August 13, 2022

Community News

In Memoriam: Honoring Mrs. Verlie Mae Pickens By Anh Lê
October 15, 2021


In Memoriam: Honoring Mrs. Verlie Mae Pickens


By Anh Lê


Mrs. Verlie Mae Pickens, a long-time resident of San Francisco, California, passed away on Wednesday afternoon, September 22, 2021, surrounded with the love and care of her granddaughter, Ms. Charisse Anderson, in Los Angeles.


Mrs. Pickens was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana on June 11, 1916, the daughter of Mr. Thomas Alfred Nisby and Mrs. Lillian Lumpkin Nisby. 


She celebrated her 105th Birthday with her family at Disneyland this year.


Mrs. Pickens was raised in Lake Charles, and moved to San Francisco in 1940.


Mrs. Pickens was married to the late Mr. Samuel Van Buren Pickens in 1947, and she and Mr. Pickens were happily married for 40 years until his passing in 1987. 


Her first husband was Mr. Joseph Henry Anderson, whom she married in 1937.  She and Mr.  Anderson were blessed with their child, the late Mr. Joseph Henry Anderson II, who passed away several years ago.


Mrs. Verlie Mae Pickens’ most immediate family includes her son, the late Joseph Henry Anderson II; her granddaughters, Ms. Charisse Anderson and Ms. Lesa Campbell; her grandson, Mr. Joseph Anderson; her great grandson, Mr. Jeremy Anderson; and her daughter-in-law, Ms. Euna Anderson.


Mrs. Pickens has 7 siblings: Ms. Vera Nisby Miyasaki of Antioch, California; and the late Charles Nisby, Addie Hall, Wiley Nisby, Lillian Nisby, Mercedes Joubert, and Ina Tommie Dewitt.


My son, Minh Jeffrey Anh Lê, and I are so deeply thankful that Mrs. Verlie Mae Pickens was and will always be regarded as our Dearest Family Friend.


Mrs. Pickens and I enjoyed so many good and memorable conversations together.


Born and raised in Lake Charles, Mrs. Pickens grew up in the Deep South.


She shared with me how her parents so lovingly raised her and her siblings, and taught her values that she lived by throughout her life.


She shared with me how she appreciated the excellent education she received from the Catholic nuns and the other teachers at the Catholic schools she attended.  Because of the racial segregation in the Deep South, Black children could not go to the schools that White children could attend.  Mrs. Pickens graduated from Sacred Heart High School in Lake Charles.


She was an active student, participating in class plays, singing, and dancing.


In her youth, Mrs. Pickens liked to play tennis, badminton,  volleyball, and touch football.  She loved music, and excelled at her piano lessons. 


She was a member of Warren United Methodist Church in Lake Charles, where she became the church pianist at the age of 17.


Growing up in her family, she tended to the different chores at her home, such as planting and taking care of the family’s vegetable garden, and feeding the pigs and chickens.  To get enough foods for the pigs, she and one of her brothers pulled a large wagon a long distance to one of the homes in her neighborhood to ask for food scraps for the pigs.  The woman there was very kind and nice to her and her brother, and would give them the food scraps for the pigs.  But because of the racial segregation during that era, Mrs. Pickens and her brother had to go to the back door of the woman’s home rather than the front door.


There were no cars and no paved roads in Lake Charles.


Mrs. Pickens moved from Lake Charles, Louisiana to San Francisco, California in 1940.


Mrs. Pickens’ mother had asked her to come to San Francisco to help her brother and his wife, since they had a new baby.


When she first arrived in San Francisco, and looked for work, Mrs. Pickens found “deep discrimination in San Francisco.”


But she was able to find her first job in San Francisco, working at the home of Dr. and and Mrs. Hodge on 32nd Avenue, taking care of their children and helping to run their household.  Mrs. Pickens was treated very kindly by Dr. and Mrs. Hodge.  She loved working at their home, and taking care of their young children.


In 1941, during World War II, Mrs. Pickens moved to Los Angeles.  She was one of the “Rosie the Riveter Ladies” working at a Lockheed Aircraft plant in downtown Los Angeles.  Her job was to do the riveting on the tail ends of the Mustang P-38 planes.  The training for her job was brief, and she had to learn very quickly.  She was very successful at her job at Lockheed Aircraft.  After working there for several years, she had to stop working on doctor’s order.  She was exposed to metal lead on the job, and was getting metal lead poisoning.  She returned to San Francisco.


Mrs. Verlie Mae Pickens was one of the oldest “Rosie the Riveter Ladies” still living this year.  Several months ago, Mrs. Pickens was honored with a Special Award Medal for being a “Rosie the Riveter Lady” at a special ceremony in her granddaughter Ms. Charisse Anderson’s home in Los Angeles.


After leaving Lockheed Aircraft and returning to San Francisco, Mrs. Pickens worked at Blum’s Bakery, famous and well known for its high quality and delicious cakes, pies, pastries, breads, candy, and other bakery products.  Mrs. Pickens was a very hard and diligent worker all of her life.


Mrs. Verlie Mae Pickens and her husband Mr. Pickens worked hard, saved their money, and purchased a comfortable home in the Bayview district.


Mrs. Pickens loved to garden, growing her own vegetables, some fruit trees, and beautiful flowers.  She would awaken early before sunrise to tend to her beautiful backyard.


Mrs. Pickens and her husband purchased a recreational vehicle, and travelled throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico.  They visited 49 states.  They did not travel to Rhode Island.  Mrs. Pickens liked to do most of the driving on their vacation road trips.  They have also visited London, Paris, Egypt, and other parts of the world.


Mrs. Pickens was a faithful and dedicated member of Jones Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco for over 70 years.  She was active in several Christian ministries there, including the choir, usher board, mother’s board, and helped with many events.  She also participated in a traveling singing choir.


Mrs. Pickens also shared with me about her family’s visits to the White House and to the African American Museum in Washington, D.C. several years ago.


Mrs. Pickens loved to read and learn.  She was a prolific reader.  She loved to share with me what she had read.  Several months ago, Mrs. Pickens shared with me about a book she was reading written by the late Congressman John Lewis, the famous civil rights leader.  She also loved reading the book written by First Lady Michelle Obama.  Recently, Mrs. Pickens shared with me about her interest in reading and exploring the books written by Toni Morrison.


Mrs. Pickens shared with me that she felt glad to see an African American person become President of the United. States during her lifetime.  In the kitchen of her home in the Bayview, on the refrigerator door, I could see several magnets with pictures of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.  In her living room, in the glass cabinet, there was a special letter from President Obama and a memento from the White House.


In her home in the Bayview, Mrs. Pickens had beautiful signs welcoming visitors to her home.  Throughout her home, Mrs. Pickens had beautifully designed signs and artworks with words of inspiration, prayers to God, and her thankfulness to God.  Mrs. Pickens also had vases of flowers in her living room and kitchen.


Mrs. Pickens placed strong emphasis on the importance and value of education, and always encouraged young people to pursue their education.


In Mrs. Pickens’ own family, there are physicians, lawyers, and other professionals, some of whom attended Historically Black Colleges and Universities such as Morehouse College, Spelman College, and Howard University.


Her granddaughter, Ms. Charisse Anderson, attended the University of Southern California (U.S.C.), and The University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco while living with her “Grandma Verlie” at her home in the Bayview district during her law school studies.  Mrs. Pickens proudly shared with me that her granddaughter would take extra classes at law school to finish the program early.  Mrs. Pickens also shared with me that even before law school, her granddaughter would visit her every summer and live with her during the entire summer.


Her granddaughter, Ms. Lesa Campbell, attended Spelman College in Atlanta.


Her great grandson, Mr. Jeremy Anderson, attended Morehouse College, the same college that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., attended.


Her grandson, Mr. Joseph Anderson, earned his business degree at National University.  


Mrs. Pickens’ grand niece, Ms. Tamaron Greene, who is both an artist and a corporate lawyer, earned her law degree from Cornell University.


Mrs. Pickens’ nieces, Dr. Paula Joubert Greene and Dr. Ina Bazley, attended Howard University Medical School.


Among the many precious memories my son Minh Jeffrey and I have of Mrs. Verlie Mae Pickens include her being our Special Honored Guest at the Special Friends and Grandparents Day events at Minh Jeffrey’s elementary and middle school, The San Francisco Day School, and high school, The Urban School of San Francisco.  At each of these events, Mrs. Pickens was our Special Honored Guest.  We would introduce her to the entire school, we would share an elegant lunch together, and Mrs. Pickens and I would go together to Minh Jeffrey’s classes and listen to the teachers give their lessons.  Mrs. Pickens listened attentively, sometimes contributed her comments, and also asked questions.  She enjoyed being around the students, being in a school environment, and always learning new things.


Mrs. Pickens was our Special Honored Guest at Minh Jeffrey’s high school Graduation, which was held at the beautiful Stern Grove Park with its groves of tall eucalyptus trees with their strong fragrance and scent.  Mrs. Pickens, Minh Jeffrey and his mother and I, along with another dear family friend, Mr. James Stefanski of Berkeley, enjoyed delicious cake, special pastries, coffee, and ice cream, as we celebrated Minh Jeffrey’s Graduation.  Minh Jeffrey proudly introduced Mrs. Pickens to the Head of The Urban School of San Francisco, Mr. Mark Salkind, some of the teachers and administrators at the school, his Jazz teacher Mr. Scott Foster, and his classmates and their parents.  Minh Jeffrey, his mother, and I were so happy and felt deeply honored that his dearly beloved “Grandma Verlie” was right next to him at his high school Graduation Celebration.


Mrs. Verlie Mae Pickens was a community leader.  She was active in many community organizations, including the Bayview Hunters Point Senior Adult Day Health Center, the Dr. George W. Davis Senior Center, the Network for Elders, Senior Action Network and Senior University, and numerous other places in the Bayview and Hunters Point district.


At the Dr. George W. Davis Senior Center, Mrs. Pickens volunteered at the daily early morning breakfast program, and also taught arts and crafts classes.


Mrs. Pickens also contributed every year to the annual Black Cuisine Feast event in the Bayview, since its founding by Dr. George W. Davis forty one years ago.  Mrs. Pickens’ homemade hog’s head specialty dish and peach cobbler dessert, that she learned to make from her mother, are legendary.


Mrs. Pickens volunteered in the Senior Action Network’s Senior University Program which I directed.  Mrs. Pickens faithfully attended every class session of Senior University, held throughout the city of San Francisco, working with two other volunteers, Mrs. Hui Lam Truong, an immigrant from Viêt Nam, and Ms. Juanita Negrete.


Mrs. Pickens received many awards and commendations from several mayors of San Francisco, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the governor, and state legislators, including State Senator Mark Leno.


Mrs. Pickens was a very kind, caring, and humble person. 


She had very strong faith in God.  She led a life of simplicity, a life with great depth and meaning.  Mrs. Pickens was accepting of everyone she met along life’s journey.  She was a calm and serene person.  Mrs. Pickens possessed a sharp discernment of life, and great and deep wisdom.


I have written a number of Special Feature Articles to honor Mrs. Verlie Mae Pickens over the years.  She also wrote several Special Feature Articles to share with us about her life.  I invite you to read these articles in the San Francisco Bayview Newspaper, the Oakland Post, and the San Francisco Post.


Mrs. Verlie Mae Pickens was also interviewed by Dr. Barbara Cannon on March 19, 2016 at the television studio of Berkeley Community Media (BCM) in Berkeley, California.


I invite you to read the following Special Feature Article published in the San Francisco Bayview Newspaper on August 30, 2020:

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