The Reverend Shirley Mae Bouie Deavens, religious columnist for The St. Louis American newspaper, retired educator and founder of the World Overcomers Christian Center, passed away on November 12, 2010 in St. Louis. She was 72.
On Nov. 17, her life was celebrated at West Side Missionary Baptist Church at 4675 Page Blvd, where she was ordained in the ministry in 1994. She was buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery following the service.
She is survived by her sister Jean (Edgar) Collins of Avondale, LA; sons Greg (Beverly) Deavens of Farmington, CT and Darwin (Pam Lawton) Deavens of Hoosick Falls, NY; granddaughters Sheonte and Kia Deavens of Tallahassee, FL; Leticia Joseph of Ft. Lauderdale, FL; Tarrynn and Danielle Deavens of Farmington, CT; her favorite grandson Greg (“G2”) Deavens of Farmington, CT; and her two great grandchildren Jaylond Deavens and Marian Betz. She is also mourned by Carl M. Deavens of St. Louis, MO to whom she was married for 48 years, as well as a host of other relatives and friends.
Shirley Deavens was known as a “spiritual mother” by many. She encouraged all she met to choose a positive outlook on life, her friends and family said.
In May 2002, she founded the World Overcomers Christian Center with the vision of creating a place for people who are overcoming challenges in their lives, said Gregory Deavens, her son. The center moved to various locations over the years, but the ministry remained constant.
In her late 30s and 40s, Shirley became interested in motivational speaking, Gregory said. And through forming the center, she worked to integrate motivational speaking with faith concepts.
“It was a place to establish a relationship with God and learn skills that people could apply to any area of their lives and become successful individuals,” Gregory said.
In peak times, the congregation had 100-plus members, but in the later years, it was 50 to 60 people, he said.
Tonya Stewart, an associate pastor at the center, said she first met Shirley at the West Side Missionary Baptist Church 12 years ago. Shirley took Stewart under her wing then, she said, and did so again when Stewart began learning the ministry at the center three years ago.
“She was a phenomenal lady,” Stewart said. “She was always inspiring someone. Once you heard her speak, you were inspired to pray or read the Word of God. She loved the Word of God; she loved to teach the Word of God.”
Gregory said Shirley had a collection of 50 different Bibles at her home, which will be given to her family and friends.
‘Living the Abundant Life’
In whatever Shirley did, she left a legacy, Stewart said.
She started a national teleconference prayer line that takes place Monday through Wednesday at 5 a.m.
She was a retired educator who worked in both the St. Louis Public Schools and the Ferguson-Florissant School District for many years. She was one of the initiators of the magnet school system.
Deavens was known throughout the St. Louis area for her strong commitment to spreading the Word of God – most notably, through her “Living the Abundant Life” column that appeared in the American for more than 25 years.
“She was an exemplary colleague, a faithful columnist with an inspirational message for her loyal audience every week,” said Donald M. Suggs, publisher of the American. “She was an outstanding advocate for her faith, and she was deeply committed to her family and her church.”
Many people would come to the congregation after reading her articles, Stewart said.
“So many people said how the articles she wrote saved them from committing suicide and how they had to meet her,” she said.
Her column had a very loyal following. In recent weeks, as her health declined at The American began to reprint former columns, readers noticed and began to ask if Shirley was unwell.
Shirley prayed over every article, Stewart said, asking what God wanted to come into the article. In her last new column, published on Nov. 4, 2010, Shirley wrote,
“You cannot win walking in partial truths. You must know that God’s word will never fail you. We have his power living in us and it is ever available to bring about the changes that need to take place.”
Not only did Shirley write this, she lived it.
“The things she wrote about in The American, people got to read them every week, but we got to hear them every single day of our lives,” said Darwin Deavens, her son. “That’s truly how she raised us.”
Greg’s fondest memories of his mother are from the holiday season.
“She loved being with family,” he said. “She always looked forward to decorating and shopping for the holidays.”
He will always remember her message at the end of Christmas dinner. For decades, without fail, after dinner Shirley would ask her family what their goals were and what they accomplished last year.
“Then she would ask if we had written them down yet, because revisiting your goals on a regular basis is an important part of achieving them,” Greg said. “And that was part of her normal ritual.”
Darwin remembers that she always dressed to the nines.
“She loved high heels,” Darwin said. “I remember being downstairs in the basement hearing the sound of her heels. I could tell what kind of mood she was in by the way she walked.”
Tuskegee to St. Louis
Shirley was born in New Orleans on April 20, 1938. She was the eldest of two children, and her parents Isaac and Mary Bouie preceded her in death.
Shirley graduated in 1960 from Tuskegee University in Alabama with a Bachelor’s degree in education. That’s where she met her good friend Sallie Bradford.
Bradford remembers that the two women bonded when they started talking about their interests in two men, who were friends from St. Louis. Those men later became their husbands. (Sallie’s husband, Billy Alfred Ford, died this summer, and Carl Deavens, Shirley’s husband of 48 years, was no longer married to Shirley but was still supportive of her until she passed.)
“We were up-bound ladies,” Bradford said. “Ever since we’ve been in St. Louis, our lives have blossomed.”
Both started working at the St. Louis Public Schools in 1964 and loved the challenge, she said. They became certified as reading specialists to help their students improve their reading and then went on to get their administrative certifications.
“We both became principals,” she said. “We both were writers, talkers, church-goers.”
One day, Bradford remembers Shirley leaning over her office space and saying, “I have a calling on my life.”
Shirley brought that calling into everything she did, from work in her sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. (Gamma Omega Chapter) to her frequent seminars and business endeavors. Through one of her recent business ventures Success Seekers, LLC (a motivational/educational consulting firm), she developed Project RISE (Raising Individual’s Success Expectancy) to focus on increasing achievement levels and educational success for students of various ages.
“She has inspired so many people to think on the positive side. You could not discuss negativity with her. There was no room for that,” Bradford said.
“Many of the things that she taught, I’ve used to stay strong in what I do. I miss her so much already. Even in her period of illness, she still tried to inspire others to go forward.”
Bradford said the happiest times of Shirley’s life were when she was in the pulpit declaring the Word. Gregory said she could deliver a prayer better than anyone he had ever seen.
St. Louis gospel icon Merdean Fielding Gales, who worked for Fox 2 News for 18 years, would interview Shirley as a columnist, especially when talking about youth issues.
Gales remembers walking down the hall at Fox News one day, and Shirley turned to her and said that the Lord was speaking through her. “Shirley told me, ‘I feel you have a deeper spiritual connection than you’ve dreamed of. I see you traveling,’” Gales said.
Sure enough, Gales became a co-host of the Bobby Jones Gospel Hour which airs on Black Entertainment Television and has been traveling continuously for the past 15 years on at least three continents.
“Shirley predicted this 20 years ago,” Gales said.
Gales also remembers that there was never a conversation when Shirley didn’t talk about her family, especially her sons.
Darwin remembers, “She would always kiss me on my lips and look in my eyes and say, ‘You are my special child.’ I won’t hear those things again, except for spiritually. Right now, she’s all around me.”
Look for additional memories of Shirley in her column space in future editions of the paper while we recruit inspirational columnists.