In memory of Elizabeth “Esu” Lackey

By Professor Emerita Carter Heyward

Not many women in their fifties decide to go to seminary. Those who do tend to be women on a mission that transcends the goal of simply personal fulfillment. Elizabeth “Esu” Lackey, who died on Sept 8, 2017, exemplified those bold women who, in mid-life, entered the Episcopal Divinity School’s Feminist Liberation Theological program in order to help change the world.   

Born in 1932 into an affluent New England family, Esu spent much of her life, certainly the last several decades, studying  her whiteness and her family’s wealth as roots of her privilege and, therefore, of her responsibility to use her privilege and do everything in her power on behalf of people of color and the poor. But not only did Esu become an advocate for justice for others, she also became an ardent feminist activist on behalf of justice for women, including herself and all women trivialized, abused, or rendered invisible within their churches, families, schools, work places, and even in the various justice  struggles that took place in the last quarter of the 20th Century.

As one of Esu Lackey’s faculty mentors at the Episcopal Divinity School (EDS), I regarded her as one of the most intelligent, compassionate, outspoken, sweet-spirited, and bravest women I’ve ever known. From Esu, I learned a lot about what it was like to grow up as a girl child in an esteemed family bound by class-rules about propriety, privacy, and the place of women. Together, Esu and I, with other feminist and womanist faculty and students, worked hard to shape theologies and ethics that honestly reflected our lives, loves, work, sorrows, joys, and struggles.

Generous to the core, Esu and her husband Dan supported many organizations committed to social justice and human well-being –- among them, On the Rise (a resource for homeless women in Boston),  Greenfire (a women’s spiritual retreat in Maine), Free Rein (a therapeutic horseback riding center in North Carolina) and EDS itself. 

I will forever cherish memories of my time with Esu -- at the seminary and in her Groton home. We loved talking about justice and, even more, we loved encouraging each other’s involvement in the struggles for justice –- through studying, teaching, preaching, writing, speaking, protesting, politicking, and giving whatever we could of our time, talents, and treasures. Esu was one of those students who taught me at least as much as I could ever have taught her. She was one of those Episcopal laywomen who was as surely a priest to me as I ever was to her. Esu was a wife, a mom, and a grandmother, utterly devoted to her family, and as good a friend as any one could have asked for.

That she and her husband, and their daughter, and their care-giver died violently at the hands of one of her grandsons was a tragedy beyond comprehension. For Esu, it ended a journey on this earth powered by the Spirit of love, kindness, and forgiveness. 

Our sister is dead, may she live forever!  Esu Lackey, presente!