Dr. Darryl D. Roberts, senior pastor of Mount Welcome Missionary Baptist Church in Decatur, presides over homegoing services of Rev. Charles W. Grant Thursday. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)
JONESBORO — Few tears were shed Thursday as hundreds gathered to celebrate Rev. Charles W. Grant and honor a life well-lived in service to God and man.
Grant, 87, died April 3. He spent more than half a century as a community activist, civil rights advocate, pastor, mentor and leader of Clayton County Community Service Authority.
Grant and his wife, Patsy, lived in Forest Park for most of their 65 years together. They raised nine children and eventually welcomed 26 grandchildren, 42 great-grandchildren and six great-great-grandchildren.
Those who knew him, while they said he will be missed, instead focused on the many contributions Grant made to his community and church family.
Clayton County commission Chairman Jeff Turner led a string of dignitaries to take the podium and reflect on Grant’s life.
“There are many words to describe who Rev. Charles Grant was,” he said. ” Mainly, he was a friend for he never met anyone who wasn’t a friend. He was truly a great man of God who will be missed in our community.”
Turner also presented to the family the first of several proclamations honoring Grant.
Speakers were cautioned to not go beyond three minutes out of respect for the family — they were to stop at the sound of a “C” note played on the piano — and former Chairman Eldrin Bell was the first to break that request, to rousing applause and laughter.
“Play that ‘C’ again and I’ll sing you a song,” he said.
Bell, who left office in 2012 but remains a popular public speaker, said he was struck by the diversity of those attending the homegoing services, held at First Baptist Church of Jonesboro.
“There are white faces, dark faces, young faces, old faces,” he said. “Most of us didn’t have this on our agenda but this gathering was called by God.”
Bell called Grant a “trailblazer” who paved the way for generations to come, particularly his grandchildren.
“He was someone who was willing to take the weight of the world on his shoulders,” he said. “He knew the only reason to look down on someone was to pick him up. He was among those in the 60s who were told ‘You can’t sit there,’ ‘You can’t go to that meeting,’ ‘You can’t go to that school,’ ‘You can’t even be president.’
“But thank God, he showed up anyway,” Bell continued. “That’s why his grandchildren can walk where they can. I told my own granddaughter, who is 5, I will never go anywhere you can’t go.”
Clayton County Commissioner Sonna Singleton said she met Grant in 1986 when he was preaching next door to a church her father-in-law pastored.
“His sense of humor is what resonates so much with me,” she said. “He dealt with some of the ugliest situations imaginable. People who couldn’t buy food, pay rent or their utilities. He helped them but always maintained his great sense of humor.”
State Sen. Gail Davenport presented a proclamation honoring Grant’s lifetime of service and signed by Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.
“Rev. Grant worked hard to ensure everyone was taken care of,” she said. “He gave uplifting worship services and was a good role model and excellent example of fatherhood. I thank him for lending his name and credibility to so many programs.”
Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill said Grant was a great man because of his philanthropic efforts.
“He was great because he loved his fellow man,” said Hill. “He served his fellow man so well. He fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked and saw to the sick. He did all these things to the least of these. I thank him for being the calm, reassuring figure we needed. His is an example of a life well-lived.”
Beechie Yates worked beside Grant at the Authority for more than 40 years. She said he was her boss but also her best friend.
“He worked tirelessly to help less fortunate families,” she said. “He treated everyone the same and definitely believed in equal opportunity for all human beings. He demanded the staff treat everyone the same.”
Yates said Grant enjoyed visiting Head Start classes. The students called him “Granddaddy,” she said.
“He loved to dress up as Santa at Christmas,” said Yates. “Even through the beard and mustache and red suit, some of the kids still knew it was ‘Granddaddy.’ And he loved to play the piano at the Adult Day Rehabilitation Center.”
Yates ended her remarks with one of Grant’s favorite sayings — and those in attendance recited it with her.
“Like he always said, ‘If he’s all right here, he’ll be all right there,’” she said. “We all loved him and will miss him very, very much.”
A handful of speakers who knew Grant as a pastor also talked about his life as a man of God. Rev. James McBurrows from Cordele echoed what Bell said about walking in Grant’s path.
“I was walking in his steps, too,” he said. “I learned so much from him. He still lives in us.”
Deacon Larry Satcher of Mount Welcome Missionary Baptist Church where Grant preached for decades, said Grant greeted female parishioners with a kiss and gentle pat on the cheek but insisted on a strong handshake from the male congregants.
State Rep. Mike Glanton, who is also a minister, presented a resolution from the House of Representatives.
“He was a good friend, a mentor, a great man larger than life,” he said. “He lived a life of humility and honor to God. What a great moment it would be to hear just one more joke.”
In between reflections, inspirational songs such as “Lord, lift me Up” and “Order my Steps” got mourners on their feet in praise and worship. Rev. Augustus Curry of Peachtree City eulogized Grant to end the services. Interment followed at Kennedy Memorial Gardens in Ellenwood.