and other gifts. Her curious nature ignited her adventurous spirit and she vacationed throughout the United States; Hot Springs, Arkansas being a favorite annual vacation. Hot Springs brought opportunities for excessive shopping, refreshing hot bathes, and visits with play sons Tom and George and their families.
Thanksgiving Day was known to her grandchildren as "Gramma's Thanksgiving Feasts". Family, friends, and neighbors could not wait to partake in the feast: Mouthwatering turkey & dressing with gravy, roast beef & gravy, honey baked ham, chitterlings, grandson George's secret spaghetti, greens, seven layer salad, green beans, potato salad, California blend, slaw, mac & cheese, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, homemade rolls, monkey bread, homemade pineapple coconut cake, homemade sour cream and cream cheese pound cakes, homemade sweet potato pies with & without coconut, homemade chocolate cake, fruit, clam dip, candy, nuts, and Willie Bea's delicious red punch! She was especially known for her sumptuous sour cream and cream cheese pounds cakes and clam dip. The following morning, we rose to a hot southern breakfast. Her home was filled with love and we all had a good time!
In 2013 Willie Bea moved to Indianapolis to live with her granddaughter LaNita. She welcomed the fellowship of Blessed Hope Baptist Church and was under the watch-care of Pastor Harold Ward. During this entire time Monumental Baptist Church remembered Sister Willie B. Burke. They faithfully called and sent cards and gifts. These acts of true love, along with the visits from relatives and extended family let her know she was loved and important. She touched every member of the Jackson - Hughlett family and beyond. We were blessed to receive her love and guidance. During the last days of her life she loved. Her last spoken words were: "Love you... love you baby". Rest in peace Willie Beatrice, you have earned your just reward from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Those who preceded her in death: Parents, George & Mary Alice Somerville Dye, husband, Lee Burke; son, George Willis Wright, Sr.; sister & brother-in-law, Mattie B. and Jack Owens; brother & sister-in-law, Eddie and Lovenia Dye; great-grandson, Sean Wright; daughter-in-law, Angela Sim; Extended family: Keryl Reed-Beverly, Lawrence Stevens, and Elmo Moore.
She leaves to cherish her memories: Sister: Marie (Eddie) Benson; Grandchildren: LaNita Maria Wright Nixon, George Willis Wright, Jr. (Lazella), Eboni Miller, and Heather Miller; Great-grandchildren: Cameron Wright, Amy (Sean) Wright, Terence (Shonta), David Nixon, Jr., Elizabeth Beatrice Dorothy Nixon, Collin Miller, Colby Miller, Ivory Miller, Alexis Miller, and Deonte Miller; Great-great grandchildren: Jaisean Wright, Marsean Wright, Alexis Wright, Camia Wright, and D'Jana Wright; Great-great-great grandchild: MiKye Wright; Extended Family: Thelma Stevens, Willie Mae Miller, Sulyn Waters-Binn, Kimmy Reed, Serena Thompson, Sam & Eva Lambert, Earnest & Wanda Luster, Bobbie Sue Williams, Ruth & Roger Crowdus, Lilly Jones, Dee Moore, Diana Bell, Tony Beverly, and Ron & Debra Daniels; and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins, and friends.
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