Florence Mildred Palmer Barnes
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Florence Mildred Palmer Barnes was born September 16, 1922 in Capron, Southampton County, Virginia. She passed on June 15, 2020 in Portsmouth, Virginia.
Florence is the third child born of Howard Palmer and Addie Williams Palmer of Capron, Virginia. Having lost her parents at an early age she was reared by her grandparents Edward and Miranda Williams on the family’s sharecropper farm. Growing up amongst her two siblings, Elnora and Worthen, and a host of uncles and aunts, Florence was the youngest and petit. Therefore, she was given the nickname “Little Bit”.
Florence was educated in the public schools of Southampton County and Portsmouth, Virginia. After attending I. C. Norcom High School in Portsmouth for a brief period of time she returned to Southampton County public schools where she graduated from high school at the Southhampton County Training School. The school which provided a high school education for black students in the county was opened in 1937 outside of Courtland, Virginia. Upon graduation she enrolled in Virginia State College in Petersburg, VA. After a short stay in college, Florence was forced to leave the college because of financial reasons. Upon leaving college she began working in the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth. It is there that she would meet the person who would later become her life-long companion, sole mate, best friend, partner, care giver and husband, Lonnie Thomas Barnes, Jr. of Norfolk, VA.
When Lonnie joined the United States Navy on May 20, 1944 Florence joined him in Chicago, Illinois while he was stationed at the Great Lakes Naval Station. It is there they were married on November 10, 1944. which began a journey for the two of them, an equally yoked couple, of almost 75 years until Lonnie’s death on May 15, 2019. From the point of marriage Lonnie and Florence were never separated moving together from Great Lakes, Illinois to Roddfield, Texas and then back home to Norfolk and Portsmouth until Lonnie’s death.
After the navy they returned home. Lonnie resumed his membership and activities with St. John’s AME Church as it was the Barnes family church and Florence joined St. John’s and became an active member herself. She was engaged in numerous activities of the church including Stewardess Board #4, the Usher Board, the Bereavement Ministry, Vacation Bible School and the Nannie C. Phelps Women’s Missionary Society, among others. In the year 2000, for Woman’s Day celebration on April 9 of that year, she was named Woman of the Decade.
During their marriage and her career, Florence had a myriad of jobs serving in various capacities. She often referred to them as little jobs but they were nonetheless vitally important to their family. She held positions as varied as an elevator operator in the old Ames & Brownley department store on Granby Street in Norfolk to a teacher’s aide at Douglass Park Elementary School in Portsmouth, from which she retired. But her number one job and commitment, from which she never wavered, was creating and sustaining a healthy, wholesome household based on principals of love and respect and a belief in and acceptance of God for the benefit of herself, her husband and most crucially her two young sons. Florence embodied a humble spirit and modeled her beliefs to anyone who paid attention. She honored her mother and her father which honor was extended to her in-laws Lonnie and Mary Barnes. She was a virtuous woman.
Florence is survived by her two sons, Lonnie Thomas Barnes III and wife Carol Barnes, and Barry Milton Barnes and wife Michelle Swain Barnes, nine grandchildren, nine great grandchildren, her older sister Elnora Anderson, and a host of nieces, nephews, cousins and friends across generations. Florence is preceded in death by her husband Lonnie Thomas Barnes, Jr., her older brother Worthen Palmer, her parents Addie and Howard Palmer. Florence was a devoted wife, mother, daughter, sister, granddaughter daughter-in-law, niece, aunt, cousin and friend. Her tenderness, motherly wit, thoughtfulness, nurturing spirit, and love will be sorely missed.