Lena Rahming. An icon.The people’s Mayor of Boynton Beach. May she rest in peace
Mrs. Lena Rahming-Williams, a renowned community activist and child care advocate in Boynton Beach, died on Feb. 16.
Affectionately and respectfully referred to as “Ms. Lena,” the Bahamas native was best known for pioneering the Head Start program in Palm Beach County and working for nearly 50 years to provide educational resources to low-income children and families from all ethnicities and cultures, according to friend, Terry Newton.
“This woman was an icon with Palm Beach County Head Start,” he said. “She was there from the inception and she was involved in child care before.”
In addition to being the director of the Boynton Beach Child Care Center for more than a dozen years, Mrs. Rahming-Williams was a tenacious community activist who was considered the people’s ambassador in Boynton Beach, according to her family.
“She was a heavyweight. She definitely was a powerhouse,” her niece, Vernita Gates said. “When Lena spoke, everybody had to listen.”
For 25 years, she was the chairwoman of the city of Boynton Beach’s Black Awareness Program. She also headed the Caring Center’s Food Pantry for 30 years.
Politicians aspiring to office in Palm Beach County knew the wisdom of seeking “Ms. Lena’s” endorsement. She hosted a campaign appearance by former President Bill Clinton on behalf of candidate Barack Obama, during the 2008 election campaign.
“If there was a need for funding in certain areas she got on the ball,” Gates said. “If she really liked that politician she really got out there with the bullhorn.”
She is survived by her husband of 25 years, Edward Williams; two adult sons, Dwight and Glenn Rahming; and several grandchildren
This is a personal reflection, and from this view point, my focus is her community allegiances, which revealed the woman. Allow me, therefore, to use this lens and snapshot Miss Lena.
Arguably, her number one interest was the City of Boynton Beach, about 10 miles south of West Palm Beach, Florida. She bragged about over 40 years employment there, working mostly with pre-school children and their families. This was a source of influence – among fellow employees, patrons of the day care facility, and peers in the city – that earned the title of “Peoples Mayor.” She knew Boynton and Boynton knew her – this was her town.
She spread her popularity through the grass roots communities in South Florida, many Bahamian descended. A significant black population of this region share a proud ancestry from the islands, strongly identifying with grand parents who migrated from the sprawling archipelago, less than 100 miles across the way. Lena spoke in Bahamian colloquialisms, even among VIP friends, not putting on, but maintaining a peculiar linguistic connection with her ethnic group. Instead, the politicians put on that people friendly tone with her, referring to her as Miss Lena, imitating the local people’s respectful salutation. She epitomized Bahamian pride, reminding everyone that she came from a sovereign country and back home her family was influential.
As moderator of her memorial service, introducing the “As I knew her” portion of the program, I joked that people had been impressed by her in a variety of ways, and would define her in diverse ways, like the blind man attempting to describe the proverbial elephant. But God forbid we extend that metaphor to the Republican political party’s mascot. No way! She was a die hard Democrat. Proudly portrayed at her school was a picture of Lena hugging Hillary Clinton during the Democratic Primaries before the 2008 Presidential Election. Several officials of the party spoke highly of Lena Rahming during her homegoing service.
She was my friend, this Bahamian born resident of Boynton Beach, a fellow community activist. My older sister was her school mate back in the Bahamas, which covenanted her attitude toward me, a term of endearment, a loyalty to our shared past.
They called that night about the heart attack. Shocking news! She did not seem dead. However, the nephew paced, inside and outside the hospital. Other family silently sat and gazed. I hugged, muttered sympathies, then joined in the muted and meaningless talk. We mimicked the deathly silence.
The last time I saw her alive was at someone else’s memorial. She rode in my car. Lena never drove. It was after a bad accident, and instead of jumping back into the drivers seat as soon as possible, sage advice from friends, this lady decided to become the perennial passenger. Remarkable – a community activist catching rides to and from work, and all over South Florida. That night, our final encounter, we paid respects to a friend who lost her husband. After that it was good night and Lena Rahming walked from my car, opened her front door, waved at me, indicating all was safe at home, and I drove away.
The City of Boynton Beach memorialized her by changing the name of the Day Care Center. However, this is only symbolic. Miss Lena had been an iconic presence in the City, one that its citizens would long remember, because in their varied conversations her absence is ever present. Just mention that name, and you will get a story – still fresh even after almost seven years.