Au Revoir, Pearl Fu, the Best of Us

Pearlie Mae Fu with my friend Susan and me yesterday. So long, Pearlie. We will all miss you.

Pearl Fu is moving to Philadelphia this week and I have mixed emotions about it. Pearlie Mae (as I prefer to call Roanoke’s First Citizen) needs to be near her family as her Parkinson’s Disease progresses, but she has been and remains such a force for good in Roanoke that her loss will be felt for a long time. I don’t know that we can replace her in any sense. Philly lucked out.

Pearl in 2010.

My friend Susan and I visited Pearlie at her fast-emptying-out Avenham Avenue home yesterday and found ourselves part of a procession of people sharing stories about her and giving her hugs and kisses that would have to last.

We got there just after a City Council duo of Vice Mayor Joe Cobb and Councilman Bill Bestpitch presented her with a gold star of thanks for being who she is and what she has meant to Roanoke.

For 25 years, Pearlie was the heart and soul of Local Colors, Roanoke’s best festival, the one that put a face of tolerance and understanding on the old railroad town. When the festival started, it had representatives from four countries showing off their culture (cooking, entertaining, chatting, etc.) and just a few years ago, at its peak, Local Colors’ Parade of Nations featured 126 flags, all from immigrants living in Roanoke now. Pearlie did that. She has a way of presenting a plea for help that leaves no room for a “no” answer. Ask anybody.

(Here is a feature story I wrote about Pearlie dealing with Parkinson’s early this year.)

Pearl, Maddie and me.

Pearl has shown us how good we could be and pulled us in that direction. She expects that of us and god knows we don’t want to disappoint the woman Barbara Durek called “the Queen of Roanoke.”

Pearlie has had not only a direct effect on me and how I view the world, but she had a strong influence on my grandgirl, Madeline, who rode with Pearl in several different Roanoke parades, including Local Colors. Maddie was fascinated with Pearl and vice versa. Pearl has three brilliant and delightful daughters, foremost among them the internationally famous Colette, who is at the top of the pop-up-books world.

I love this woman and what she has done for us. Let us hope her influence remains strong long after she is gone. We desperately need it.

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