Barbara Jane Reed

by Andy on September 11, 2010

Note from the editor…

The following article was sent to us from Marilyn Brownlee, asking if we’d be interested in publishing the life story of her Godmother, Barbara Jane Reed. Barbara was a seemingly ordinary woman who was anything but ordinary when it came to living her faith out through love. “The kind heart you extend to people is what matters in life,” Barbara said. “Because you never know when it’s going to be you.”

Seeing that February is the month in which love is on our minds, I knew that Barbara and her beautiful smile would be an awesome addition to this issue.

Grace to you, Barbara…”For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.” ~ Hebrews 6:10

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A Life Remembered:
Barbara Jane Reed
Robin Hinch, February 2008

Barbara Reed always kept her home and prayers open to others, even when she was facing her own life-threatening sickness.

Talking up kindness to others is one thing. Living those words, for most of us, is quite another.

But not for Barbara Reed.

“The kind heart you extend to people is what matters in life,” she said. “Because you never know when it’s going to be you.”

Barbara lived those words every day of her life–at church, at home and just by the way she greeted strangers on the street. If there was something she could do for another, she did it, without question or hesitation.

On January 14, 2008, she died of a heart attack. She was 58-years-old.

Barbara was born in North Little Rock, Ark., and was 3 when her family moved to Tacoma, Wash. When she was 15 when they moved to Los Angeles, where she graduated from Hamilton High School.

Her first marriage to Stephen Jackson lasted only two years, and left Barbara the single mom of two daughters.

But while working for Bekins Van Lines in Los Angeles, she met Alton Reed, a mover, whom she married in 1979. They bought a house in Anaheim and Barbara went to work for McMaster-Carr Supply Co., which sells industrial maintenance supplies.

As a family they joined Friendship Baptist Church, where Barbara quickly became a pillar of the congregation.

She sang in the choir, worked with a group that helped families in need, visited and prayed with shut-ins, was on the church anniversary committee, went to Sunday school and Bible study, and organized a church group to support a fund-raising walk for Children’s Hospital of Orange County.

Together, she and Alton opened their home to anyone in need. They housed, for long or short periods of time, many disgruntled teens, newly arrived and unsettled adults, plus kids whose parents just couldn’t cope with them. Some people jokingly referred to their home as a shelter.

Barbara had love and patience for everyone, with an uncanny ability to discern and draw out their gifts. She never focused on the negative.

With a smile that warmed hearts, she greeted everyone as a best friend and took on their problems as her own. It was impossible to say “no” to Barbara and difficult not to be cheered by her. She made you feel good when you were at your lowest point.

“Nope,” she’d encourage kindly, “we’re not going to have it like that. C’mon, girl!”

With her daughters she was strict. Missing church wasn’t an option. (“If you can party until 2 a.m., you can get up and go to church.”) Neither was spending money frivolously. She had a fit once when a daughter bought a $35 blouse. One relative joked that Barbara was the only person he knew who “could make two pennies bleed.”

While being treated with breast cancer in 1995, Barbara researched what she should be eating and created what she called cancer soup, with vegetables, broth and potatoes easily digested by people on chemotherapy and designed to boost the immune system.

She beat the cancer, and from then on made the soup for anyone she knew who’d been diagnosed with the disease.

Thorough, organized, and consistent, she arose at 4:45 a.m. daily to do aerobics, Pilates, yoga and walk on a treadmill. At night, she was up until 11 or midnight, on the phone organizing a church event or counseling and praying with someone who was ill.

Barbara loved to organize things, especially parties at her house, filled with food and laughter.

Both dynamic and beautiful, she looked elegant in anything she wore, from denim shirts to sequined blouses. She didn’t leave the house without bright-red lipstick highlighting her encouraging smile.

Even when she was sick, she was taking care of others, asking, “Honey? You OK? Don’t you worry. God is going to take care of it!”

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Thank you to the Orange County Register and writer Robin Hinch, who gave us their permission to reprint this article.

Interviewed for this story: Barbara’s husband: Alton; their two daughters: La’Ron and Leslie; and their friend: Fredia Travis.