Arabella Partlow could be counted on.
Whether it was being in the same seat at St. John Baptist Church every Sunday, taking care of her family and neighbors or providing service through a taxi company for more than 50 years, the Gainesville resident was a reliable presence.
Partlow died Wednesday at age 102, and on Friday — which would have been her 103rd birthday — her church will hold a visitation from 6:30-8 p.m. Her funeral is set for 11 a.m. Saturday at St. John.
St. John pastor Stephen P. Samuel recalled seeing Partlow jogging up the hallway to the sanctuary after she stopped in the hallway near his office to say hello on Sunday mornings. He often pointed to her as an example, particularly for the youngest in his church.
“It’s good to see what it means to have that kind of faith for so long and right up to the end, to realize that her faith was in Christ,” Samuel said. “That’s awesome.”
Montine Whelchel Smith, Partlow’s niece, along with Smith’s sister Deborah, were the main caretakers for Partlow in her later years. Montine Whelchel Smith fondly remembered her aunt giving family and neighbors rides to school and work. She said that’s how Partlow and her husband, Willie, got started with their taxi business, Blue Bell Cab Co.
Gainesville resident Charles Morrow recalled the Partlows as being among the few black business owners in Gainesville many years ago. He said the secret to their longevity and success in the taxi business was simple.
“If she made a promise to you, she would keep it,” Morrow said.
Smith said the Partlows never had any children of their own, but they took care of so many children.
Essie Grant moved to Gainesville in 2009 and quickly became good friends with Partlow.
“She was the most pleasant person I’ve ever met,” Grant said.
Grant recalled how even after turning 100 that Partlow made a habit to walk regularly. Partlow also kept raking leaves and sweeping even up until recent weeks.
“She was going to do her raking and she was going to do her sweeping, regardless,” Smith said. “If it wasn’t raining, she was going to be out there.”
Nephew Marvin Whelchel noted how anyone riding in her car, cab No. 7, was going to leave encouraged.
“She loved the people she was hauling to work,” Whelchel said. “She always gave them a kind word.”
Janice Austin, secretary at St. John, said Partlow will be remembered for her consistency and her humor.
“She was just a gem of a person,” Austin said. “She’s going to be so missed.”
Former Gainesville City Councilwoman and Mayor Myrtle Figueras shared a draft of remarks she will give at Partlow’s funeral Saturday.
“She painted a portrait of the Christ who gives human hope: how she smiled and loved on the children, as she swept each bit of sand around her home and our neighborhood, as if she were sweeping away the ugliness and replacing it with a clean slate,” Figueras wrote. “She shared beautifully the strength of a loving family as she walked joyfully around our community, how she sat with us, clapped with us, rocked with us and bowed with us in sincere worship to our Lord!”