Poole family patriarch Albert Poole sitting next to his wife of 44 years, Carolyn, and matriarch Mildred Grier Landers
BY RAVEN JOY SHONEL, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – The Poole family held their Family Fun Day to honor their patriarch and matriarch—Albert Poole and Mildred Grier Landers—last month at the Police Athletic League (PAL). Not quite a reunion, the family gathered for one purpose: to celebrate the lives of the last two living family heads.
Albert, 83, and Mildred, 82, are cousins, but they are as close as any siblings could be. All of their brothers and sisters have passed on, so the two cling to each other. With so many recent deaths in the family, his wife, Carolyn, was happy to help organize the gathering.
“Everybody in his family, all his sisters and his brothers, her sister, they’re all deceased. All the parents are deceased, every older member in the family is gone, and so we thought we’d honor the two that are left,” said Carolyn, 73.
Folks descended on the Sunshine City from parts of Florida, Georgia and even Virginia Beach to not only honor their elders but also to learn about the family.
Standing L-R, Brian, Carolyn, Robin, Gwanda, Johnnie and Michael Seated: Poole family patriarch Albert Poole and matriarch Mildred Grier Landers
“A lot of black families don’t get the opportunity to come together and just appreciate one another,” said Paula Potts, Albert’s niece.
Potts, a program director at PAL, secured the perfect venue for a large intergenerational gathering. While the adults socialized, the children were able to use the center’s amenities such as the pool table and gaming consoles.
Paula Potts helping serve food catered by Eddie Marry
She was on board with anything she had to do to make the day a success because she wanted Albert and Mildred to know that they are the glue that holds the family together.
“Because in spite of us all branching out and doing our own things, they keep us connected,” she said.
The significance of knowing her history is not lost on Potts. She said it’s now time for the next generation to not only see the importance of their elders and family history, but it’s also time for them to be the keepers of the stories.
“And even with me putting this together, I have learned so much about my great grandma and my grandfather’s farm,” Potts said, noting that her grandfather had 46 acres of land and grew tobacco, sugar cane and other crops.
“I’ll be 50 in Aug., and I’m just learning this.”
Potts said it saddens her that younger African Americans don’t learn about their roots.
“That’s our foundation, what motivates you, what drives you. I just thought that this is so important to come together to get the new generation of kids coming up with the sense of family, the sense of why our elders are important,” she said, revealing that she hopes this one-day event will turn into an annual or biennial celebration.
Albert’s other niece, Loretta Poole, agreed with Potts.
“The information that we’ll get from our matriarch and patriarch from this event will take us so deep into our history to where…endless possibilities of who we are could be found out.”
Both Albert and Mildred were born in Douglass, Ga., but he moved to St. Pete in the mid-60s. He and Carolyn had four children together, Johnnie, Robin, Brian and David. He also had two children from prior relationships: Vanjorene Powell-Massey and Gwanda Thompson.
Albert supported his family by working two jobs until he retired—one for the City of St. Pete as a sanitation worker and for the St. Petersburg Times in the circulation department.
“I watched him work two jobs for over 30 years,” said Johnnie, Albert’s son. “I want to tell you all; he took very good care of his family.”
Johnnie thanked his father for being a wonderful example of how a father, husband, uncle, brother and son should be.
Their son Brian described himself as being the most “outgoing,” if you can read in between those lines.
He said his father instilled in him love, and not just with words but with actions.
“So in my lifestyle, there were many times my father had to display tough love my way. And it was through that tough love that helped me get to where I am in life today, and helped me be the father I need to be to my children,” stated Brian.
Albert’s girls couldn’t stop gushing about their dad.
“He’s the best dad,” said Robin. “I can’t even explain how wonderful this man is. He means the world to me.”
“I just thank God for my dad,” said Gwanda Thompson, who got to know her father well when she was 28 years old. “I thank God because I grew up under some circumstances, but that man above—God is good.”
Mildred’s son, Michael Landers, couldn’t let Albert’s children hog the spotlight. He was eager to take the mike and sing his mother’s praises.
“Without her, there’d be no me. I don’t know what else to say about that,” he said. She’s the best. She’s the best,” said Michael, adding that his mother kept them on the road to visit their family when they were growing up.
Raised in Brunswick, Ga., Mildred moved to Philadelphia when she got married. The couple was married for 53 years until his death. Their union brought three sons into the world: Michael, Rodney and Reggie Landers.
“I guess it’s a blessing to be the oldest. I guess it’s an honor and I thank God that He’s enabled me to come here and celebrate with my cousin.”
Albert’s nephew Leonard Poole summed up the whole afternoon.
“Families are important simply because families are God orchestrated. Families are one of the things that you can’t change in life. What God gives you you can’t give it back. When He gives them to you, they are yours for life, and they are sacred. “