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Rosalind L. Spells

June 9, 1953 June 25, 2024
Rosalind L. Spells
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Obituary for Rosalind L. Spells

A celebration of the life of Rosalind L. Spells  will occur on

Wednesday, July 03, 2024

Viewing 10:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m.

Service 11:00 a.m.

Wood Funeral Home

5537-39 W. Girard Avenue

Philadelphia, PA 19131

Interment: Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Washington Crossing National Cemetery  

Rosalind Laura Spells Obituary

Born June 9, 1953, Rosalind Laura Spells departed this world June 25, 2024. Her steely determination, great ambition, and impressive intelligence were rewarded by becoming the first member in her family to receive a college degree; by enjoying a stellar career at the Department of Justice, and; by achieving the rank of Master Sergeant and First Sergeant the United States Air Force Reserve.

The granddaughter of two southern migrants who joined the millions of African Americans fleeing the limitations of the segregation and violence in the Jim Crow South, they traveled in what became known as the Great Migration. Their offspring became the latest generation of northern Blacks. Rosalind’s parents were among those newcomers. Marrying Lydia Petty after his service overseas in England during World War II, Carl L. Spells, Sr. and Lydia brought Carl, Jr. and Rosalind Laura into the world in Philadelphia.

Always an avid reader and never afraid to confront all challenges, Rosalind achieved something exceptionally rare: she defied the tracking practices in the Philadelphia school system. At that time, those presumed to be destined for college were placed in “Academic;” others, assumed to one day be workerist various trades and non-professional vocations chose, or by default were placed,` in “Commercial.” Despite being in that latter track, Rosalind set her sights on college. Consulting school counselors and learning what courses were required to gain admission to a college or university, she attended summer school every year to fulfill each requirement. Rosalind achieved her goal in grand fashion. She became one of the first Black students admitted to East Stroudsburg State College (now University), graduating in three and a half, rather than the traditional four years. She majored in sociology and earned a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree. The exploration of society and human behavior demanded by those majoring in sociology, remained a lifelong passion that she kept alive by engaging daily with local as well as international news, politics, and arts.

During her college years, Rosalind met a fellow Overbrook High School graduate whom she never had met despite their graduating the same year in 1970.The roommate she was assigned freshman year was one Betty Session. Were there a book about the world’s greatest Sister Friendships, that between Betty Deloris Session and Rosalind Laura Spells surely would be a highlight among them. Rosalind’s mother died while they were students at East Stroudsburg and the two of them traveled often to Philadelphia in order to attend to Mrs. Spells’ long and painful battle with kidney failure. During that difficult period, the Session and Spells families followed in the footsteps of countless African Americans who forged what scholars call “fictive kinship.” Despite having no biological or “bloodline” connection, these two families became one.

Mr. Spells had no siblings and Mrs. Spells had only one brother who did not have children. Consequently, Roz had no cousins and became an only child herself when her brother passed in the 1990s. With the passing of her father in 2002, the union of the Session and Spells families, so long in the making ,only grew stronger. Beginning in their college days, Mr. and Mrs. Session claimed “Roz” as their daughter. Betty’s two sisters and two brothers followed suit, seeing her no different than those born to their parents. Roz was - and remains -their sister.

As a little girl, Rosalind’s grandmother, Lydia’s mother, would put Roz on a wooden box in the kitchen to observe her cooking. So began an education in the culinary arts that led to the making of a gourmet cook whose marvels entranced anyone privileged to experience one of Rosalind’s glorious creations .A hint of them is revealed in a comment made in the program of her 1998 retirement ceremony and dinner. It reads: “Today, as an Air Force Leader with (20) years of military service she still resides in the Nation’s Capitol, Washington, DC. MSgt Spells spends most weekends with her convalescing father, . . . she enjoys her friends, her job, helping other people, and most of all the art and mastery of, ‘Baking the World’s most Delicious Cakes.’”

This was neither flattery or a nicety that one might expect at a retirement celebration. Rosalind rose to become the assistant pastry chef at the famed Woodward & Lothrop department store, the headquarters of a chain that became D.C.’s first such business when opening its doors in 1887. This flagship store was to become a fixture in Washington’s downtown shopping center .When Rosalind introduced her rice pudding to the bakery’s offerings, it immediately became a prized and highly sought-after specialty.

It is not hard to imagine Roz making a profitable living with her cooking skills. Such was not to be the case. Her concern for others and desire to afford all an opportunity to lead not only fulfilling personal lives, but to become healthy, civic-minded citizens, regardless of any missteps made along the way. She planned to become a parole officer. Arriving in D.C. fresh out of college, she found work, however, at the Department of Justice as a personnel security specialist with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and remained there for thirty-five years.

Being a hard worker – and having expensive tastes – this was not her only job. Before getting to work at the DOJ, she worked at Woodward and Lothrop, accompanied sometimes with additional work on weekends, cleaning the lab of a dental technician who manufactured dentures.

Those visiting Rosalind’s home, awaiting some new culinary treasure, could observe art works that she created, gaze through the latest issue of the New Yorker magazine, marvel at flowers and plants in her amazing nursery, and survey bookshelves filled with a multicultural array of cook books, all the while enjoying unforgettably tasty hors d’oeuvres and the finest of no less intoxicating beverages, invariably served in the sparkling and tinkling crystal glassware that she so loved and cherished. Having acquired her father’s passion for jazz, the music playing complemented the rich aromas drifting through each room.

While she loved music, her greatest passion was ballet. Vernon Jackson, her fellow lover of all things fine and refined, sadly preceding her in 2021, typically would be a guest. Together, they shared decades of performances seen from box seats at the Kennedy Center where they rejoiced in performances by such luminaries as Judith Jameson and saw renditions of the Dance Theatre of Harlem’s famed creole-inspired Giselle. These secular pleasures did not outweigh the sacred. She was a devout Christian whose faith journey began in Philadelphia’s Vine Memorial Baptist Church and ended in her Washington home church at Union Wesley AME Zion Church.

Fiercely independent and intensely private, Rosalind did not share with many her declining health. Observing her decline – and an eventual reluctant and partial admission by Roz– Betty began making trips to Washington from Philadelphia every two weeks to help out with the increasingly difficult medical and other tasks anyone living alone must navigate. While resisting the invitation to come to Philadelphia, she finally conceded and Betty brought her to Philadelphia where she spent her last days with friends and her Session siblings, nephew, great-nephews, and great-great niece.

Throughout her life, Rosalind was a person of firm convictions and never backed down from anyone challenging them. Although she was no longer able to communicate, a caregiver from the University of Pennsylvania home hospice program shared with Betty while they were attending to Roz, a conversation she recently had with an incarcerated nephew. He was bemoaning the system designed to lead so many into prison. She told him, “I came up in the same system and am not in jail . . . people make choices.”

Had she lived, Rosalind surely would have invited this caregiver over for a meal to cultivate a friendship. She would have imagined the two of them doing intellectual battle with those pesky self-identified leftists who focus far too much on external forces and far too little on personal responsibility. She no doubt had someone particular in mind. For more than half a century, she lovingly had battled with him, quite literally up until the time she no longer could battle.

Rosalind Laura Spells leaves us with a kitchen-tested recipe for living well, living honestly, and living with that celebrated – and feared – “Philly toughness.” Future generations cannot go wrong following her lead. We will miss her.

She is survived by her brothers, Alphonso and Anthony Session; sisters, Debora Session, Ethel Session-Alexander (Wilson), Betty Session (Norrece); nieces, Kawana and Katina Dantzler; nephew, Jason Troy (Tamika); great-nephews, Marques (Diamond), DeMarco, Miquel, Jeremiah, Maxim, Jaxon, Jyles; great-great niece, Sophia, and; godchildren, Jase and Justin

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