Rev. Dr. Veronica "Ronny" H. Lanier
September 12, 1918 - May 29, 2014
Written With Love By: Debbie Blanchard
Rev. Dr. Veronica Helen Lanier was an American Baptist minister and missionary from Massachusetts, whose fingerprints and spirit touched children, youth, women, and men around the country during her 95 years of life and many years of ministry. Ronny has been described as effervescent - which is an apt description of her personality, relationships, and enthusiasm. Her most effective quality may have been her ability to nurture, sustain, and inspire relationships with hundreds of people around the country. She was always delighted by something, and she saw possibility and love in almost everything.
Ronny was a woman with a deep faith in Jesus Christ, who was the source of the light within her, and her foremost desire was that others might find that same faith. Rev. Ronny accomplished a great deal during her life while being delighted in the people and programs she brought to life.
Veronica Helen Lanier was born on September 12, 1918, in Fort Hill, Boston, the day after her twelve-year-old sister Audrey died from the devastating 1918 flu pandemic. Ronny loved her mother and father, whom she described as always happy and singing (her mother, Wilhelmina), and a jokester (her father, Chester). Both her mother and father had large families, and Ronny's mom was an elocutionist. An elocutionist recites stories from memory, and it was from her mother that Ronny heard stories of missionaries, which inspired her to follow the path to mission work.
Ronny grew up in Medford, MA., and spent summers in Vermont. She had a fun-filled childhood and one of her longtime friends, Oscar Green, said, "Capturing the real Veronica H. Lanier is like holding a wave upon the sand." Ronny was very athletic and played basketball, baseball, field hockey, and soccer in high school. After graduating from high school, she had an extended period where she was sick with rheumatic fever. When she had recovered, Ronny attended Gordon College and received her bachelor's degree in English in 1954. She would eventually receive her master's degree from Newton Theological School and be ordained in 1970, and that was after having a massive heart attack in 1964.
In 1964 after working in Indiana, Denver, California, and Chicago, Ronny had run out of energy and was very anemic. During a blood transfusion while back home in Boston, Ronny had a massive heart attack and felt as if she had left her body. In her memoir, One In Several Million, Ronny describes her experience, saying that she "was walking in a field of white daisies with yellow centers. Christ was leading her by the hand. She was very happy. Christ let go of her hand, though. He waved to her as He went away." (One In Several Million, by the Friends of Rev. Veronica H. Lanier. 2009. No copyright. "Feel free to use any part of all of this book for God's work. That is one of its purposes.") Ronny lived to be 95 and died from colon cancer in 2014.
After she recovered from her heart attack, Ronny began working for the American Baptist Churches of Massachusetts as the Minister of Christian Education in 1965. In this role, Ronny equipped and inspired the churches in their ministry and work with children, youth, and adults. Her memoir describes her work with TABCOM in this way:
"She set up teacher training events, helped recruit teachers, and do whatever she could to help churches make Christian education better. She taught at the Children Center at Green Lake for 12 years, two weeks each summer. She was on the staff for the National Youth Conference. She was the Director of ABC Guild Girls for Massachusetts. She spent two weekends yearly at Boston Baptist City Mission Camp in Wrentham. Ronny set up Vacation Bible Schools and day camps for churches. She was the staff person who related to ABC women. She prepared something special each spring and fall for eight different association meetings. She preached at a different church each Sunday. Ronny prepared devotions for the residents of the Baptist Home. She did many bus and bike trips for youth and adults."
Ronny also officiated at countless weddings and funerals, which she did keep track of in a beautifully bound book. She wove together all the relationships she formed as she traveled around the state and the country. Ronny led bike trips and bus trips, and people participated because they loved to be with her. "Be of good cheer" was her signature salutation, and she used the word "fantastic" multiple – if not millions - of times.
More detailed information about Ronny Lanier from the American Baptist Churches USA, The American Baptist Historical Society, memorials in her honor at Grotonwood Camp & Conference Center, her Facebook page, and a video of her preaching can be found below.
Ed Guerard, who served alongside Ronny on the staff of TABCOM, said this: "I always thought of Ronny as a chaplain to the American Baptist Churches. She had specific roles. For example, Ronny was the Director of Christian Education and did a lot of work with youth. She was very involved with camping. But her real gift was she served more as an ambassador or chaplain to the TABCOM Churches.
At times she went beyond the roles found in her job descriptions and did work the work of an area minister. She ministered to people who were alienated and built relationships on behalf of TABCOM. Many of us had our specific job descriptions, but her job description didn't limit her to what she did. When Ronny was ordained – she became a chaplain to all American Baptists. She did weddings, funerals, and celebration ceremonies. She filled in where other people needed help. In her role as a chaplain, and as someone who represented what ABCUSA was like, Ronny would get an A-plus.
Ed Guerard continues, "Ronny was active in the American Baptist Women of Massachusetts organization. She always came to their annual conference that was held at Grotonwood and was called House Party. Back in the '70s, there was a year where there was an invasion of caterpillars who just destroyed Grotonwood. The caterpillars were so bad that we had to close Pioneer Village. We couldn't use it as they were crawling everywhere and falling out of the trees.
They were so thick that we had to be careful when people were walking around the grounds and that they didn't slip. Ronny was terrified of them, and so she used an umbrella. The president of ABW at the time was Ruth Arnold, and she was also terrified of them. One day Ronny and Ruth were coming out of the dining hall heading over to the chapel. Ronny had her umbrella up and said she would escort Ruth. I came out of the dining hall, and Ronny asked me to walk in the middle and hold the umbrella over them both. I did, but unfortunately, one caterpillar fell onto Ruth's chest, and of course, she screamed. I couldn't help her, and so Ronny stopped and said, "let us pray." We closed our eyes, and Ronny prayed! She said, "God always provides." When we opened our eyes, the caterpillar was gone, and we continued to walk over to the chapel. I don't know how it happened - perhaps God just performed a miracle with the caterpillar. But Ronny did it in a way that none of us knew.
Rev. Ellen Tatreau shares about meeting Ronny and the impact Ronny had on her life.
"I first met Ronny when I was 9 or 10 years old. She was taking a busload of teenagers to Green Lake, and her bus broke down. She arrived at our church in Chicago late in the evening, and my Dad had everyone sleep in the Fellowship Hall and stayed the next day while the bus was repaired. My Dad and Ronny knew each other after years of doing Campus Ministry and youth work together. Over the ensuing years, I became one of Ronny's kids/children/friend/colleague and admirer. I tried to never miss her Christmas Open Houses. She became a special friend to our daughter, Amy, when she was nine and joined me in officiating over Amy's wedding in 2013. It was one of the last weddings over which Ronny officiated, and Amy felt blessed. I have been forever blessed by her loving care all these years."
Ronny also was active at Grotonwood, the American Baptist Camp in Groton, MA, and was an enthusiastic supporter as the camp developed and grew to include Oceanwood in Ocean Park, Maine.
Eddie Blanchard recalls the time, around 1971 when he was a counselor on a summer camp bike trip led by Ronny, which began at Grotonwood and took them through New England back roads for the hundred mile trip to Oceanwood. When in Ocean Park, they stayed on the top floor of Old English (a building no longer at the camp) before biking back to Grotonwood. Eddie remembers that Ronny had organized the trip so they would bike to a church, have a potluck meal, sleep on the floor, get up early, and repeat the pattern throughout the week. Eddie said that he and Ronny would go over the map the night before, he would lead the group in the front and set the pace, and Ronny would bring up the rear. He remembers that Ronny hung her laundry on the back of her bike - because she was the last bike rider and at the end of the line. He recalled that they biked through more than one rainstorm, had numerous flat tires, and had experiences with Ronny they would never forget.
Becky Lindley Williams also met Ronny at camp. She says, "I met Ronny when I was 16 and working at Grotonwood. I started working on the weekends, and Ronny was often there. I always made sure she had a "Ronny meal" with no meat. She said grace at our wedding, and I have many pictures of her with myself and my kids through the years that we went to Oceanwood during the Mid-summer festival. I was fortunate to be able to attend her 95th birthday party at her church in Melrose. She was a special person, and I miss her dearly.
Rev. Deborah Blanchard."I also met Ronny Lanier when she passed through Pittsburgh on a full bus heading to Green Lake Conference Center. This bus was also very late. Rev. Dr. Bob Overstreet, the minister of my church, encouraged me to come that night as a very dynamic ministerial colleague from Massachusetts would be stopping at the church for a meal and overnight. He wanted me to meet her as I was exploring Christian ministry with children and youth at the time. I came to the church and waited - and waited - and waited. The bus was extremely late, and I almost left. Everyone was sitting around, just waiting, but something kept me there. When the bus arrived and folks came into Fellowship Hall, the atmosphere changed, and there was a new energy in the room. It was as if we all came back to life. The source of that energy was coming from a small, but mighty, effervescent woman. Eventually, Ronny and I sat down together and had a chance to talk. She was the first ordained woman I met. The next summer, she hired me to come to Massachusetts to help churches staff Vacation Bible Schools – and to work at Grotonwood Camp, which was unfamiliar to me. The following summer, I went back to Grotonwood and have been in Massachusetts and camp ever since. I met my husband at camp; we had two daughters; I went to Andover Newton Theological School (as did Ronny) and was ordained in 1995. For the rest of her life, whenever Eddie and I would see Ronny, she would always ask: "what if you hadn't waited for the bus?"
That one moment in time changed the entire direction of my life and inspired me to follow in her footsteps. Rev. Ronny Lanier did that for countless others who have their own stories of her pastoral presence, her joyous spirit, and her countenance of cheer and faith.
Essential Links with more information about Rev. Ronny Lanier:
"In Ronny's garden of friendship, there are people of all colors, hues, fragrances, and types." - Rev. Dr. Leo Thorne.
- Listen to a birthday message from Rev. Dr. Leo Thorne, Associate General Secretary for Mission Resource Development American Baptist Churches USA. https://youtu.be/uNb_XBMnxK0
- For an excellent article on Rev. Ronny Lanier, see the ABC-USA website and stories for black history month: https://www.abc-usa.org/2017/02/celebrating-our-leadership-heritage-in-black-history-month-part-iii/
- For detailed information about Ronny's life, studies, and work experiences, visit the ABC Historical Society at https://abhsarchives.org/veronica-helen-lanier-an-introduction/
- For a review of One In Several Million,see: https://abhsarchives.org/one-in-several-million-a-review-of-the-stories-of-veronica-h-lanier/
- To see a short video of Ronny visiting the ABHS facility, go here: https://vimeo.com/470192004
- Visit Ronny Lanier's Facebook page for more stories and pictures from the many people who love her. The Facebook page was created with her permission. She was delighted that so many people would be interested in her life and ministry. https://www.facebook.com/RevRonnyLanier
- Hear Ronny preach a sermon at First Baptist Church of Littleton, MA, on November 27, 2011 where she tells stories of her life and ministry. https://youtu.be/sulcKFm50rI On the same YouTube channel (BayberryBlues), you can see videos from Ronny's 95th birthday celebration at FBC Melrose, MA.
- Some of the pictures on this page are from the Memorial Garden & Fireplace at Grotonwood in honor of Ronny Lanier.
- Grotonwood https://grotonwood.org/history
- Oceanwood http://oceanwood.org/
- TABCOM https://tabcom.org/