Sarah Catherine Sawyer, daughter of (the late) Mary Gilchrist and Levi Shelling, was born on October 23, 1924 in Wagram, North Carolina, Scotland County. At a very young age, Sarah, her sister Belle, and cousins Leanna, Helen, Sally and Lettuce were brought North to Brooklyn, New York. These six girls were raised together by Leanna and Helen’s grandmother, and Lettuce, Sally’s, Sarah and Belle’s maternal great-aunt, Mary Quick, whom they all affectionately called “Mama”. Later, Mama would also raise her grandchildren -- Mildred and Frank Quick. This was a beautifully blended extended family, filled with love and support. Sarah attended P.S. 151 on Knickerbocker Avenue, and continued her education in the New York City public school system. She graduated from Girls High School in Brooklyn.
In 1937, Sarah, along with Mama, Belle and her cousins, joined the New Hope Baptist Church which, at that time, was located at 1642 Fulton Street, Brooklyn. In 1941, the Church relocated to 41 Sumpter Street. In 1950, Sarah and her church family, “marched” to 1328 Park Place -- New Hope’s current location. Sarah began her service in the Church by joining the Usher Board. She continued to serve as a member of the Senior Choir and the Silver Chord Gospel Singers. Sarah was active in the New Hope Sunday School as a member, secretary, teacher and superintendent. She also worked in the Busy Bee Club, (which was the Young People’s Club), the Willing Workers Club, the North Carolina Club and on the Trustee Board.
New Hope is where Sarah met her husband, Deacon George C. Sawyer, the son of Rev. Jesse P. Sawyer, Founder of New Hope Baptist Church. On May 18th, 1951, George and Sarah were married, and from their union, their son, Bruce, was born. In 1952, Sarah Sawyer was consecrated as a Deaconess. George and Sarah served as deacon and deaconess until his death in 1966. Sarah served on the Deaconess Board for 66 years. Under the pastorate of Rev. Dr. Paul S. Hicks, she served as President of the Deaconess Board, President of the New Membership Class, Director of the Christian Board of Education, Co-Director of Vacation Bible School and Chairperson of the Pastor’s Anniversary for ten years. She also served as Women’s Day Co-Chairperson, and as a Church Anniversary Captain. Sarah was a member of New Hope Baptist Church for 81 years!
Sarah Sawyer was an employee of the Federal Government, both the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Justice Office of the United States Marshall, Southern District of New York. Her service spanned six decades. She retired as a Supervising Administrative Assistant to the U.S Marshall where she was recognized and awarded for her contributions by many including the Honorable Constance Motley. As a widowed, single working mom, Sarah dutifully took care of her in-laws and her son, and faithfully served her church. She was always so very proud of her son Bruce and his family. She was thankful to the Lord for His grace and mercy, her family, and her loving sister, Belle.
Sarah and Belle had an extraordinary “Sister” bond. They loved spending time together and chatting about work, church and family, especially the grandchildren. Every morning (without fail) at about 9:00 AM, they spoke on the phone outlining the day’s events and forthcoming duties or chores. Their relationship was one of sweet devotion and love. No two sisters could have been any closer. When Belle passed in 2010, Sarah lost her best friend.
Sarah, her sister Belle, and the extended family were very close-knit, and together they enjoyed wonderful Sunday and holiday dinners together. Both her house and Belle’s became the hub for family gatherings. Sarah was known for her chocolate cake, sweet potato and lemon meringue pies, and her collard greens. Good food, laughter and family stories were some of her fondest memories. Even when she could no longer host family gatherings, she continued to bake and cook and bring, or send, her “loving” signature dishes along. Sarah also crocheted the most beautiful afghan throws. Her crocheted afghans were known for their warmth and colorful artistry, and she was prolific in their creation. She took great pride in making them for her family and friends. And Sarah loved to read and stay active. She was an avid bowler; she joined a senior bowling league and was still bowling at age 90.
Sarah was a loving and caring mother, grandmother and aunt who provided support, advice and love to all. She was a Christian role model who demonstrated her faith, lived a life of Christian values and fought the good fight until the end of her life. The Lord is our Shepherd and is bringing His faithful servant home to lie in the green pastures, to lie beside the still waters and to live in the house of the Lord forever.
Sarah leaves to mourn her cherished memories, her son Bruce (and his wife Marcia); her grandchildren: Catherine and Robert Rowe, Christopher and great-granddaughter Kensington “Kensie” Rowe; her nieces: Lisa Stephens (and her husband Lee), De’Nal Brown, and Frank (“Brother”) Quick; and a host of nieces, nephews, grandnieces, cousins, and many others who called her “Aunt Sarah”.
A very special thanks goes to Phyllis Corbin for her unwavering devotion and attention in a relationship forged with love, respect and mutual admiration; to Joyce and Jerry Steele for always sending (via Sonny Roberson) delicious home-cooked meals; and the deepest gratitude is extended to Ernie Branch and Cheryl Armstrong for their seamless expertise and compassion in Sarah’s care and comfort.