Lorraine Marion Gardner was born to Charlotte and Berkeley Hazard Burgess in Montclair NJ October 18th 1927. She was the middle child and the last of the 3 children to be born in the Burgess home by a midwife. Lorraine was the classic middle child, shy determined.
She attended Nishuane elementary, Hillside middle, and Montclair high schools. Nearing her high school graduation she had the temerity to desire to go to college. Her school counselor, as was the habit in the 1940’s for Black youth, suggested that she her sights lower.
Instead, she enrolled at the Manhattan General Hospital dietician’s program. In order to save money she not only studied and interned, she also lived there. Upon completion of her course work she worked and continued to live at the hospital for several years. In 1954 she started her career at Clara Mass in Bellville, NJ as a certified dietician. She continued to work hard and eventually became the head dietician at Clara Mass. She had obtained one of her professional goals.
One snowy night in the early 40’s Lorraine’s mother noticed a woman standing at the bus stop in front of the Burgess home. Charlotte told Lorraine to go outside and invite the woman in because the busses had stopped running. Her name was Ruth Gardner. She stayed the night and became a lifetime family friend. Ruth had a son named Harry. In 1952 Lorraine Burgess married Harry Gardner. A little over a year later Lorraine gave birth to a Lenore Marie Gardner. In 1957 their family was complete when a son, Howard Stanley Gardner was born.
Life can throw you curve balls. Shortly after Howard’s birth Lorraine’s husband went to work and never returned. For six months the family had no idea where he was. Later they learned that he was in a horrific accident and suffered severe brain damage. He was confined to a hospital for the remainder of his life. This left Lorraine as a single parent caring for 2 young children. With her faith in God and the support and love of her family Lorraine successfully raised her children imbuing them with her faith in God and the support and love of the extended family.
In 1967 Lorraine was hired but the city of Paterson to run and coordinate their senior program that included the pilot program of Meals on Wheels. She had 4 sites that offered seniors in Patterson socialization and seasonal entertainment. She worked there until her retirement in 1991. Upon retirement, the mayor of Paterson awarded her the “Outstanding Civil Service” award. She received many other awards for her work including the National Caucus on Black Aging Award (1982), the National Association for Nutrition and Aging Award (1983), and countless others.
What is more representative of who Lorraine as woman that her civic responsibility y and her desire to help those in need. Often, Frank Penn, principal of East Orange High School and family friend, would bring troubled youth to her for a job. She hired them but would be quick to fire them if they did not do what was required. It was not unlike Lorraine to drive around Paterson, see one of her vans parked outside a bar and go inside and retrieve the keys and let them know they had lost their job. Her civic responsibility continued after retiring. Lorraine, Sis Cummings, and Lorraine’s sister, Phyllis formed a neighborhood group that would often petition Montclair’s council members to address problems in the community. She also joined the Status of Women, and organization that supported women victims of domestic violence. She would show up at the scene, accompany the women to the police station, or the hospital, and even show up at court to ensure the female victims were treated with respect, dignity, and fairness.
Another long standing affiliation was Lorraine’s involvement with the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs. It is the oldest Black welfare organization in America. It was formed in 1896 and Mary Church Terrell was its 1st president. Among the organizations goals was to work on economic, moral, and religious welfare of women and children. Also, to promote other social issues such as political influence and interracial understanding. Their motto: We lift as we climb.
Faith was a hallmark of Lorraine’s life. She joined Trinity Presbyterian Church in 1949, following her mother who joined the church earlier when it was in Bloomfield. Lorraine has been a Deacon, an Elder, and sang in the choir. She began the scholarship program for the high school graduates from Trinity.
Lorraine’s true devotion to her husband and kids was exemplary. Every Sunday she and the kids visited their father in the VA hospital. She remained married to him until his death in 1987.
Lorraine Marion Gardner led a rich life that impacted many people. She loved God, family, and being a civic minded leader. She leaves behind her son, Howard Gardner, many cousins, nieces and nephews along with their families.
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Lorraine Gardner, please visit our floral store.