In memoriam: Honoring Mrs. Verlie Mae Pickens

Painting-of-Mrs.-Pickens-by-Dr.-Paula-Joubert-Greene-her-niece-by-Anh-Le, In memoriam: Honoring Mrs. Verlie Mae Pickens, Culture Currents
This lovely rendering of Mrs. Pickens was painted by Dr. Paula Joubert-Greene, her niece. – Photo: Anh Lê

by Anh Lê

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

Mrs. Pickens was born in Lake Charles, La., 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. She 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. Pickens has seven siblings: Ms. Vera Nisby Miyasaki of Antioch, California, the late Charles Nisby, Addie Hall, Wiley Nisby, Lillian Nisby, Mercedes Joubert and Ina Tommie Dewitt.

Verlie-Mae-Pickens-in-wheelchair, In memoriam: Honoring Mrs. Verlie Mae Pickens, Culture Currents
Mrs. Verlie Mae Pickens in a recent photo. – Photo: Anh Lê

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. 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.

Because of the racial segregation in the Deep South, Black children could not go to the schools that white children could attend. 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. 

She excelled in all her classes, loved to be in class plays and music and dance programs, and played badminton, tennis and volleyball. She loved music and excelled at her piano lessons. 

Mrs. Pickens graduated from Sacred Heart High School. She was a member of Warren United Methodist Church, where she became the church pianist at the age of 17.

In 1941, during World War II, Mrs. Pickens moved from San Francisco 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. 

“Teach the young children and young people who are growing up. Teach the children well and give them love.”

Mrs. Pickens was one of the oldest Rosie the Riveter Ladies still living this year. Mrs. Pickens was honored with a Special Award Certificate for being a Rosie the Riveter Lady at a special ceremony in her granddaughter Ms. Charisse Anderson’s home.

Mrs. Pickens was a faithful member of Jones Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco for over 70 years. Mrs. Pickens loved to read and learn. A prolific reader, she loved to share with me what she had read. 

Mrs. Pickens shared with me that she felt so glad to see an African American person, President Barack Obama, become president of the United States during her lifetime. She 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, several of whom attended Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

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

Verlie-Mae-Pickens-celebrates-her-105th-birthday-at-Disneyland-0621-w-family, In memoriam: Honoring Mrs. Verlie Mae Pickens, Culture Currents
Mrs. Pickens’ grandchildren, remembering the time their grandma took them to Disneyland, returned the favor for her 105th birthday. Weary after a long day, she thanks God for her loving family and for 105 years on earth. – Photo: Charisse Anderson

Among the many precious memories my son Minh Jeffrey and I have of Mrs. Verlie Mae Pickens are 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. 

Mrs. Pickens was our special honored guest at Minh Jeffrey’s high school graduation, which was held at the beautiful Stern Grove Park. Mrs. Pickens, Minh Jeffrey and his mother and I, along with another dear family friend, Mr. James Stefanski of Berkeley, celebrated Minh Jeffrey’s high school graduation.

Mrs. Pickens was a community leader, active in 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.

At the Dr. George W. Davis Senior Center, Mrs. Pickens volunteered at the breakfast program, and taught arts and crafts classes. Mrs. Pickens contributed to the annual Black Cuisine feast event in the Bayview since its founding 41years ago. 

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 San Francisco, working with two other volunteers, Mrs. Hui Lam Truong, an immigrant from Viêt Nam, and Ms. Juanita Negrete.

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 and deep wisdom. 

‘Continuously spread love and positivity because not only does it feed your soul – it’s a feast for those around you.’

Mrs. Pickens stated, “Teach the young children and young people who are growing up. Teach the children well and give them love. Encourage our children and young people to get a good education. Education is so important. Care about the seniors. Love your family. Stay involved in your community. Pay attention to what’s going on in the world. I am so deeply thankful to God for all of God’s rich blessings and for giving me a long, happy and healthy life!”

Ms. Beverly Taylor, the coordinator of the Network for Elders, and longtime friend of Mrs. Pickens, states, “Verlie Mae Pickens, a volunteer, a servant, a worker, a person of kindness and a willingness to serve with a spirit to reach out and help anyone in need as she travelled on this road.

“Her living would not be in vain. She came, she saw, she gave and she served. No task was too great for her. Even though she is gone, she is not forgotten.”

Rev. Dr. James McCray Jr., former pastor of Jones Memorial United Methodist Church, states, “Ms. Verlie Pickens will always hold a place in my heart as a kind and ‘right on time woman’ – a Sister in the journey of faith across my quarter of a century ministry at Jones Memorial United Methodist Church. 

“I dub her ‘right on time’ for two reasons: First, as a senior citizen, she was right up to date in thought, philosophy and activity. From the Church Social Action Ministry to the Senior Action Network, Ms. Pickens was always in the thick of what was going on. Second, as a member of the Body of Christ, Ms. Pickens was a leader, a trend-setter.”

“When no one seemed to understand the reason for or cared about an eternal flame for the new church sanctuary, she stepped up and not only purchased but supervised the installation of the flame. Ms. Verlie Pickens was a ‘light’ for the way of gentleness and love for a century, and many of us today have a light burning in our souls because that beautiful and talented woman touched our lives. Thank you, Ms. Pickens.”

Ms. Cathy Davis, director of Bayview Senior Services and the Dr. George W. Davis Senior Center, states: “Mrs. Pickens embodied the heart and soul of Bayview Senior Services. She loved to be of service and to participate in all of our programs. She is a great example of how to embrace your age and give back. Everyone who met Mrs. Pickens received a piece of wisdom and we are all better people for having been blessed to know her.” 

My son, Minh Jeffrey Anh Lê, states: “When I think of Verlie, I ponder on how life should be lived – exploration of your own human mind every day. I was fortunate to meet Verlie early in my life through my dad’s work, and she always had a soft spot for me. Every time I’d see her, she would hit me with her genuine and gigantic smile, followed by a warm embrace. 

Minh-Jeffrey-Le-with-Verlie-Mae-Pickens-1400x1050, In memoriam: Honoring Mrs. Verlie Mae Pickens, Culture Currents
Mrs. Verlie Mae Pickens and Minh Jeffrey Lê. Minh Jeffrey says of Mrs. Pickens that she inspired him to “continuously spread love and positivity because not only does it feed your soul – it’s a feast for those around you.” – Photo: Anh Lê

“But the conversations we’d have – honestly, she’s treated me the same since I was 10 to the last time I saw her at 27. And every time I would come out with a refurbished perspective on life through anecdotes on the current books she’s reading or the stories of New Orleans and her lovely husband. She would teach me how to live life without ever saying those words.

“If I could paraphrase it, she would say: ‘Live life full of curiosity, chasing health in the mind and body. Continuously spread love and positivity because not only does it feed your soul – it’s a feast for those around you.’”

Rev. Staci Current, former pastor of Jones Memorial United Methodist Church, and now Bay District Superintendent of the California-Nevada Conference of the United Methodist Church, states: “I was honored to be Mrs. Verlie Mae Pickens’ pastor for seven years. Mrs. Pickens was a beautiful woman who had a joy that was authentic and contagious. Although over half a century separated us by age, we both had hip replacements around the same time. 

“I loved talking to Mrs. Pickens about how we were both bionic! Mrs. Pickens, with her trademark positive outlook, she would say that she had ‘a fresh hip’ and was ready to live as long as God will allow her. And allow her to live a full life, God most certainly did. 

“One hundred and five years of her life was a wonderful gift that God gave to us. A woman of great faith, tenacity and love for people will be remembered by the many lives she touched. I will certainly give God thanks upon every memory of Verlie Mae Pickens. 

“By faith, I know she has been received into the glorious company of the saints of light and has heard her Lord say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’ Until we meet again, Mrs. Pickens, thank you for being you. With great love, Rev. Staci Current.”

Mrs. Pickens’ granddaughter, Ms. Charisse Anderson, states: “I was blessed beyond measure with my grandmother Verlie Pickens. She was full of love, beauty and grace inside and out. My grandmother was devoted to her church, family and well known as an advocate and a pillar in her community.

Anh-Le-with-Verlie-Mae-Pickens-and-Charisse-Anderson-by-Anh-Le-1-1400x626, In memoriam: Honoring Mrs. Verlie Mae Pickens, Culture Currents
Article author Anh Lê with Mrs. Verlie Mae Pickens and her granddaughter Charisse Anderson. Charisse says of Mrs. Pickens: “I learned how to live life by watching my grandmother.” 

“I have many fond memories looking forward to spending the summers in San Francisco, asking curious questions about her garden and always amazed how she could fix any kind of dish or dessert. She was an adventurous traveler and she would send postcards and letters from different places. 

“One of the best memories was a weekend trip to Disneyland as a little girl with my cousins Paula and Ina and grandma. Even though I was very young, it was absolutely fascinating to spend the whole weekend there and time with my grandmother. It was so memorable that my cousins graciously planned a return celebration, many decades later, and hosted her 105th birthday at the upgraded downtown Disneyland in June of this year.

“I learned how to live life by watching my grandmother. She lived by the Word of God, prayed constantly, devoted to her church from childhood, loved and helped others. She did not judge and she unconditionally gave her time, talent and treasure.

“I will miss her presence but am truly thankful for the memories of our conversations about her life, her love of reading – without glasses – and her extraordinary kindness to everyone.”

As for myself, I will miss Mrs. Verlie Mae Pickens deeply. I will miss our daily phone conversations. I will miss listening to her beautiful voice and listening to her wisdom. I will miss sitting next to her at church and listening to her beautiful voice sing the hymns.

I will miss the meals that Mrs. Pickens and I shared together at her cozy and warm home, and our occasional outings to restaurants. I will treasure the precious memories of when I prepared meals for her at her home and holding her hands as she thanked God for the food and asking God to bless it before we ate.

My son Minh Jeffrey and I will always and forever remember Mrs. Pickens and hold her deeply in our hearts as the woman that she was and shall always and eternally be, Mrs. Verlie Mae Pickens, a truly amazing woman and amazing human being.

Mrs. Verlie Mae Pickens shared with us these words of wisdom in an article published in the San Francisco Bay View Newspaper:

“Try to live a decent life. Love God. Live life fully. Respect nature. Be kind to one another. Treat everyone with kindness and respect. Eat the right foods. Keep active. Get your exercise and lots of fresh air. Take good care of your health.”

Verlie-Mae-Pickens-funeral-Jones-Memorial-UMC-100621-by-Anh-Le-1400x1050, In memoriam: Honoring Mrs. Verlie Mae Pickens, Culture Currents
Mrs. Verlie Mae Pickens’ funeral in the Chapel at Skylawn Cemetary was alive with flowers! – Photo: Anh Lê

Mrs. Verlie Mae Pickens is survived by her younger sister, Ms. Vera Nisby Miyasaki, of Antioch, Calif.; her granddaughters Ms. Charisse Anderson and Ms. Lesa Campbell; her grandson, Mr. Joseph Anderson; her great grandson, Mr. Jeremy Anderson; her daughter-in-law, Ms. Euna Anderson; a host of loving nieces and nephews, and a large close-knit extended family and many dear and loving friends near and far.

The funeral service and burial service for Mrs. Verlie Mae Pickens were conducted by Rev. Dr. James McCray Jr. at Skylawn Chapel and Cemetery in San Mateo, Calif., on Oct. 6, 2021. 

Copyright © by Anh Lê. Anh Lê is a San Francisco writer, independent journalist and activist born in Vietnam who has worked in the Black community for decades, especially with seniors. He has also worked with the Vietnamese American, Latino and other communities. His writing has been published in the San Francisco Bay View, Oakland Post, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, Oakland Tribune, San Jose Mercury News, Los Angeles Daily News, El Tecolote, Asian Week, USA Today and The New York Times, as well as in Vietnamese-language print and broadcast media. To contact him, email