A beautiful baby girl, Maxine, was the fifth child born to Tommy and Mable Lewis on March 25, 1934. She passed to her rest on September 16, 2021, at age 87. As a child, she attended Duval Elementary and Lincoln High School, where she was known as “Rabbit,” because she was swift on her feet and athletic. Women’s softball, basketball, and being a member of the Lincoln High School Marching Band played a pivotal role in her childhood and teen years. She used her sports abilities throughout her life as she became a well-rounded and versatile young woman.
Maxine attended Bethel Church in Gainesville, Fla., where her mother was a founding member. She and her siblings attended church faithfully, and her mother’s father, Charles Manns, was an Adventist preacher who served the Bethel Church as organist and pianist, among other responsibilities.
At the age of 18, her older brother, Tommie, invited her to leave Gainesville and move to New York. It was there that Tommie introduced her to an old Army buddy, Fentress Lunue “Lenny” Bethea. She dated Lenny, fell in love with him, and decided to be his wife; she married him that same year. They had five children, four girls and one boy: Purette Denise, Lunue (deceased), Belinda Maxine, Debra Teresa, and Fentress Lunue. She was an excellent mother, chef, seamstress, nurturer, party planner, fundraiser, caregiver, and much, much more.
The family moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., in the early 1960s. She joined the Mount of Olives Church in Brooklyn. It was there that she was able to sharpen her skills as a Bible worker, community service organizer, prison ministries instructor, and Pathfinder leader. In 1965, tragedy struck the Bethea household, when Lenny suffered a fatal aneurysm. He was 32 years old when he passed. Maxine Bethea now had the responsibility of caring for her four young ones all alone. She then told Jesus (and everybody else) that He would have to be her husband. With the strength of God, she dutifully carried out the training of her babies. A brave soul herself, she raised her children to be strong, independent leaders, to be afraid of nothing and no man, and to look to Jesus for His help with everything throughout their lives. She taught her children to trust God, and always lean on His precious promises. God never fails. One of her favorite things to say when faced with an enormous difficulty was, “I can’t wait until the morning!” When asked “Why?” she would say, “To see what God’s going to do!” A woman of faith, that’s who she was to her children …and with that came the blessings. She wrote a book, The Blessings of a Single Parent. That title became natural to her as the Lord seemed to remind her that she was blessed and highly favored.
As she grew in God’s great ministry, she found herself working for Him in prisons across America: Rikers Island in New York City; St. John’s River Prison in Richmond, Va.; Indiana Women’s Prison in Indianapolis, Ind.; and Alachua County Jail in Gainesville were just some of the many venues where she played a part. She also took her job as a Bible worker seriously — from the Caribbean to the Ivory Coast, West Africa; from Seattle, Wash., to Gainesville, Fla. Her other ministries included teaching/principal at Gold Street Adventist Elementary School in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Capital City School in Indianapolis. She also worked as a women’s dean at Pine Forge Academy (PFA) from 1986 to 1992. She loved PFA, and the students can attest that she was just as much fun as she was strict. Most of all, she was consistent. Bethea was also a girls’ director at Victory Lake Camp and Camp Wagner for 14 years. These schools and camps allowed her to hone in on her sports abilities and show off her basketball and strong right arm throwing skills.
When she turned 59, she attended Southwestern University’s Adult Degree Program and graduated in three years with two bachelor’s degrees: religion and psychology with a minor in healthcare administration. She was one determined woman.
It was then that she decided to move back to her hometown of Gainesville for her retirement years. She returned to her family’s homestead that was built by her father’s hands. It was there that she served as a member of the Gainesville Police Citizen Academy and was involved in the community. She was a board member; treasurer; and prison ministries director for women, working with women for the last nine years of her life. She provided marriage counseling for many couples and remained faithful in Bible study, a very important part of her life until the end. She was a true testament of a balanced life well-lived.
Her last words to her sisters and daughters the night she passed were, “I’ll see you in Heaven,” and that was the theme for her celebration service.
She is survived by her four children, eight grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild.
Southeastern | April 2023