Reese called me last night to let me know:
“Grandma has gone home.”
On Sept. 8, 2008, he made a previous call, to let me know that his beloved Grandfather, and my longtime Carroll County, Mississippi friend, Norman Cobbins, Sr., had passed at the age of 102, leaving his bride of almost 72 years, Willie B., behind.
Now, Willie, just a few days short of her 93rd birthday, has gone on to join him, on the other side, in heaven.
She will be dearly missed by her loving family and friends.
Sincerest sympathies go out to Willie’s children and their families and may God be with you and provide you with peace and understanding at this sad time.
Willie was born Feb. 2, 1917, the second eldest daughter and one of nine children born to John Henry “Papa” Nalls and Viola “Nuke” Smith Nalls.
On Nov. 26, 1936, in the home of her parents, in southern Carroll County, Mississippi, she married her soul mate, Norman Cobbins, Sr. , son of Lee Cobbins and Martha Hobbs Cobbins, with whom she would spend almost 72 years with, as husband and wife.
When she was born, Willie’s parents gave her the name of Willie B., but she never knew what the B. in her name stood for.
All her life, Willie was devoted to Norman and her family. She leaves behind 10 loving children, including: John, James “Bobby”, Sallie, Joe Nathan, Eugene “Gene”, Norman, Jr., DeWitt, Viola, Vernice and Lee Faye, and their spouses, and many, many grandchildren, neighbors and friends.
Up until a year or so, Willie enjoyed excellent health during her life, while she was raising her children, and after they left the family home to make lives and families of their own.
It was a blessing that she could remain in her own home during all of her life, especially during her final years with Norman, before he passed, and since then. Her children have seen that she never spent a night alone during these final years; someone was always there with her in her home at night, in case she needed anything at all.
For many years, every evening, one or more of her nearby sons or grandchildren would stop “up home” to check on Norman and Willie, to make sure they were OK, and to say goodnight, before going home to their own families. Plainly, her children and grandchildren adored them.
Until the last couple of years, Willie’s mind has always been as sharp as a tack. Her memory was incredible.
Her quick wit, her sense of humor and her laugh were just a few of the personality characteristics that made her so wonderful.
Also incredible, was Willie’s cooking! Her fried chicken, her biscuits and her bread pudding were amazing, as anyone who has ever tried them will tell you.
Pat and I had the pleasure of spending a week with her and Norman, several years ago during April, and had the privilege of visiting with them about their life together and their family, and Willie could recite grandchildren and great grandchildrens’ names with ease, as if they all lived in the same house with them.
As I related in my post honoring Norman at the time of his passing, I first met Willie and Norman one New Years Eve, around 1987, at a “Watch Service” at their church, New Zion Baptist Church, which is located about two miles from their home.
The Watch Service was where those attending would watch the old year go out, and the new year come in.
The service was organized and directed by Deacons of the church, normally the minister wasn’t even in attendance, and featured personal witnessing by all who wished to, thanking God for all the blessings that he had sent their way during the year, and asking Him for more of the same in the new year. All present were also asked to included the person witnessing, in their prayers.
Once all had witnessed who wished to, various gospel singing groups, some accompanied by instruments, would perform musical numbers, until just after midnight, when all would join hands, and pray together for the coming year. Then everyone would shake hands with each other, hug, introduce themselves to anyone they did not know, and then everyone would leave and go home.
In Norman and Willie’s church, he was basically the respected Patriarch of the church, and five of his sons who lived nearby, Bobbie, Norman Jr., Dewitt, Vernus (Reese’s father), and Lee Faye, were among the Deacons of the church. All of these sons, except Bobbie, were members of a popular gospel singing group known as The Cobbins Family Singers.
At the Annual Watch service at their church, the Cobbins boys were always the anchor group to perform last, to lead up to midnight, and the final group prayer. When they performed, with Lee playing the keyboard, that church ROCKED!
During the Service, if they were attending, and normally they were, Norman would sit up in the left front pews with the other Deacons, in a place of honor, while Willie would generally sit up in the right front pews. We visitors normally sat somewhere in one of the back pews, except one time when Norman insisted that I sit next to him in the left front.
I had been invited to attend the Service by a friend there, during my annual post-Christmas Mission delivery trip to north central Mississippi, which I had been making for many years previous to that. Since that first time, I was privileged to attend 7 or 8 other Watch Services there, bringing along my fellow Wisconsin Mission volunteers, for this unique experience.
During that first Watch Service, I video taped the whole thing. After the final group prayer, when I was able to meet Norman and Willie for the first time, when I mentioned that I had video taped the service, Norman asked in he might have a copy of it. I promised him that I would get one to him on my next mission trip down to his community.
The following February, when I was down in his community on a planning trip for a planned Spring Break trip a month later, when I would bring down a group of college student volunteers on a week-long work trip, I stopped over to Norman and Willie’s home, for the first time, to deliver a set of duplicate tapes of the New Years Eve Watch Service.
When I drove into their driveway, and up to their family home nestled among several Walnut, Cedar and Magnolia trees, Norman and Will were sitting out on their screened front porch, on a swinging love seat, swinging and talking.
I got out of my car, walked up to their door, and introduced myself, telling them I was one of the Wisconsin visitors who attended their Watch Service the previous New Years Eve. Norman said hello, and said that he remembered me. They invited me into the porch, and had me sit on a chair near them.
We talked for a few minutes, and then I pulled the two VHS tapes out of the paper bag I was holding and gave them to Norman, saying, as promised, here was a set of tapes for them from the Watch Service, and that I hoped that they would enjoy watching them.
Norman’s reaction was one of surprise, and then he said one of his favorite sayings that I loved about him: “Whatch you say?” He was rather flabbergasted that I would remember the tapes, and even more flabbergasted that I would follow through and provide him with a set.
He and Willie most gracious and appreciative of receiving the tapes, and thanked me over and over for bringing them to them.
I finally said my Goodbyes and drove away, thinking to myself that I had just met two of the most beautiful souls on this earth, veritably “the salt of the earth,” as the old saying goes.
The next trip down, I stopped over to say hello to them again, and there started a loving friendship that has stretched over the many years since.
The following year, one of their sons, Lee, gave them his old ranch home and had it moved to that location, just a short walking distance from their original family home, where they raised their ten living children. Graciously, after they moved into the old house, they consented to allow we Wisconsin mission volunteers to use it for storage and for lodging for our work groups, for many years to come.
As time passed from that first meeting at their Watch Service, I was privileged to come to know and love all of their ten children and their spouse, and many of their grandchildren, including our Reese, who came to make several trips to our home in Wisconsin and came to become a brother to my two sons and my daughter, and another son to my wife and I.
When my oldest son was married, he asked Reese to be in his wedding. My daughter asked Reese also, but Reese had car trouble en route and never made it to the wedding.
My wife and I also made several personal trips down to visit and stay with Norman and Willie over the years, usually in the spring for 3-4 days or so, and would often often act as advocates in their behalf with local governmental agencies over issues they were having with these agencies.
Over the years since our friendship began, while in Mississippi working on homes or delivering shared clothing and so many other things, literally hundreds of Wisconsin missions volunteers, came to stay in Norman and Willie’s old family home, and came to know and love Norman and Willie, too.
Willie was devoted to her family and to others, and was always attempting to reach out to others in her own special ways.
To all who ever stopped to see her, she ALWAYS asked them if they were hungry and if she could cook them something to eat. If it was around bed time, she would always offer to make up a pallet or two, so you could stay and get some rest if you wanted to.
Her home and her heart were always open to you.
Willie was an amazing woman, wife, mother, grandmother, neighbor and friend, who will be missed by all who knew and loved her.
May God grant you peace and some rest, Willie, and please give Norman a hug from me, will you?
See you both, down the road some day, on the other side.
I love you, Willie. We all love you!
-Cards may be sent to the family of Willie Cobbins at: Willie B. Cobbins Family, c/o Reese Cobbins, 2083 CR165, Coila, MS 38923.