Sharon Sheffield recovered from accident to fulfill God's calling
LYNN HAVEN, Feb 10, 2013 (The News Herald - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Sharon Sheffield developed an ear for others' ideas at the dinner table.
"Every Sunday, I don't care how busy we thought things were going to be, we had to sit at that table together," she said.
As the only daughter and eldest child of three, Sheffield said the dinner table was where her family shared news.
"I brought my children up the same way," she added. "And that gave me an opportunity to find out what was going on in their lives, and it gave me an opportunity to share with them what was happening with me."
Sheffield, 71, was born and raised in Lynn Haven and had lived outside the city only one time, for six months in Panama City. Her mother, Senesta Marshall of Sneads, raised Sheffield and her two younger brothers with the help of her parents who lived next door.
"I saw her struggle," Sheffield said about her mother. "I'd wake up during the night and hear her praying and somehow or another, with her working the way she did, we had" everything we needed.
Her mother worked for a white family of Lynn Haven, the Cooleys, as a maid. They treated Marshall "as if she was one of their children," Sheffield said.
One evening in 1958, Marshall and a 16-year-old Sheffield were at a choir rehearsal at Allen Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, when her mother had to leave early.
"We were singing a song that night; I'll never forget that, 'We're Soldiers in the Army,' " she said.
After rehearsal was over, she rode to her house with a musician and singer. Upon exiting the car, Sheffield was struck by a "traveling salesman."
"I remember getting out of the car, but I don't remember anything [about the accident] from that day until" today, she said.
Sheffield was hospitalized at Bay Memorial, today Bay Medical Center, and was unconscious for two weeks. The doctors believed she wouldn't live, or if she did, she wouldn't be able to walk, she was told.
The driver also was in bad condition.
"He told my mom he didn't see me," she said.
While Sheffield was in the hospital, the "traveling salesman" requested for an update on her condition and, at some point, had given Marshall his number instead of depending on an insurance agent to contact him for a report.
But, by the time Marshall called to tell him that Sheffield would be fine, "he died; he was a white guy ...," Sheffield said.
"His wife said he'd died from pressure of believing that he'd killed me," she added. "And from that day forward I knew, when I got on my feet, that God had a calling for me."
Destined to serve
Her high school classmates at Rosenwald prophesied she would become a politician, and in 1986, she said, God let her know the prophesy would be fulfilled. "So I did run," she said.
"I believe in the political arena; there are people that can do things a little better than others and the key to it is communication. I can't stand people fighting. ... I can't stand people who don't want to listen to other people's ideas," Sheffield said, noting she was always able to communicate well with people.
Sheffield's only daughter, Charlotte Marshall, principle at Merritt Brown Middle School, said she was concerned for her mother because she "knew what politics were like in Lynn Haven," recalling out-of-control commission meetings.
Entering the political stage wouldn't be easy.
Threatening phone calls and dead animals being delivered to her yard are some of Marshall's memories during her mother's campaigning and election.
"I was concerned, but I knew that she had a vision and a mission to help people," Marshall said.
Nonetheless, Sheffield was elected as commissioner by the city's citizenry.
"It was a proud day for the overall black community ... and Lynn Haven supported her and Lynn Haven wasn't majority black, so it was an even bigger celebration," said Myron Hines, chairman of ACURE, the advisory committee for urban revitalization equity.
Sheffield served as a commissioner until being appointed as mayor by city commissioners in 1991 after the mayor at the time, Ron Barber, resigned.
Despite a narrow defeat (991 to 863 votes) in the 1992 election by a former mayor, the late Montel Johnson, Sheffield continued to serve the Lynn Haven community, serving on recreation and code enforcement boards.
Politics aside, Sheffield was still recognized as a public servant.
In 1995, a recreation board made a recommendation to commissioners to name the park on Ohio Avenue after her, hence Sharon Sheffield Park. According to a News Herald article, during an April 1995 commission meeting, about 30 residents attended the meeting in support of naming the park after Sheffield.
At the meeting, the Rev. Charles Clark said he feared the board would overlook the recommendation and pursue renaming 17th Street, located in what was considered a "black" area of Lynn Haven, after Sheffield.
However, commissioners voted 4-1 to name the park after Sheffield.
Seeing past racism
An avid believer in "keeping the kids off the street," locals will more than likely encounter a cheering Sheffield at local youth sports games.
"The city of Lynn Haven has always been known for great athletic programs with our youth," Sheffield said, noting as a member of city government, she'd always find money to support youth sports.
Listening to children is key to their success, Sheffield said.
As a mother of four boys, she witnessed the impact sport activity had in her sons' lives, often using it as a levy to encourage good grades.
One son, James Carroll Sheffield, continues to impact Mosley's athletic program today. Every year, Sheffield presents the James Carroll Sheffield Award to a Mosley athlete.
James Sheffield was an athlete who played "everything but basketball," she said.
As a junior at Mosley, he drowned while swimming at Bay Park Manor, a place where he worked during Spring Break in April 1979.
When she received a phone call from her cousin about the incident, "Personally, I couldn't believe it," she said.
A family member rushed to her house to see how she was doing, and when he entered, "I was screaming. ... I told him take me down there; I need to bring my child home."
Although she couldn't swim, she said she entered the water to go "and get my baby."
"All of these people of Lynn Haven that had been my friends all these years, were there, helping because they knew him and they knew me," she said.
Mosley's athletic program retired James Sheffield's varsity jersey, #24, the same year.
"The outpouring of love from the entire city of Lynn Haven," she said, pausing and slowly shaking her head, "that's why I can overlook a little racism, because when it comes to the people, they love me and my family."
She added that Steve Southerland Sr. helped her to see the impact her son made in his death, uniting people and causing some to "come to Christ."
Although she gave one son "back to God," her other children, one son a firefighter, another a director at Goodwill Industries, the other a retired Navy officer, and Marshall, a principal, are all public servants as well.
"As far as kids are concerned, I let them know that you can be and do anything you want to be and do; you just got to focus and want it bad enough," she said. "But I also tell them, never step on anybody to get where you want to go."
Using that same principle, Sheffield became the chairwoman of the Patterson Elementary Oversight Committee, District 11 commissioner at the Christian Debutante-Master Dedication Commission, Sunday school superintendent at Allen Chapel AME and continues to serve on public service boards throughout the city.
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