Helen Odessa Gillis


On June 3, 1927, God predestined a child to be born to the late George and Helen Powell Smith of Cheapside. The youngest of twelve children, her parents permitted this child to be raised by her older brother, Leon, and his wife, Bishop Estella Smith. Ordering her pathway, the Lord set in motion a chain of events that allowed her to gain guidance in her preordained journey. Proverbs 22:6 states, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” This child’s footsteps were well ordered by the Lord to become the esteemed lady that we know as Bishop Helen Odessa Gillis.

“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me: thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4). On Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, it is believed that Bishop Gillis felt the comfort of her Lord. Surrounded by her family and hearing, “we are all here”, she closed her eyes, took her last breath, and preceded to her glorious mansion in heaven.

“Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies”” (Proverbs 31:10). This search ended for Richard Gillis as he found an honorable woman in Helen Smith. On Aug. 23, 1953, the two were united in holy matrimony, and out of this union came two children that preceded her in death. Being like Hannah, she prayed that God would bless their marriage with children, and He was faithful to bless them with the following eight gifts: Senora (Cornell), Hawthrone, Phyllis, Leon (Yvette), Violet (Ronald), Richard (Georgia), Deborah, and Yvette.

“Her children arise up and call her blessed” (Proverbs 31:28). Being limited in her education from Northampton County Public Schools, she worked in variety of manual labor jobs in the housing, hotel, farm and manufacturing industries. Many nights she would bake sweet potato pies and other items to sell to ensure that her children’s needs were met. Even though she was not able to finish her education, she worked tirelessly to send all eight of her children to college.

“Children’s children are a crown to the aged, and the parents are the pride of their children” (Proverbs 17:6). Bishop Gillis was blessed to have 23 beautiful and handsome grandchildren, Shavonne, Shelia, Quintae, Brittany, LaSabra (Corey), DeVaughn, Delante, Leon Jr, Chukwuma (Jessica), Monica (Arthur), Jessica, Stacey, Kesamde, Shakime, Darius, Kaila, Shequita (James), and Dionta. Two grandchildren, Tyree and Francine, preceded her in death. She was also blessed to witness several great-grandchildren, Arian, Kingtson, Koby, Caden, Lauren, Patience, DeVaughn Jr., Kamillian, Devante, Mya, Abigail, Hannah, Moriah, Mailyah, Tyshun, Makai, Jayden, Jirmiah, Raelynn, and Jamesz’e. The blessings continued for Bishop Gillis as she also had two great-great-grands.

Gramis, as her family called her, loved to spend time with her children and grandchildren. She loved to travel with her family domestically as well as internationally. It was important to her that the family vacationed annually; therefore, she would pay for elaborate accommodations to ensure that the family was able to enjoy life. Many days on vacation, she would simply laugh and smile at her children and grandchildren’s antics and would gather her family together to share stories of her fascinating past.

Ms. Helen was a wonderful mother and friend who touched many people lives. She had one foster daughter, Doris Walton, who preceded her in death. She was also loved by Melvina Waters, Sandra Benton, and James Braxton Jr. Throughout her life, she was surrounded by acquaintances who shared a special bond, Elizabeth Ames, Anna Mae Dixon, Annette Williams, and Lottie B. Wynder for over fifty years. Thelma Lee Ruffin served as her neighbor and best friend sharing a love of cooking and gardening with much playful banter. Throughout her life, she had many who were her chauffeurs and assistances, but, most importantly, she viewed them as faithful companions, Donald Custis, Ornia Dixon, Vincent Holley, Jr, Kathy Peed, Shirley Northan, Betty Reid, Gretchen Smaw, Lillie Mitchell-Smith, Theodore and Maria Spady, Marilyn Williams, Thelma Burgess and Mary White. She also had many nieces, nephews, and a host of godchildren whom she loved and will cherish her memory.

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