An Anointed Life of Joy
The Beginning. Gladys Toney was born May 23, 1924, in Fairfield, Alabama—a small town outside Birmingham. She was the fourth girl among five daughters born to Arthur and Lena King Toney. In the order of birth, they were Mary, Martha, Annie, Gladys, Inell, Ethel (Bey-Bey), and Catherine. Two brothers were born; however, one died in infancy and the other perished from a rabid dog’s bite. For those who knew Gladys, it does not surprise them that her home going arrived after a long and joyful life. Some may possibly attribute her sunny disposition to something as simple as being blessed with a fine personality.
But looking back at Gladys’ life, it is evident that her first real joy arrived when she was nine years-old. In 1933, one Sunday evening inside the Toney’s crowded “shotgun” house, nine-year-old Gladys put on her best dress, brushed her hair, and crossed the street to the Jones Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Something was calling her that evening, but she did not know what.
When the Bishop extended the invitation to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, young Gladys felt balls of fire deep in her bones! Before she knew it, Gladys found herself shouting with joy at the front of the church. The Bishop asked, “Are the parents of this child present?” An adult cousin proudly stepped forward to claim Gladys. This experience, without a doubt, defined Gladys’ unshakeable faith for the rest of her life. It was that day when she asked Jesus Christ to take hold of her young hand, and until this day, neither one of them has ever let go.
Childhood Sweethearts. It was at Dr. Glover Patrick Parham’s apothecary and drug store where Gladys, now a tall, skinny teenager, with button-cute features, smooth brown skin and slightly bowed legs, met Cleveland Nixon, Dr. Parham's nephew. “Cleve” always gave her extra ice cream on her cone when she bought one from him . . . frequently.
Dr. Parham had big plans for his nephew; he wanted Cleveland to become a doctor. However, Cleveland was drafted into the army not long after Pearl Harbor. During that time, Gladys graduated from Fairfield Industrial High and moved to Baltimore to live with her oldest sister, Mary, and her husband, Johnnie Walton. Gladys got a job in a factory and began dating a nice young man named Robert.
When Cleveland Nixon was discharged from the army, he returned to Fairfield to finish high school and to work for his uncle. However, Cleveland quit school in the middle of the day, went to Woolworth’s to buy pajamas and a suit case, then boarded a bus for Baltimore, Maryland, and showed up completely unannounced at the front door of Gladys’ sister. He still had his school books with him. With the utmost confidence in their love, Cleveland popped the question to Gladys —“Will you marry me?”
How did Gladys know that Cleveland Nixon was her divine soul mate—the man God intended her to marry? Robert, the Baltimore boyfriend, was an awfully nice man who said he would wait seven years for her. Gladys sought God earnestly for an answer and a sign. Just days before Cleveland arrived unannounced in Baltimore, God had given Gladys the same dream three nights in a row. In the dream, she “saw” Cleveland, dressed in his army uniform with a small suitcase, standing in Mary’s living room. Arriving home that day, Gladys stepped into the living room and saw Cleveland exactly as she’d seen him in the dream! With a blessed assurance, Gladys knew “Cleve” was her God-given husband!
Gladys’ favorite scripture was Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and He shall direct your path.” Gladys advised family and many others seeking guidance with this scripture. She not only talked the Proverbs 3:5-6 talk, but Gladys walked the walk in matters of guidance over the course of a life time.
Gladys and Cleveland married in Baltimore and his new brother-in-law, Johnnie Walton, got him a job in a steel mill. About a year later, the couple moved to Pittsburgh, where her two now married sisters Martha Morris and Annie Bass lived. The young family bought a house in Beltzoover, a suburb near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Gladys had her hands full with children born within a three-year period: Arthur Cleveland (AC), Gladys Regina, and Pearlena. In 1956 the family moved to Cleveland, Ohio.
Unity Baptist Church. Gladys had grown up Methodist and Cleveland had grown up, according to him, a "foot washing Baptist" or "primitive Baptist". Unity Baptist Church, under the stewardship of the pastor, Reverend Edward Lee Ross, was just down the street from where Gladys and her family lived on East 80th. Gladys’ daughter, Regina joined Unity Baptist Church first and by the end of 1958, all members of the family had joined.
It was at Unity Baptist Church that Gladys blossomed as a talented soloist and lead singer in the Adult Gospel Choir and the Sanctuary Choir. Her beautiful soprano voice soared as she led "We Shall Be Changed,” "His Eye Is on the Sparrow," “Sweet, Sweet Spirit,” and “That’s Enough.” Cleveland was ordained as a deacon, and Gladys became a deaconess. Gladys later served faithfully as a President of the Adult Gospel Choir, Poor Saint Treasurer, Trustee, and a member of the Missionary Society. Gladys was a member of the Unity Music Department for over 50 years. Singing God’s word was the key to Gladys’ essence, strength, and faith.
Case Western Reserve University. Blessed by God, Gladys began working as a housekeeper at Case Western Reserve University in 1966; eventually, Gladys was promoted to the position of superintendent in Custodial Services. Nearly everyone on campus knew her. Often, she was seen striding confidently across campus to check out the dorms --Hitchcock, Norton, Cutler, and Clark Towers to name a few. One current member of CWRU’s custodial force, Dennis Butler said, “She was one of the greatest supervisors I’ve met. She was down to earth, always had something sweet to say, she was happy but didn’t take no stuff.” Gladys was so meticulous and professional in her managerial style that she won the praises of many, including Dean Patricia Kilpatrick. As a result of the employee tuition program, Gladys’ children Arthur Cleveland and Gladys Regina were able to attend the university tuition free. Both were graduated cum laude. Gladys loved working at Case Western Reserve University. She always talked about the job, its joys and challenges, and how proud she was to be a member of the CWRU team! Gladys retired from Case Western Reserve in 1991 after 25 years of service.
Serious Blues Singer. Gladys loved to sing the blues; and she sang them well. On many an evening, Gladys would entertain her family with such fabulous renditions as “Little Ole Country Boy”, “A Tisket, a Tasket”, “In the Dark”, “Fever”, “Santa Baby”, and “How Glad I Am”. Gladys had a unique voice, sound, and intonation—perhaps a cross between Nancy Wilson, Eartha Kitt, and Lil Green.
The Perfect Match. On December 14, 1970, Cleveland Nixon, at the age of forty-six, died in a construction accident. Despite her deep sorrow at the loss of her love, she remained faithful in her service to God. In 1977, Dorothy Nickson, her sister-in-law, introduced Gladys to Nathaniel Suber. They eventually became a striking, lovely couple. "Nate," as he is affectionately called, became a loved and respected part of the Nixon family. Gladys' granddaughter Jessica and grandson Otis, call him “Daddy Nate” and Gladys’ son AC calls him "my smooth pops." Gladys once told Nathaniel that she never dreamed she would ever get a chance to leave the country. During their forty years of companionship, they went on cruises and traveled to such places as Hawaii, Alaska and even Paris with the Peek Family.
Twilight. The Saturday before Gladys passed away, she whispered to her daughter, Regina, "I am blessed." Indeed, truer word have never been spoken.
Survivors. Gladys Toney Nixon is survived by her children, Arthur Cleveland Nixon, G. Regina Nixon, and Pearlena Nixon. Grandchildren, Adilifu Nama (Tamu), Jessica Nixon (Delmaurio Walker), Otis Cleveland Straight, and Bjorn Kristoffer Nixon. Great-Grandchildren, Breyana Adams, Christopher Adams, Brooklyn Walker, Delmaurio “DJ” James; Faith Straight, and Zaryah Straight. Gladys is also survived by Nathaniel Suber, devoted companion; Marquetta Rodgers and Mona Sjodin-Nixon, former daughters-in-law; a sister, Inell Turner; and many nieces, nephews, great nieces, great nephews, great-great nieces, great-great nephews, cousins, and friends.
Cleveland and Gladys Nixon College Scholarships - Unity Baptist Church
10408 Kinsman Rd., Cleveland OH 44104