Taking Back What Was Once Lost

Remembering Vivian Vandross Waters, 1927-2014

Vivian Waters

Vivian Waters

Yesterday, my family celebrated the homegoing of Vivian Waters. The sun was showing off a little for February and it was a perfect day for the transition of a spirit like hers from this world into the next.

Vivian was raised first on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and then later grew up in Philadelphia. She was hardworking from a young age, as most children of the Depression era were, and believed with a vengeance in education. She attended Delaware State College, where she met her husband Wellington Waters ( who was the brother of my grandmother Pauline). Vivian later completed her degree in French Studies at Howard University. She raised four children with her husband, giving them every educational opportunity possible and raising them with a firm hand of discipline. Her children and grandchildren were always at the center of her heart.

It had only been recently, within the last four years, that I got to know Auntie Vivian (as I affectionately called her) much better. Before, I’d mostly only seen her at family gatherings, but these last four years, we’d seen a lot of more of one another during the illness leading up to her son Skip’s 2010 passing from cancer.

Vivian had a wry sense of humor and loved to laugh. She was a master storyteller and had an opinion on everything. Though a small woman in stature, she had a larger-than-life presence. She had the kind of wisdom birthed from experiencing the hardships of life.

Vivian was a “tough” woman; that was almost universally the first adjective people used to describe her. She was not cut from the cloth of the average woman of that era who were mainly expected to fall in line, follow along, and most of all, do it quietly. Vivian was certainly not going to be quieted! I’ve always admired women with that kind of confidence and fortitude. She did not suffer fools lightly and spoke her truth at all times. She was so very *brave*.

There are so many valuable lessons and experiences our generation needs to continue to learn from her generation. Raised under the grip of Jim Crow, our elders forged a protective shield built around education, family, hard work and the pursuit of excellence. In the march of technology and more equal opportunity, we ought to remember and hold firm to the values they held.

And so it was yesterday, as we celebrated Vivian’s life in a little chapel on top of a hill, amidst plenty of tears but also a lot of laughter. Auntie Vivian, I thank you for the love you showed me and my son. I’ll miss the many long conversations we had about life and parenthood. They were such a gift to me.

In the end, all we could ever hope to have is what Vivian Waters had: a life well-lived on our own terms, with few regrets, a fierce love for family and a peaceful acceptance at death’s calling.

I will miss you, Auntie Vivian. I’ll still be working to find your connection to Luther Vandross;)


  1. Vivian Gross's Gravatar Vivian Gross
    February 23, 2014    

    Hi Robyn,
    Please know that my thoughts and prayers are with you in the loss of your Aunt Vivian. I have learned that people come into your life sometimes for a lifetime and sometimes for a season but you are always blessed by the time you have together. Though your heart will miss her on this earth, what she instilled in you while here is now a part of your “life lessons!” What a beautiful legacy of wisdom, purpose, determination and love she left to inspire others. The countless ways she touched your life is such a special blessing!


    (Your Other) Aunt Vivian

  2. February 23, 2014    

    We’ll said daughter. Dad

  3. February 24, 2014    

    What a wonderful tribute! Condolences to your family.

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About Me

I blog, teach, write and lecture about family history research and it's just as rewarding today as it was when I began 18 years ago. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my past and I've taken back--reclaimed- my kin and some of that lost memory.  

Post History

What I Talk About

Locations and Surnames

Hardin, Chester and Lawrence Counties, TN
Holt, Barnes, Harbour, Bradley Springer and Fendricks
Lawrence County, AL
Springer and Fendricks
Montgomery County, MD
Prather, Simpson
Somerset County, MD
Waters, Fountain, Curtis
Duval and Madison County, FL
Smith, Harris, Garner

Favorite Family History Quotes

"The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past."
-William Faulkner

"Call it a clan, call it a network, all it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one"
- Jane Howard

"Friends are God's apologies for relations."
-Hugh Kingsmill

"No matter what you've done for yourself or for humanity, if you can't look back on having given love and attention to your own family, what have you really accomplished?"
-Elbert Hubbard

"Families are like fudge; mostly sweet with a few nuts."

"If you can't get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you might as well make it dance!"

"Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city;)"
-George Burns

"Where does the family start? It starts with a young man falling in love with a girl. No superior alternative has yet been found."
-Winston Churchill

"The great gift of family life is to be intimately acquainted with people you might never ever introduce yourself to had life not done it for you."
-Kendall Hailey

"If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all the generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people."
-Thich Nhat Hanh