Her life was a lesson of ‘love, joy, peace’

Family members of Myra Thompson gather outside Emanuel AME Church on Monday before attending her funeral service.

Myra Thompson never stopped teaching that night.

A retired Charleston County schoolteacher, she taught Scripture one last time at Bible study at Emanuel AME Church. Her lesson drew from Mark 4:14-20, the Parable of the Soil:

And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred.

“Myra had to finish that lesson because little did she or any of them know that she was teaching why they would be the ones to die,” the Rev. Yvonne B. Simmons bellowed from the pulpit, her voice drowning in cheers from the pews. “From everywhere we saw an overflowing abundance of love, joy, peace.”

Thompson, 59, was one of nine African-American parishioners killed in a mass shooting during Bible study at Mother Emanuel on June 17.

At her funeral service at Emanuel on Monday, hundreds wrapped the block around the church and packed the inside. “You can tell by the crowd what kind of person she is,” noted 85-year-old Elouise Eady, after the service had ended.

In the crowded sanctuary, mourners waved programs and paper fans on wooden sticks while ushers patrolled the aisles with bottled water.

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, Gov. Nikki Haley and Charleston Mayor Joe Riley were seated in the front of the church. Thompson’s mahogany casket, crowned in red roses and white orchids, lay at the foot of the chancel.

She was remembered as a tireless woman whose devotion to Mother Emanuel, the church in which she grew up, was second only to her commitment to her family: her husband, the Rev. Anthony Thompson, and children, Kevin Singleton and Denise Quarles. When the lights went out in the chandelier above the sanctuary, she called the Fire Department to replace them. A fixture in the church basement, Thompson had her Bible and hymn book in tow when the Rev. Norvel Goff signed her certificate to preach. That was June 17, the evening of her death. A moment you could say she prepared for her entire life.

“My mother actually prepared me for this day,” her daughter Denise said. “She would often say to me, ‘Dee, Mama isn’t gonna always be around, and I want you to be a good girl and always remember what I taught you.’ ... I told my mom I would do exactly as she instructed me to do, but I never thought she would be gone.”

Thompson was entombed in Carolina Memorial Gardens, wearing clothes from her favorite designer, a St. John ivory jacket and dress her daughter picked out. After the service, as mourners spilled out the front doors and down the stairs of Mother Emanuel, a group had assembled along the iron barricade on Calhoun Street. They were singing “Amazing Grace.”

On the side of the church, near the parking lot, Cynthia Cody, a friend and coworker of Thompson’s daughter, sobbed into the shoulders of a loved one.

“When we walked out the church,” she said, gesturing toward the street, “that gave me a sense of unity and hope.”

“The pain I was feeling ...” She shook her head. “To know God is still with us, there’s hope in the future. Evil doesn’t have power over love.”

Reach Deanna Pan at 937-5764.