Fields will be remembered for caring spirit

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 22, 2011

By Hugh Fisher
SALISBURY — Deedee Wright, longtime civil rights activist and local leader, said she’ll miss a lot of things about her friend, Elizabeth Fields.
But she will especially miss Fields’ laughter.
“Her life was one of giving,” Wright said. “She was devoted to her community. … She was quiet in what she did for people, but she would let you know unequivocably how she felt about things.”
Fields, former director of the Salisbury-Rowan Community Action Agency Inc., died Monday. She was 72.
Those who worked with her praised her hard work, dedication and passion for helping others.
In particular, those families touched by the Head Start program, William “Pete” Kennedy said.
“She will leave large footprints. … She has been a mover and shaker for our clients,” said Kennedy, chairman of the community action board of directors and member of the Salisbury City Council.
Under Fields’ leadership, the early childhood education agency expanded to serve five counties, Kennedy said.
In addition, Kennedy said Fields’ legacy carries on in the other programs she oversaw which help improve the quality of life of low-income families.
Kennedy said members of the board took time to reminisce and pray at Thursday night’s board meeting.
“We all had an opportunity to share memories we had of her. It was a very emotional meeting,” Kennedy said.
He will serve as a pallbearer at Fields’ memorial service, scheduled for 2 p.m. today at Livingstone College’s Varick Auditorium.
Both Fields and Kennedy graduated from Livingstone.
Sharon Goodson, executive director of the N.C. Community Action Association, will speak.
Goodson said she worked closely with Fields, advocating for more funding and assistance for the less fortunate.
“(Fields) has pretty much been around this network, helping people and changing lives in our state, for three decades,” Goodson said by phone from Raleigh.
They met about seven years ago when Goodson took over as NCCAA’s executive director.
“She advocated for the General Assembly and in Washington, D.C., for people in your community,” Goodson said.
“It wasn’t just at home that she did this great work.”
Her death, Goodson said, leaves a void. “We have lost a tremendous leader, a humanitarian.”
“I’ve often heard her say that we can’t help everybody, but we can certainly try.”
Joann Diggs, the interim executive director of the SRCAA, said Fields was “a pioneer” of Head Start in North Carolina.
She praised Fields’ ability to find new and innovative ways of serving the underserved.
Under her leadership, Diggs said, the agency got federal funding to help not only young students, but their parents and families.
Among these achievements was expansion of programs to include children from birth to five years of age, as well as summer enrichment programs.
Fields was a hard worker who expected diligence of her employees.
“You knew she wanted the job done, so you did your best to do everything in order,” Diggs said.
Bill Godair, senior pastor at Cornerstone Church, serves on the SRCAA board.
He said his work with Fields in that role helped him learn about the agency that he called “one of the most remarkable hidden secrets in this county.”
He told of traveling with Fields to Washington, D.C. to argue for more funding to help area families.
“Just the fact that she could keep herself motivated for so many years — I know how difficult it is to get up every day and do the same routine,” Godair said.
But, he added, in staff meetings, board meetings, anywhere, she stayed energetic for her cause.
Those who knew her praised her honesty.
“If you didn’t want to know the truth, you shouldn’t ask Mrs. Fields,” Goodson said.
“Because she would tell you, but she would tell you in a way that would build you up instead of breaking you down.”
Wright said that she had known Fields for about 30 years. The two were members of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc.
And, Wright said, in addition to her public work, Fields ministered quietly to others, helping families and individuals as she was able.
Godair said Fields was always ready to help, anytime, anyplace.
“It didn’t matter what color they were, didn’t matter what language they spoke,” Godair said.
Goodson said that Fields’ caring spirit was evident in how others treated her.
“People wanted to take care of her because she had taken care of so many others,” Goodson said.
“Not only did she do what she came to do, but she did it with an exclamation mark.”
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.