Fittingly, Shirley Gibson’s memorial service contained a saxophone tribute.
“Good morning, I want to welcome you to Jazz in the Gardens,” said Pastor Wendell Baskin of the New Way Fellowship Praise & Worship Center, in a nod to the late Miami Gardens mayor’s creation of the premiere event and one of her accomplishments touted during the service.
At least 300 people, including Miami Gardens City Council members, attended Gibson’s services Tuesday morning inside the church on Northwest 22nd Avenue.
Gibson, remembered for her leadership and commitment to service, died Monday, Oct. 16. She was 79.
Just before she sang the first notes of “Don’t Cry For Me,” Shenita Hunt spoke of Gibson’s respect for her. Hunt came to know Gibson as she performed at various events. She was eventually handpicked by Gibson to perform at her League of Cities induction.
“It was one thing to perform, but it’s another to respect my art,” Hunt said, adding the band played top 40 hits and received “a thumbs up” for the performance. “And she couldn’t sit down, either, and that was wonderful.”
The last time the two spoke, Hunt said, was at a birthday event, where they laughed like old friends. “I’m not even in the state of Florida anymore, but I had to come to this,” she said.
The oldest of six children, Gibson moved to the Florida Keys from Camilla, Georgia with her parents when she was 10. She would later move to what is now Miami Gardens, attending North Dade Junior High School, where she was voted “Most Likely to Succeed,” according to her obituary.
Gibson was also remembered for her tenacity in helping create Miami Gardens, the largest predominantly Black city in Florida. Hans Ottinot, who served as interim city attorney during the city’s infancy, recalled the lengths Gibson went through to create the city, battling criticism that the city was too poor to function and would become crime-ridden.
Gibson: Dolphins play in Miami Gardens, not Miami
Ottinot said he spent hours in Gibson’s home talking about her baby: the city of Miami Garden. Gibson, he said, had a way of converting opponents to supporters. Such was the case with Wayne Huizenga, the late Dolphins stadium and team owner who so staunchly opposed the city’s creation, he launched a $100,000 campaign against it.
Ottinot said Huizenga became one of Gibson’s biggest allies, particularly with Jazz in the Gardens and discussed with her ways the city could promote itself. Ottinot said Gibson also convinced Huizenga to tell the NFL that his stadium — now Hard Rock Stadium — is in Miami Gardens, not Miami as announcers would invariably state. That helped figuratively put the fledgling city of Miami Gardens on the map.
“Mayor Gibson believed Miami Gardens should always get the credit it is due,” Ottinot said.
Apart from her service to Miami Gardens, Gibson dedicated her time to the youth organization Embrace Girls Foundation. During the memorial, a video showed Gibson’s final appearance at an event held by the organization. It was her last known public appearance. In it, Gibson encouraged women to be nice to each other and know who they are.
“You have to know who you are,” she said. “If you don’t, you have to try and find who you are. I make sure whatever I do, I do it for the greater good for someone else, and whatever God wants me to have, I get it after that.”
A granddaughter’s remembrance
Morgan McMillan called her grandmother her best friend and reminisced on the things they enjoyed such as going to the movies, dinner and plays. “Most people only have a handful of best friends. Well, in my handful there’s only one person I love the most, which is my grandma. My grandma is my world,” McMillan said.
“Whatever she did, I was there. She’s seen me at my worst and she stayed strong. So, we’ve seen her at her worst and we stayed strong.”
A soaring eulogy from Pastor David Ramjohn focused on Gibson’s commitment to service and called on others to question the intentions behind why they’re serving.
“If you want to embody and celebrate Miss Shirley Gibson, you better walk out of here ready to serve,” Ramjohn said from the pulpit.
Following the service, Gibson’s body rode past Miami Gardens City Hall — which bears her name — one last time.