Life Story / Obituary
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Carol C. “Pat” Szopinski (nee Reynolds) passed away peacefully on Wednesday, October 14, 2020, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was born in St. Andrew, Jamaica, on June 22, 1940, to David Reynolds and Gwendolyn English. Cherished mother of Jacqueline Smith, Sandra Swan, David W. (Tabatha) Reynolds, and Roxanne (Jason H.) Ward. Loving grandmother of Andre “Alex,” Nicole, Jerard, Landon, Tavis, Telondra, Darius, Davita, and Jason Andrew. Great-grandmother of Alana and Juste. Dear sister of Robert English and Joan English. Further survived by other relatives and a community of friends across the U.S., West Indies, Canada, and England.
A Woman of Strength
In 1961, Pat “inherited” her Polish surname after she married David L. Szopinski (div. 1973, d. 1975) and immigrated to the U.S., a time when interracial marriage was still illegal in half of the country. As a bright, strong, and independent woman, she raised their four young children as a single parent, after her then former husband died at the age of 35.
A fiercely patriotic woman, Pat often wore a dual Jamaican and American flag pin, emblematic of her love for the two countries. She was exceptionally astute in politics and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1981. The act of voting was engrained in her, and she would crawl through glass, if need be, to cast her ballot in every single election of her life. Poll workers knew her by name. And through her actions, she imparted the significance of free and fair elections.
Pat further dedicated her life to mobilizing support for the socioeconomic development of her Jamaican birthland, building U.S. relations with the Caribbean community, and promoting democracy.
She established and led the West Indies Association of Milwaukee (WIAM) for over two decades, providing cultural awareness and educational opportunities for Caribbean-American individuals living in Wisconsin, as well as fostering camaraderie with American friends and colleagues. In the late 70s through the early 90s, her organization participated in local festivals such as the International Holiday Folk Fair, Juneteenth Day Festival, and African World Festival, to name a few. With WIAM, Pat also brought flavors of the Caribbean to Milwaukee through the creation of a Caribbean dance troupe, the Miss West Indies Pageant, and an Annual Jamaican Independence Day celebration in Milwaukee, which marked Jamaica’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1962.
For eleven years (1982-1993), Pat was President of the National Association of Jamaican and Supportive Organizations (NAJASO), a nonprofit group focused on the economic and social development of Jamaica and West Indian countries. During her tenure as president, she also established NAJASO in Canada and England. Other noteworthy accomplishments under her leadership include:
• Formed the Committee for Economic Growth of Jamaica (CEGJ), a business initiative promoting U.S. investments in Jamaica and import trade ventures into the U.S. Pat lauded the late Elmer L. Winter, co-founder of Manpower International, for his pivotal role and support in helping her to launch this endeavor.
• Collaborated with the National Guild of New York in 1987, playing a major role in the U.S. Immigration Amnesty Act of 1986 by mobilizing illegal and undocumented Jamaican nationals to seek legal status.
• Established the Marcus Mosiah Garvey Scholarship Fund in 1987.
• Led NAJASO during Hurricane Gilbert’s devastation of Jamaica in 1988. The organization’s disaster relief response was legendary, including:
o A 1988 Hurricane Relief Fund (HRF) involved shipping trailer loads of clothes, bedding, tools, and emergency equipment to Jamaica in collaboration with Air Jamaica
o Four (4) medical expeditions of 23 medical personnel from the University of Florida School of Medicine in Gainesville to Jamaica, visiting 6 hospitals
o $1M worth of medicine/medical equipment to hospitals and the Ministry of Health in Jamaica, collaborating with Canada’s Connaught Laboratories in donating and shipping vaccines to Jamaica
o $110K in repairs to the Huntley All-Age School in Manchester, Jamaica
A Lady of Distinction
In recognition for this great work through NAJASO, the Government of Jamaica bestowed upon her the Order of Distinction (Rank of Officer) for outstanding contribution to Jamaica’s development—Educationally, Economically, and Industrially. Subsequently, she was honored with the Certificate of Commendation from then Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson, which read: “Ms. Szopinski has been an ideal citizen, with a strong commitment to community service. She can take pride in all she has accomplished through her hard work and dedication.”
Even after Pat retired from her role as president of NAJASO, she was endearingly referred to as Madam President. Her magnetic personality, warmth, leadership, and competence earned her many lovely lifelong friends and associates.
In addition to her life’s mission in advancing cultural diversity, Pat managed administrative operations for the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge in Milwaukee. As a fraternal organization, her relationship with the Masons was akin to a large family gathering—demonstrating loyalty, festivity, and at times, drama. She was a dedicated, hard-working employee whose pride in demonstrating resilience would never allow her to even consider a sick day. After over 30 years of service, she retired in 2017.
A Brilliant Orator
Pat was a distinguished writer and an inspiring public speaker. The velvety, melodic tenor of her Caribbean accent imbued with British undertones and an unexpected pop of Jamaican Patois would keep listeners engaged while her words inspired. Friends and associates regularly asked for her help in crafting speeches, tributes, and eulogies. At the same time, her quick-witted humor spared no one in everyday conversations. She could whip a dagger so eloquently, the assailed would confuse their own drawn blood for honey.
A Deep Religious Conviction
Above all, Pat was devoted to her religious faith. Raised Catholic, she was a member of St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church in Milwaukee for many decades. In the late 90s, she joined All Saints’ Cathedral Episcopal where she was an active member until she could no longer physically attend service in 2017.
Although she was pioneering in many ways, Pat was very traditional. She loved her home and especially enjoyed entertaining family and friends there for over 40 years. Her legacy will be one that is deeply steeped in a love for her family and customs, unwavering service to others, bountiful friendships, and steadfast endurance.
She will also be remembered for her love of Jamaica and a passion to see it grow into an independent, flourishing nation. Ironically, today she would lament the regression of the country where she will be permanently laid to rest. And since she cannot cast her vote in this year’s U.S. presidential election, the greatest way you can honor her life is to vote.
All services will be held on Wednesday, October 21, 2020, at Wisconsin Memorial Park, Chapel of Chimes, 13235 W. Capitol Drive, Brookfield, Wisconsin 53005. Visitation from 10:00 a.m. CDT until time of the Funeral Service at 11:00 a.m. CDT. Entombment to follow at Wisconsin Memorial Park.
Please be aware that restrictions on group gatherings limit attendance. Flowers are accepted at Wisconsin Memorial Park, or please make a donation in her honor to any organization that supports democratic values.
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