At funeral for Ethel Lance, family says she is ‘symbol of love’

Mourners grieve at the funeral service for Ethel Lance at Royal Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston Thursday.

Last week, Nadine Collier stood up at the bond hearing for the man who’s accused of murdering her mother, Ethel Lance, and eight others at Emanuel AME Church on Wednesday, to say that she forgave him, that she hoped God had mercy on his soul.

On Thursday, Lance’s grandchildren continued to illustrate the family’s strength and love as five of them paid tribute to the woman they knew as “Granny” at her funeral service at Royal Missionary Baptist Church, a large sanctuary in North Charleston.

“She was a victim of hate, but she can be a symbol of love,” said Brandon Risher, the oldest of Lance’s grandchildren.

Aja Risher, a granddaughter, shared the same message, adding that she wants her grandmother to be remembered as a “catalyst for this country to change,” and not for being “one of nine victims, but that she is one of nine guardian angels ... watching over everybody.”

Najee Washington was the last grandchild to take the lectern. Her mother — Lance’s daughter Terrie Washington — died in 2013 of cancer, and Najee said she felt “pure joy” that her mother and grandmother were reunited in heaven.

“And I just want to say thank you, Granny, for keeping your promise to my mother before she died, and that was to get me through school,” she said. “Granny graduated high school. My mother graduated college. And now I have to graduate with a master’s.”

Lance, 70, was a mother of five, the matriarch of the family after her husband died in 1988. Described as a caretaker by nature, friends said she took pride in her work as a custodian at Emanuel AME Church, and at the Gaillard Municipal Auditorium, where she retired in 2002 after 34 years.

The venue played a special role in Lance’s life and in her family. It’s where she’d take her grandchildren to see gospel performances when she had a night off. It hosted her daughter Collier’s wedding reception in 2011.

Last week, Collier shared memories from that night, when her mother danced and celebrated with family, friends and former coworkers. “She loved to dance and she loved to sing,” she said.

As the family filed in to the church Thursday to view Lance’s remains, the choir sang “One Day at a Time,” Lance’s favorite song that she sang all the time to herself and to her church group. Collier said it “gave her strength” in difficult times.

During the eulogy, Rev. Norvell Goff, the interim pastor of Emanuel AME, described Lance as a “faithful friend” with an “infectious smile,” who dedicated her life to her family and the church.

“She was at the church seven days of the week. I believe if God gave her eight she would have been there eight days a week. ... Mother Emanuel was deep down in her spirit, her soul.”

Goff told the gathered crowd, which included civil rights leaders the Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, that Lance was part of a greater purpose that was now “bringing folks together and not separating them,” he said, roaring with enthusiasm as applause thundered. “I am here to tell you that we are stronger because we are together as a community.”