T-Mama’s son Deavin Garrison and mother, Leola Lane Whittaker celebrated her life with hundreds of friends and family Saturday, Dec. 30 at the National Guard Armory.
BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – The life of Tangela Colette Johnson, affectionately known as “T-Mama,” was celebrated this past Saturday as a sea of motorcycles and leather jackets pulled up to the National Guard Armory. Her family, both in blood and in leather, sent her off in a style only befitting a queen.
“She was something else,” said her mother Leola Lane Whittaker. She was a people person. She loved people. Anything she could do for someone she put it before herself.”
T-Mama’s name is synonymous with the words “motorcycle” and “selflessness.” She orchestrated the annual S.P.I.R.I.T. of the Bay Toy Drive, an initiative where local motorcycle clubs collaborate in volunteerism and charitable contributions to provide for families in need during the Christmas season.
“She always loved doing things for each and every one,” said Alexander Cosby, president of the Southside Truckers. “She was always there for any and everybody.”
Her charity didn’t end with Christmas either, T-Mama gave of herself year round to raise awareness and money for breast cancer research and the Lupus Foundation.
For 12 years, T-Mama put on the largest motorcycle gathering in the area. Some years as much as 500 people made their way to St. Pete form all over the Southeast. Her two-day annual would consist of music, food, dancing, and of course, motorcycle riding contests.
T-Mama’s last annual took place at the end of October this past year. Although riddled with cancer, she made sure the show went on.
“That was her passion,” her mother said, explaining that T-Mama gave explicit instructions for her and her other daughter, Patricia, to follow. “We just let her sit down and my daughter did everything.”
Whittaker also revealed that three weeks before her death, she was trying to make her way down to Miami for a toy drive, but was too weak. “She was an extraordinary person. You just don’t meet them like that.”
T-Mama’s love of all things motorcycle began when she met her future husband, Henry Johnson. Together they rode tens of thousands of miles.
Born Sept. 20, 1967, in Hollywood, Fla., she was raised in a loving God-fearing home by her mother and father, Cleveland Garrison. At an early age, she professed her love for Christ and lived a full and committed life to service in her church and community, worshiping at St. John Primitive Baptist Church in Clearwater.
Tangela was a dedicated and loving mother, grandmother, daughter, sister and friend.
“She was my everything; she was my superwoman, my queen,” said son Deavin Garrison, 31. “That was my best friend.”
Garrison said his mother knew everything, almost like she could read minds. She was always there for him even in her weakest moments she “still made sure I was alright.”
Honored for her love and diversity in helping others, respected for her dedication and willingness to give, T-Mama received many awards and honorable mentions from several associations, motorcycle clubs, churches and community organizations.
T-Mama’s passion for God’s work, family, friends, community and motorcycles crossed paths often, which made her a pillar and matriarch among her peers. An avid rider, she served as vice president of the Black Divas Motorcycle Club and also served as secretary of the Southeast Motorcycle-Van-Truck Social Club Association. She was also the current president of Hearth & Soul Riders of St. Pete.
Good friend Billy D with the Golden Hawks II in Tampa said he rode up and down the state of Florida with T-Mama. One day while at a fast food restaurant in Savannah, Ga., he couldn’t believe his eyes when T-Mama pulled up next to him on her bike.
“That was my girl,” he said.
Hundreds of loved ones swapped T-Mama stories and remembered her for the loving, kind and giving person she was. Her mother and son said they will try and keep the annual biker weekend going in her name.
“I think that is what she’d want. She was so into it; she just loved it,” said Whittaker.
T-Mama passed away Dec. 16, 2017. Her funeral was held at First Baptist of St. Petersburg and the Rev. Charles Rackard of St. John Primitive Baptist Church officiated.
She left behind to cherish her memory a dedicated son, Deavin Garrison; husband Henry Johnson; devoted mother Leola Whittaker; father Cleveland Garrison; brothers Byron and Gregory Garrison; sister Patricia Lewis-Porte along with four grandchildren and a host of nieces, nephews cousins and friends.