LaVerne Reese Madlock taught service and selflessness by example

LaVerne Madlock, honored by Top Ladies Of Distinction, poses in her home on March 3, 2013. (David Branch, Tyler Morning Telegraph, file)

LaVerne Reese Madlock had a saying: "Service is our rent on God's green earth for living here on God's green earth."

Mrs. Madlock, a longtime community leader who helped found Top Ladies of Distinction, a national educational and humanitarian group, died on Dec. 19, 2016. She was 94.

A chapter president of Top Ladies of Distinction called her a "shaper of change."

"We thank God for the legacy that she has left for us to live," Sharon Mosley wrote in an online condolences book.

Top Ladies of Distinction began at a bridge game in 1964.

"In the early 1960s, integration of Tyler Independent School District was on the horizon," Mrs. Madlock said in an interview with the Tyler Paper in 2003. "This became a regular topic of discussion at our bridge games. We were very concerned about how our African-American youth would adjust to being thrust in with others who had been exposed to more and had so many more advantages."

Fifty-three years later, TLOD has thousands of members nationwide. One of its programs, Top Teens of America, currently has more than 4,000 young women, who are learning about leadership, social and life skills and service.

Born in 1922 to W.H. and Curtis Miles Reese in Henderson, Mrs. Madlock grew up with four brothers and two sisters. She said she loved sewing and hoped to become a seamstress. That led her to an undergraduate degree in home economics at Texas College, and she then went on to earn a master's degree in institutional management from Iowa State University - and even a diploma in culinary arts from New York University.

She met and married Dr. Payton E. Madlock and became head of the home economics department at Texas College, where she always found a way to mentor students despite limited resources - and in this lay the beginnings of TLOD.

"If we didn't have the revenue and resources on campus, we would make inroads into the community," she said in 2003. "People were kind enough to let us bring our students to some of their homes, and we would do parties and dinners for some of the citizens. That was experience."

Inspired by a White House luncheon with Lady Bird Johnson, wife of President Lyndon B. Johnson, Mrs. Madlock worked with a group of her friends to found an organization to help the youth of the community deal with a rapidly changing world.

"We started thinking of ways that we might help prepare them to fit in socially and economically," she said. "All of a sudden, these kids will have to go to cities and stay in hotels, and they've never been in one before, and neither had we, as far as being allowed to do so."

After founding the organization, she served as National Recording Secretary and the second National President from 1971-1974. She also led in the Tyler chapter for many years.

"I'm not a limelighter," she said. "If I can be of help, I'll help anyone I can. It makes me feel good to be of service."

Mrs. Madlock is survived by her sister, Miriam King, as well as a number of nieces and nephews.

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