Shirlee RoseBelle Nelson Lewis Carter (nicknamed “Mom Carter”, “Rowie” or “Rose”) was born July 23, 1928 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the fifth child of Robert H. Nelson Sr. and Katie Lee Nelson. She transitioned from this life on March 7, 2021 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
However you knew her by name, you also knew she loved The Lord, her immediate and extended family, her friends – she did not know a stranger! So, it is no surprise that many will miss her caring words, kind spirit and ever-present smile. She is described by her supporters as “a beacon of righteousness and spirituality, deeply cherished, Auntie – with an
Shirlee gave her life to Christ as a youth, taught by her itinerant-preacher father and God-fearing mother at home. She began her Christian education at Camphor Memorial Methodist Church, just up the street from her house.
Shirlee graduated from Westinghouse High School in 1946, Homeroom #238. Her class members remembered her as “sweet and swell”. While growing up, there were several future influential jazz artists that would come to her parents’ house to play the piano. Billy Strayhorn and Ahmad Jamal (“Fritzie”) were two of those people, and they attended the same high school as Shirlee.
At another time, a friend of her mother brought Marian Anderson by the house to visit. This encouraged Shirlee’s love of music of all types.
As the fifth of thirteen siblings, Shirlee was brought into the family business early. Her father owned and managed parking garages and a tire repair shop in Pittsburgh – the first Black man to do so. She went to work for her father at his parking garage handling the books – The sons parked the cars; the daughters managed the cash register. This entrepreneurial spirit developed
businesspersons who were car dealers, salon owners, and beauty consultants among the siblings.
This is where she met her first true love, John Ashby Lewis (1924-1962). John worked days at the Blood Bank and the Post Office, and nights as a musician. He parked his car in the garage, and they had several encounters before they went on their first date. Shirlee married John on August 14, 1950. Two daughters, Linda Marie (1952) and Kathye Ellen (1955) were born to them. John died of pancreatic cancer on June 22, 1962, at age 37, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Shirlee would work as a teacher’s aide at Lincoln Elementary to oversee her children’s education. She briefly studied at the University of Pittsburgh to increase her marketability. To achieve the goal for her girls to attend the colleges of their choice, she successfully secured a job as a bank teller, a Board of Elections supervisor, finally a postal clerk, retiring from the US Postal Service December 3, 1992.
This is where she met her future husband, Henry John Carter (1924-2001). Shirlee married Henry on August 4, 1984, and shortly thereafter, they invited “Daughter#3”, Marilyn Christine, to be part of the family unit.
Henry subsequently returned to licensed ministry work as an Associate Pastor. Shirlee became first lady at John Wesley AME Zion and later Holiday AME Zion. As with everything she took her responsibilities seriously, including activities in the Missionary Society.
After serving at John Wesley, she returned to her home church, Homewood AME Zion, with her husband. She was a dedicated Conference attendee and was a Life member of the Women’s Home and Overseas Missionary Society.
At Homewood, her involvement with the Missionary Society #1 included leadership roles as President, Vice President, Treasurer, Chaplin, and Advisor. She supported the Annual Missionary Tea fundraisers that were held at the church and invited her family and friends to join these affairs. She was inducted into the Homewood AME Zion Hall of Fame on September 13, 2003.
After her husband passed away of cancer on September 18, 2001, Shirlee began to consider moving from Pittsburgh. It took several years but in 2011, she made the move to Cincinnati, Ohio to live with her daughter Kathye. She joined New Vision United Methodist Church and became a member of the United Methodist Women and the Women of Vision Ministry. She was an active member, attending bible study and regular services while contributing to the church. She genuinely enjoyed the fellowship and supported the Scholarship Fund and Capital Campaign drives.
Shirlee was an inspiration to many of the members at New Vision. Despite many medical challenges, she continued to persevere and profess her love of the Lord. She loved reading Scripture and was glad to serve when asked.
Along with the other women in the church who were 90 years and older, she was recognized as a part of Women’s Day weekend in 2018 as a Fierce Woman in the Lord. Shirlee also supported community events and she became a favorite of many honored guests who headlined galas: Blair Underwood and Danny Glover to name a few!
Shirlee was humbled to be the younger sister of Robert H. Nelson, Jr., a Tuskegee Airman and Chicago businessperson. She supported “Red Tails” activities in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. During her life, Shirlee traveled around the world, an avid tourist. As a member of the Twilighters’ Club of Pittsburgh, she cruised to Nova Scotia and went to Las Vegas. With her husband Henry, she traveled to Hong Kong, Hawaii, the Caribbean, and across the United States by rail to the Grand Canyon and Pacific Northwest. With her family, she traveled to Greece and Antigua. Shirlee always enjoyed Birthday and Holiday road trips to New York, Cincinnati, D.C., Columbus, and other cities where she had relatives and friends.
During the current Pandemic, the family decided to hold bi-weekly virtual calls due to Shirlee’s insistence that she wanted to stay in contact during the quarantine. As matriarch of the Nelson clan, along with her Sister-in-law Juanita Nelson (who turned 100 last year), she felt it was important to maintain communication, even while living all across the country.
The family continues to update the Nelson family tree and share stories through the surviving siblings, so the 5th through 8th generations can carry on the Nelson legacy. Shirlee may not have had grandchildren, but she was intentional in supporting the grandchildren of her siblings and anyone in the family who demonstrated a desire to improve educationally and professionally.
Through the Negro Educational Emergency Drive (NEED), the Rev. Henry J. and Shirlee L. Carter Scholarship was created to support students advanced learning expenses after high school. She also acquired “bonus” daughters and sons, as the friends of her children needed the wisdom of motherly advice.
“Mom Carter” always had an ear to hear the needs of those that needed her – and as they have shared in response to her passing: “We loved her, too!”
Shirlee is preceded in death by her parents, siblings Lenore (Edward-RIH) Prout, Robert H. Nelson Jr., Wilbur (Juanita) Nelson, Carl (Geri-RIH) Nelson, Calvin (Charlotte-RIH) Nelson, Katherine Dalton (Roy) Pratt, Anthony (Donna-RIH) Nelson, C. Elayne (Frank) Washington, Gwen (Alonzo-RIH) Johnson, Mary (George) Brown.
She is survived by her daughters and spouses: Linda Marie, Kathye Ellen (Greg) Norman, Marilyn Christine (Leonard) Thompson; siblings Paul (Joyce) Nelson, Horace (Vanessa-RIH) Nelson, Eddie (Marceline-RIH) Nelson, Yvonne (Lance-RIH) Smith; in-laws Juanita (Wilbur-RIH) Nelson, Frank (Elayne-RIH) Washington, and George (Mary-RIH) Brown; numerous cousins, nieces, nephews; “bonus” daughters and sons, and cherished friends. “She lived out her days praising the Lord and loving her family…”Micah 6:8 And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, To love mercy, To walk humbly with your God.
Service is on March 27 at Carrone Baptist Church, 7119 Frankstown Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15208. Visitation is from 10:00am-11:30am. A live stream link for the service will be available through Spriggs-Watson Funeral Home: http://www.grievefromhome.com
Submitted by the family.