An 'Angel' Among Us

February 27, 2009

By Jane Horstman

CA-NV Conference Communications Office

On Sunday, January 25, Ella Mae Bush, a longtime member of the First United Methodist Church in Vallejo, California, received Vallejo's 2009 Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award during a tribute held every year at Touro University. The nearly two-hour event honored those who give "service to others and to causes greater than one-self."


In her letter to the university nominating Bush, Vallejo FUMC pastor the Rev. Audrey Ward wrote, "Ella Mae Bush illustrates by her life the most positive meaning in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s words which he wrote in the Birmingham jail: 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.'"


Ward continued, "By her life, Ms. Bush practices justice, generosity, respect, and encouragement that walk, talk, and have hands and feet, willing to do the best for all those who may or may not appear to be in need."


Ella Mae Bush "spends countless hours helping others," as the Solano and Napa Counties' Times-Herald puts it. She volunteers in the Uptown Clothes Closet/Thrift Annex at FUMC, where she sorts and prepares clothes for those in need; she helps out in food pantries and at the Senior Brown Bag Program; she lends a helping hand to her neighbors; and she even helps to make pumpkin pies for the annual pumpkin pie sale for the church. 

Whatever she does, "She just does the right thing ... and it affects a wide, interconnected community of people," Ward added in her letter. With her upbeat attitude Bush believes that, "Each of us is a prayer. We have to be that prayer and be in the place of prayer."

Ward told Instant Connection that, when she called to tell Bush she was a finalist, she humbly responded with, "You must have the wrong number. Yes, now if you'll just grab a-hold of the right person, you'll be okay."

Knowing Bush was one of nine finalists, with all the others having titles (Doctor, General - so-called "important people," as Ward puts it), the congregation had never been so energized, Ward told us. People were thinking up ways to honor Ella Mae Bush, whether or not she won: perhaps a new dress, or maybe bringing her grandson here from the East Coast.


"Ideas were popping up all over the place. It was a surprise to me and a reminder that the way we honor our history is to honor each other," added Ward.

Eight other Vallejoans were nominated and recognized during the two-hour event, according to the Times-Herald. They were: Michael Brown, Howard Jackson, Lou Johnson, Albert Lamons, Christie Price, Elissa Stewart, Rose Tyson, and Olga Karin Wer-Ramirez.


Mirroring the theme of the event, Gary Thomas of KSFO radio enacted parts of Dr. King's speeches, the newspaper reported, reminding audience members of such stirring words as the great civil rights leader's admonition to participate, "What did you do for others? This is the breath of life. He who is greatest among you will be a servant."


Those words could have been uttered with Ella Mae Bush in mind. With a smile in her voice, Ward shared with us one of her most endearing memories of Bush. She walked into the church's kitchen on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and beheld Ella Mae, making pies, covered head-to-toe in flour.


"She looked like she was in a cloud. Maybe she really is an 'angel' and we gave her wings!"