• Tue. Aug 9th, 2022

Georgee Mae Overton: A life well lived serving others

Contributed by the Family

Georgee Mae Overton held high a particular purpose for her life. It was embedded in her favorite lyric, “he ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.” She simply lived to serve others.

She succeeded.

Born Georgee Mae Lewis in Cincinnati on April 12, 1927, to Pearl Price and Carl Lewis, she was raised in the West End, with her younger brothers Carl Lewis and Herbert Lewis. Brave, giving and strong, she survived the Great Flood of 1937.

She was married to James Ruff; and into this union four children were born: James R., Anna P., Monroe, and Carl. The family moved to Lincoln Heights, where Georgee worked at Wright Aeronautical / General Electric. The family relocated to Avondale into her first house. After James Ruff’s passing, she later married Harold Overton and into this union one child was born, Anthony J.

Having lost her parents early and without older siblings, she was blessed with watchfulness of two men assuming big brother roles.  While raising their own immediate families, Monroe and Addie Reynolds and Joseph and Catherine Bray provided that crucial support. They embraced her as family and her children came to treasure them as Uncle Bingo and Uncle Joe, respectively.

She accepted Christ and became an active member of Corinthian Baptist Church. She was active in several areas including the Senior Choir, Sunday School, mid-week prayer meeting and the Nurses Guild.  A Charter Member and later as one of the oldest members, her years of association with the church included movement from Wehrman Avenue to Whittier Street and to its current Tennessee Avenue location. The range of honors bestowed upon her spanned from being awarded Mother of the Year in the 1970s to Keynote speaker for Women’s Day to even being crowned Mrs. Corinthian, Senior in a pageant supporting the burning of the mortgage.

Taking advantage of its community proximity and extended church family, she often attended Philipian Baptist Church as well, which was pastored by Rev. Henry Wilson, a son of Corinthian.

With children to raise, Mrs. Overton attended the Jewish Hospital School of nursing and upon completion, became a nurse in the Labor and Delivery Department. Over the years there, she developed a close-knit group of friends that supported each other through good times and more often, tough times. United by common struggles, these strong women knelt in prayer and stood up for action.

Knowing that “one true friend can save your life,” the family wishes to thank her best and only surviving friend from that era, Mrs. Virginia Allen, a fellow member of the obstetrics team.Mrs. Overton had fallen ill a few years ago – only to have her face brightened and her spirits lifted just to see her dear friend walk in the room.  They shared the optimism reflected in her  favorite Bible verses.

She gained secretarial experience working in offices at Union Terminal and the Model Cities program. After additional training at the Stowe School, her work in health care progressed from being an administrative manager for the medical director to her ultimate role as Client Rights Advocate at the Rollman Psychiatric Institute, the major short-term mental health facility at the time.

Over her many years in that position, she was able to combine her aptitude for operations with her passion for protecting the underserved. Many people would come to express their appreciation for Mrs. Overton having helped them or their family members after being intercepted from crisis on the street or elsewhere. This ultimate role was the most fulfilling of her career and she was known throughout Ohio for the great impact she made. Always seeking to match a need with the necessary resource, she created a highly successful volunteer program at the hospital. The program afforded engagement by the community and additional staff capacity for family services. She was well-known locally for her persistence and success in getting corporate donations for her programs.  In an era when mental health services faced many reform challenges, she was heralded as a leader for positive change and recognized for her devotion to improving client care.

After a full career, Mrs. Overton retired from the combined Rollman / Lewis Center program at Longview – but couldn’t stay retired long. After a bit of travel, she began working as a receptionist for the Hall-Jordan Funeral Homes. Recognizing her sensitivity and strength in client care, Rev. Jordan involved her with their after-care grief counseling service. 

She found great personal pleasure in gardening, decorating, cooking, and fashion. A proud homeowner, she nurtured roses and loved to share the plants that she’d grown, especially mint.  Her collection of Swarovski crystal figurines and jewelry and various candleholders is famous. Many of the pieces were acquired in her travels – journeys she was finally able to take after her long career – or by traveling family catering to her hobby. As much as fulfilling her ideal principle of “always having something beautiful in sight,” her collections also represented a degree of achievement after many years of modest living. That ideal applied to her fancy lamp collection as well. She had passing ideas of being a caterer or an interior designer. She had the eye and ability to “make something out of nothing” – whether she salvaged an old table by refinishing it or if she stretched household resources.

A voracious and fast reader, she would read through scores of books – as the staff at the Pleasant Ridge Library knew quite well, since she was one of their favorite patrons. She dared to take computer classes and was just beginning to migrate to an eReader and iPad. She further fed her joy of life with Tai Chi classes, line dance sessions and even how to swim at 50.

Known for her sense of style, she always had flair in her outfits. She gleaned that sense early on working in retail at the noted Henry Harris women’s clothing retailer in the Carew Tower and at Shillito’s in Kenwood. Many young ladies would persistently let her children know that they had seen her out and about in some classy outfit replete with a fancy hat and elegant high heels! Still, she treasured kicking off those heels and taking her cat naps, particularly in her backyard swing. 

She exemplified the liberating mantra of her Red Hat Society, saying, “When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple with a red hat that doesn’t go.”  Fond family memories include images of her listening to jazz on WNOP while she tended her garden, hosting multi-family Christmas parties, carrying holiday cookies and gifts door-to-door to her neighbors, hosting block party cookouts and of course, doing the stomp at parties.

She was known for her staying power, and she infused that tenacity in others. Consistently, she served as the voluntary caregiver for aging elders, many family members and friends, including caring for Harold up to his death.

Her approach to caregiving was rooted in the care she saw her mother provide. In the aftermath of the 1936 flood, Pearl died from tuberculosis contracted after piloting a rowboat while rescuing so many neighbors from polluted waters. Understandably, that type of sacrificial caring had a lasting impact. She was a champion of faith, encouraging those with failing health to not give up, to see their own inner strength.

Mrs. Overton was a genuinely interested and inquisitive person. She would leave you feeling that she truly cared to know about your journey. She always had something nice to say. Yet, she did not suffer foolishness, coming from a generation that met hardship head-on and cherished effort. She loved discovery: trying new things, meeting new people and discovering the common joys we all share across races, religions and regions. Her balanced nature was a pleasant and rare mix of an extrovert, a listener and a cheerleader.    

Coming from such modest beginnings, she could engage with all, from presidents to fellow train passengers. She relished a simple New York bagel as much as a taste of caviar. All of this gave her such as solid sense of self-worth that she was capable, as Kipling lauds, “of walking with the crowd and not losing her virtue, of walking with kings and not losing the common touch.” She admired quiet dignity in celebrities like Sidney Poitier and Oprah. An ambassador of that dignity in her own right, she knew, as Harriette Cole wrote, “How to Be.”

She was still safely driving at 90.

Through it all, she found her greatest legacy in the love she held for her children. The song, “His Eye Is On The Sparrow,” stirred her as she maintained a constant motherly concern for the well-being of each of her children. She was loyal to them, as she attended practically anything in which they were involved. An amazing mother,

Mrs. Overton is survived by those devoted children, James R. Ruff, Anna P. Hoskins, Monroe Ruff (Patricia), Carl Ruff and Anthony J. Overton (Sharon).      

Embraced by the friends of her children as another mother, she was a role-model, a neighbor, upstanding citizen, and a faithful friend personifying the Yoruba proverb, “Hold onto your friends with both hands.”

She was a treasure to know and though she is always with us, her presence will be missed. Ase, amen and peace be with you.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you consider the needs of the following programs which reflect the compassion in her life: The Freestore Foodbank, Rosemarie’s Babies or Corinthian Baptist Church.

She wanted to live a life so “God could use her, anytime and anywhere.”  So, to honor her devotion to the underserved, consider volunteering your time and resources somewhere, somehow, happily, and often.

Funeral services were held July 8.