She is the last of 12 children and they called her “Big Mama” for good reasons. She was big in church, big in family and big in helping anyone she could.

Ollie Mae Leak Elder of Charlotte died March 30, 2012 of heart and lung ailments. She was 88 and a native of Lancaster County, S.C,. who moved to Charlotte at an early age.

She attended local schools and got her high school diploma from Central Piedmont Community College, where she later earned credentials for early childhood education and development.

She also got a cosmetology degree from Carver College and a B.A. degree from the National Beauty Cultural League in Washington. Ollie Mae operated a hair salon in her home for about 60 years and designated certain days as “charity customer days.” When she finally retired, she worked for Charlotte Mecklenburg schools in the food service departments and retired a second time.

Ollie Mae met and married Lonnie Elder in 1938. They welcomed daughters Lonnie, Edna and Esther to a union that lasted 45 years, until his death in 1983.

“Amazed at what she cooked”

Ollie Mae was a great cook, by all accounts, and was the ramrod for the Leake/Davidson family reunions. For the 1963 reunion, her stove had only two working eyes, or burners, but she managed to cook the reunion dinner.

“My husband was amazed at what she cooked on those two eyes,” said daughter Lonnie Miller.

Ollie Mae loved to travel and had visited 49 of the 50 states, including a trip to Hawaii. When Esther was 13, they drove to New York.

“My father could not read or write, but he was a truck driver and could read the routes,” daughter Esther Elder said.

Church was a major, major part of Ollie Mae’s life, and she made sure it was a large part of her family’s life, too. She joined Gethsemane Baptist, where she was Mother of the Year and was instrumental in organizing annual trips to the National Baptist and Lott Carey conventions.

Ollie Mae helped charter Reeder Memorial Baptist Church, and its first meetings in 1982 were held in her Moretz Avenue home, Esther said. “We went to church; that was like breathing — you had no choice. We learned manners, ethics and morals.”

Christian education

Daughter Edna Williams said, “She was a good mother to me. She taught us to love each other and take care of one another. We are church goers.”

Daughter Lonnie said, “Her main focus was Christian education. She would get two or three buses and take folks to the National Baptist Congress.”

Martha McCullough, who had known Ollie Mae since 1992, said: “She was a very sweet lady and a great Sunday school teacher. She served the Lord and lived that life. She was the church. Everybody looked up to and admired her. We will never have another member like her.”

Friend Jackie Redmon said, “Sister Elder was a loving soul who shared her love, kindness and godly wisdom with all persons who were blessed to meet her and be a part f her life. She was a light that will be truly missed.”

These lights come around far too seldom, and the world gets a little bit darker each time one such light is extinguished.

Read Mrs. Elder’s official obituary.

Editor’s note: This is our series called Lives That Matter. Written by Charlotte writer Gerry Hostetler, this weekly feature will profile individuals, recently deceased, who had a positive impact on those around them. Email

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *