Robert Ferguson was such a positive person that even meningitis, which stole his sight and hearing later in life, couldn’t dim his spirit.
His niece Enid Pinkney, a founding president of the Historic Hampton House Community Trust, recalls recent visits and they filled her with joy.
“He was a genuine person and his spirit…” Pinkney stops. She has to laugh. He made her feel that good, she says. Nothing but warm, fond memories of a man who was a deacon at the Church of God of Prophecy, Miami No. 1, where he had served on the Building Fundraising and Building Construction committees.
Late in his life, when she visited, she would have to take her finger and draw it against his forehead, tracing one letter at a time to spell out E-n-i-d. That is how he knew who had come to see him.
“ ‘Is this Enid?’ and he said it with such enthusiasm and such excitement and such love and such feeling that it just made you feel so good. Made you feel like you were important and he did not wallow in his handicap,” she said.
Ferguson died at age 92 on March 13, at his Opa-locka home.
Her uncle, Pinkney said, inspired her own achievements as a community activist and educator and he did the same for so many other people.
“He loved to talk and he was always encouraging me,” Pinkney said. “He always said, ‘You are blessed, child. God has blessed you.’ He just believed in me. He just made me think that I could do anything. And you know what? I didn’t know what I was doing and still don’t know!” she said, laughing. “But it’s a human relations thing. He always said, ‘Just be nice to people and people will support you. You don’t have to know everything. If you have good relations with people, people will help.’ ”
He just made me think I could do anything.
Enid Pinkney on her Uncle Robert Ferguson, deacon at Church of God of Prophecy, Miami No. 1
Ferguson’s faith in people would be tested often. Born April 6, 1923, in Colonel Hill on Crooked Island in the Bahamas, Ferguson moved to the United States in 1941. Within a year, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, where he served all over Europe during World War II. He was honorably discharged in 1945, returned to Miami, and married the late Beulah Clark, with whom he raised seven children.
In 1948, Ferguson took a job with the Miami Herald as a custodian and would soon become one of the paper’s first black pressmen in the reel room when the pressmen went on strike. The paper “rallied the custodians who they thought they could teach to operate the press and he was one of those,” Pinkney said. In addition to working in Miami in an era of segregation, Ferguson “got called a lot of bad names because he was breaking the strike. He didn’t know how long he could take the name calling without getting in a fight.”
He toughed it out. Ferguson was a pressman with the paper for 27 years, simultaneously working for Southern Bell Telephone Company as a coin collector, a new field for black workers when he took the position in 1949. His territory extended from North Miami-Dade to Key West. Promoted to supervisor of coin collectors, Ferguson held this position for 34 years until his retirement in 1983.
At Church of God of Prophecy, Miami No. 1, Ferguson, who loved music, was choir master, Sunday school superintendent and member of the Florida Sunshine Band, among other endeavors. Decades ago, he gave his trombone to his grand-nephew Kenneth Curtis, who was 13 at the time.
“I asked him to play the instrument at the funeral,” Pinkney said of Curtis, now 57. “He said he had not played it in a long time and did not know if he could still do it. I told him to practice because I was putting his name on the funeral program. He still has the horn and did a beautiful job of playing it at the funeral. It is an heirloom and a part of Uncle Robert’s legacy of motivating people.”
Ferguson is survived by his daughter Bernita White, sons James, Charles and Ronnie Ferguson, sister Ellen Johnson, nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Services were held.