Centenarian soldier remembered as loving and faithful leader in Raleigh
By: Major Frank Duracher
Bessie Emory, 100, was honored in 2021 with a birthday celebration following the Sunday worship service at The Salvation Army’s Raleigh International Corps. “Miss Bessie,” as she is known by hundreds of the “kids” she mentored over the years, was surprised to see some of them in attendance who made the trip just to honor her.
But an event of more infinite importance occurred just a few months later.
Few Salvation Army soldiers can boast living to age 100; much less spending over 90 percent of that life in service in this Great Salvation War. But Bessie can.
Bessie was converted on March 31, 1935 and enrolled as a soldier 18 months later on October 4, 1936. Her leadership as a local officer began almost immediately, influencing an innumerable line of young people in the Raleigh Corps. These children and teens grew up to become successful homemakers, business leaders, advisory board members, Salvation Army Soldiers and officers.
“She was always a loving leader,” recalls Brenda Perry, one of Miss Bessie’s many Sunbeams and Girl Guards through the years. “I learned so much from her.”
“As a local officer in The Salvation Army, she was always here at the corps,” says Lillie DeBerry Anderson, a member of the Rocky Mount Advisory Board. “She was a staple in this corps for many decades and encouraged all of us.”
Lib Tiller, another longtime soldier of the Raleigh Corps, agrees, adding, “Bessie was so faithful as a role model—which was and still is so very important for young people.”
Taking in all the fuss, Miss Bessie could only think about the family, friends, and fellow Salvationists she knew since her service to the Lord began in the 1930s.
“Its hard to put all this together,” Bessie said. “I’m thinking about all the changes—good and bad—over the years. And I’m thinking about the blessings I’ve received, and I’m thankful to God for everything!”
Fast forward five months, and the news came of the passing of international celebrity Betty White, just days short of her own milestone of life at 100 years. This happened the same month as Bessie’s passing and what The Salvation Army describes as a Promotion to Glory.
Bessie’s entrance into Heaven did not receive accolades far and wide. Her picture was not featured on the cover of glossy magazines. No television network devoted footage and airtime to her work among the youth of the Raleigh Corps over the past nine decades.
And yet, the “Welcome Home” she now experiences from King Jesus is much better. In fact, it is still going on.
During her 94 years of Soldiership, Bessie saw 24 sets of Corps Officers come and go at the Raleigh Corps; as well as 37 Assistant Officers. One of her former pastors, Major Al Smith, preached a powerful sermon at Bessie’s celebration of life service. A few other former corps and assistant officers were also in attendance that morning. Young people (now much older) she touched were also there. All paid tribute to a remarkable life in service Bessie humbly offered to help build God’s Kingdom.
Perhaps you know someone like Bessie Emory. Maybe some similar faithful soldier made an impression on your life. It is likely that mentor will not achieve becoming a centenarian, like Bessie.
But Bessie would say that even that does not matter. What matters is what is done for Christ and in His name.