Willie Mae Phillips Owens Ross was born in Branchville, SC in the McBranch Community on September 29, 1916. She was the daughter of the late Isaiah Phillips, the first black insurance agent in the State of South Carolina with Carolina Life Insurance Company, and Viola Phillips.
Her mother died when she was nine (9) and her father remarried a wonderful woman by the name of Alice Smith who raised her. Not only was she a wonderful mother, but also a great Christian model that shaped Willie Mae’s entire life.
Willie Mae received her education at McBranch School and the West School. She accepted Christ as her personal savior early in life, and joined the Zion Methodist Church in Branchville, SC.
At the age of twenty (20), she fell in love with and married Clifton Owens. They were blessed with eleven (11) children, of which Willie Lee, Harold, Maxine Evola, Captain Anthony Owens, and Clifton Owens, Jr. have preceded her in death. After her marriage, she joined and was baptized at McBranch Baptist Church where she was a member of the Senior Choir.
She was the Secretary of the Free Gift Missionary and Educational Union for 35 years, as well as Secretary of the White Rose Chapter and Order of the Eastern Star for a number of years.
The Methodist Home (now known as Methodist Oaks) employed Willie Mae for eighteen (18) years until she retired as Supervisor of House Keeping.
In 1965, while working at the Methodist Home, a co-worker, Delphiene Gordon asked Willie Mae to be her mother. She thought she was being made fun of at first, but for more than forty (40) years, Delphiene was a wonderful daughter. Delphiene preceded Willie Mae in death just a few years ago.
She lived a long life and was the last of her siblings. Her sisters and brothers were: Julious, Samuel, Abraham (“AC”), Classie and Catherine Phillips, Mary P. Ward, Mattie Phillips Felder, Juanita Phillips Tatum Lewis, Carrie Mae Henderson, Jerome Phillips, Louis Smith, and Tommie Smith.
Her beloved husband of 48 years (Clifton Owens) passed away on November 6, 1984. After his death, God sent another wonderful man and his family into her life — Reverend Blease Ross. After a short courtship, Reverend Ross asked her if she would become his wife and she said “Yes.” Their wedding was held at McBranch Baptist Church on December 1, 1985—the first Sunday in December.
Not only was she blessed with a wonderful husband, but God also blessed her with five additional children: Paul H, Willie N, Delores, Jean, and Daniel. Sadly, Daniel passed away suddenly in 1990.
In 1981, her son—Isaiah (Boogie) Owens opened his second Funeral Home, this one in Branchville, South Carolina. The first one was opened in Harlem, New York in 1970.
Willie Mae became his Business Partner, Co-Owner and worked for the Funeral Home for the remainder of her life.
She was also preceded in death by grandsons: Michael Bernard Owens, Maury Kashawn Ross, Joshua Owens, and her great-grandson: Theopolis LaBron Berry. From the adopted children, Ester K. Berry and Isaac Keitt preceded her in death.
She will be remembered by her sons: Paul Ross of Branchville SC, Willie Ross of Branchville SC, Lynn (Valerie) Owens of Branchville SC, Jethro (Mable) Owens of Columbia SC, Robert Jeremiah (Donna) Owens of Englewood NJ, Isaiah (Lillie) Owens of Mt. Vernon New York, Ronald Owens of Manaheim, Germany, and Daughters: Delores Owens of Columbia, SC., Delores Ross of Norwalk, Conn., and Jean Barrett of Norwalk, Conn., Daughter-in-Law: Linda Owens of Sumter, SC.
She is also survived by her adopted children to include: Ruth Carolyn (Jim) Harvey of Orangeburg, SC., Andria “Tonya” Green Felder of Branchville, SC., Evelyn (David) Thomas of Elloree, SC., Felder (Fannie) Stokes, Jr. of Branchville, SC.
She is also survived by forty-four (44) grandchildren, seventy-six (76) great grandchildren, fifteen (15) great-great grandchildren, “Her Brady Bunch” - The Murrays, Virgie McBride—Far Rockaway, New York, Helen, Gladys, and Clarence all of Branchville SC, and a multitude of nieces, nephews, grand nieces, grand nephews, great grand nieces, great grand nephews, and many other relatives and friends.