Ethel Lance loved to dress up and take her family to see performances at the Gaillard Municipal Auditorium when she wasn’t on duty there as a custodian.
She started working at the venue in 1968 when it first opened, and she stayed until retirement in 2002, according to Cam Patterson, director of special facilities for the city of Charleston, who worked with Lance at the Gaillard for many years.
Patterson said Lance was not only a co-worker, but a friend.
“She was funny and a pleasure to be around. And she was a wonderful mother and grandmother,” Patterson said. “She would have her children and grandchildren come to the Gaillard from time to time. She was like me, a no-nonsense grandmother and I know they are going to miss her terribly.”
Lance was one of nine victims of the shooting at Emanuel AME Church on Wednesday night. Family members said she also was a custodian at the church for roughly 30 years, but on Wednesday she was there as a faithful member of the congregation.
Lance, 70, grew up in Charleston and raised five children in West Ashley.
She is survived by a son, Gary L. Washington, and three daughters, Sharon W. Risher, Nadine L. Collier and Esther Lance.
“A strong woman,” was the first phrase that came to Esther Lance’s mind to describe her mother.
Her voice cracked as she fought back tears, explaining that this isn’t the first time her family has dealt with loss.
Lance’s husband and the father of her children, Nathaniel Lance, died in 1988. In October 2013, her daughter Terrie Washington died of cancer at age 53.
And Ethel Lance was the matriarch, the “strong woman who just tried to keep her family together,” Esther Lance said.
She was dedicated to Emanuel AME Church, where she was a lifelong member, Esther Lance said. As its custodian, she took pride in looking after the historic church.
“If she saw a scuff on the floor she’d say, ‘Oh no, don’t y’all mess up my floor’,” Esther Lance said, adding that’s just the way her mother was.
“If she saw something wrong, she’ll tell you,” Esther Lance said. “When you right, you’re right. But if you’re wrong, she will let you know. She’s not going to sugar-coat anything.”
But her mother was happy, full of joy, she added. She always found time to spoil her seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, by buying them gifts and taking them to the movies.
“Just Monday, we were in my yard, laughing and joking,” Esther said.
The family is receiving friends at 109 Peppertree Lane in North Charleston. Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.
Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail