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An Inspirational Life

BURLINGTON — “How do you say goodbye to someone who played such an important role in your life?” Joe Williams asked as he stood at the head of a light blue casket Saturday afternoon.

The question may have been meant partly as a rhetorical one, but it was a question very much on the minds of the people who packed the First Baptist Church of Burlington to pay their final respects to Owen Pleasant.

The Burlington native died last week at the age of 95. In those nearly 100 years, Pleasant touched a lot of lives in many different ways.

Dr. Douglas Carter, pastor of First Baptist of Burlington, said the day was not a sad goodbye but rather a celebration of the life of Owen Pleasant and his contribution to his family, his community and to all those who knew him.

Lawrence County’s history

Lawrence Countians frequently note that their county and their forebears played an important role in the Civil War. When the war began, thousands of Ohioans took up arms to fight and among them were Lawrence Countians.

Lawrence County was also a stop on the Underground Railroad and many an abolitionist opened their homes to escaped slaves.

The community of Burlington has its own Civil War-era story to tell and Pleasant was a part of it.

In 1849 Virginia landowner James Twyman purchased land in Burlington for 37 of his slaves. Those 37 Virginia slaves would cross the Ohio River and become Ohioans, owned by no one.

Owen Pleasant, grandson of Susan Gordon, was the last surviving grandson of those 37 freed slaves.

This is part of Lawrence County’s history. Pleasant’s family’s history. One he shared with the generations that followed.

Kande Pleasant and Monette Mack are two of Pleasant’s great-nieces who attended his funeral. Kande Pleasant said her son, Kace, who is only 9, already knows the family’s history, the history she learned in part from her Great Uncle Owen.

In Monette Mack’s arms was her eight-day-old Mara Mack, no doubt the youngest member of the family there that day.

“She’s not been anywhere except the pediatrician until today,” Monette Mack said.

But mother and daughter had to be there.

“He’s been too large a part of our lives not to be here. When my grandfather was alive we were at his house about every day. He impacted our lives dramatically.”

Monette Mack said she will remember that her great uncle was outspoken and that he was a man of great character who earned the respect of those who knew him.

“I don’t think there was anyone who ever had anything bad to say about him,” Kande Pleasant agreed.

A life lived

Ralph Kelley said he counted it a great privilege to speak of Pleasant and said those who knew him knew him as many things, all of them complimentary.

Kelley said a family member went to school with Pleasant and remembered him back then as a good athlete. He said others knew Pleasant as a man who cared about his community.

“He was very interested in home. Burlington was his pride. He followed the motto, ‘live, work and play in Burlington.’ He was well-read. If you wanted to know what was going on, talk to Owen.”

The Rev. Gary Edwards was one of many who paid tribute to Pleasant’s 75-year marriage to his wife, the former Imogene Boggs. He prayed that God would bless her in the coming days.

“After 75 years there’s going to be a vacancy,” Edwards acknowledged in his prayer. Many who spoke Saturday praised Owen and Imogene’s commitment to one another.

Dr. Douglas Carter recalled that even when his health was poor, Pleasant kept a good attitude regardless of how badly he might have been feeling.

“Of all the sickness of Owen Pleasant, I never heard him complain. I remember visiting him in the hospital and he said, ‘Buddy, I thought I’d say goodbye to you but I’m still here.’”

Pleasant’s grandson, Maurice Pleasant Jr., said it was a great honor “to have my grandfather for as many years as we had him.” He paid tribute to his grandfather’s wisdom and knowledge and his influence on those who knew him.

“He inspired so many people,” Maurice Jr. said.

Pleasant was remembered as a man who began his own business and inspired others to do the same. Pleasant owned his a janitorial service company for more than 40 years.

Christian service

Many who spoke paid tribute to Pleasant’s Christian faith. A member of First Baptist Church of Burlington, he taught Sunday School, sang in the men’s chorus and, it was said, learned scripture by heart, word for word.

Dr. Richard Carter read Psalm 101, “I will lift up mine eyes until the hills who whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord which made heaven and earth.”

Carter was reflective. “You see, Brother Pleasant knew where his help cometh from. He knew there was a God who always had his eye on him and had him in the palm of his hand.”

Carter urged those who gathered to reach out to the same God who heard and answered Owen Pleasant’s prayers.

“He cared. He studied and showed himself approved with the scriptures,” Ralph Kelley said. “If you were to ask me, who is this man, I would say he was an ambassador for Christ. He loved The Lord. He walked the walk, talked the talk and was a great man.”

The Rev. David Witherspoon said he and Pleasant spoke every day and he would miss his friend, but he said, “We haven’t lost anyone but God has gained a son.”

In answering his own question, how do you say goodbye to someone like Owen Pleasant, Williams said, “You don’t. You say farewell until we meet again on the other side. God’s gift to us is life. Our gift back to God is what we do with that life.”

Of Pleasant, Williams said, “I feel God is pleased with the gift you brought back to him.”