Ernest Strother, chef, took the high road

Posted: April 16, 2012

ERNEST Strother was not really a born renegade, but he couldn't stand injustice when he encountered it.

That acute sense of right and wrong that guided him all his life might have had its origin in the segregated South of his childhood.

It was when he was in 10th grade at Abbeville High School, in Abbeville, S.C., in the early '30s that Ernest became aware that the "separate but equal" doctrine followed by many Southern school districts was a farce.

The whites-only and blacks-only schools were separate, all right, but rarely equal. Something inside young Ernest Strother rebelled, and he demanded that the school for African-Americans that he attended be given the same facilities as the neighboring white schools.

He was branded a troublemaker and expelled.

However, the more-enlightened school board overruled the administration and reinstated the young rebel.

Ernest Lewis Strother Sr. went on to graduate from a high school in Atlanta, moved to Philadelphia to raise his family and worked 35 years as a chef for an insurance company and became a pillar of the Presbyterian Church.

He died of heart failure on April 10. He was 96 and was living in the Broomall Presbyterian Home in Delaware County, but had lived for many years in West Philadelphia.

Ernest was a 33rd Degree Mason and was active in the Boy Scouts and the NAACP. His community and church work earned him an honor from the Chapel of the Four Chaplains.

He was also a dedicated traveler, visiting 49 states, Mexico, South America, the Caribbean and Canada.

Ernest was the first African-American male lay moderator of the Philadelphia Presbytery. He was also the first African-American moderator of the Presbyterian Men of the Synod. He was the oldest continuous member of the board of Presbytery Homes & Services.

He attended eight Presbyterian General Assemblies and served as a commissioner. He was a member of the National Black Presbyterian Caucus, and served on numerous standing and ad hoc committees.

Over the years, many Presbyterians also sampled his culinary expertise.

Ernest was born in Royston, Ga., the oldest of the four children of Lucy Perrin and Lemuel Strother. He graduated from Washington High School in Atlanta in 1933.

He moved to Philadelphia in 1936. He attended Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania, but did not graduate, due to family responsibilities. He married Catherine D. Bentley in 1939.

During World War II, Ernest worked as a weaponry calibrator at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. After the war, he worked in food service for the Provident Mutual Insurance Co., retiring in 1970. He was a certified executive chef.

He was a member of the Delaware Valley Professional Chefs Association and Explorer Post 650 of the Boy Scouts. He also was a member of the Association of Parliamentarians.

Ernest was a member of the former Reeve Memorial Presbyterian Church before it was dissolved in June 2005. He then joined Overbrook Presbyterian Church.

"He is remembered for his sense of humor, kindliness and sense of justice," his family said. "He always wanted to be known for taking the high road. Late in life, he inspired others with his optimism and grace.

"His motto was 'Every day is a bonus.' "

He is survived by two sons, Ernest Jr. and Robert George; a sister, Essie Patterson; a brother, Robert H. Strother Sr.; three grandchildren and a great-grandson.

Services: Memorial service 11 a.m. April 23 at Overbrook Presbyterian Church, 6376 City Ave. A Masonic service will begin at 10 a.m.

Donations may be made to Presbyterian Children's Village, Development Office, 452 S. Roberts Road, Rosemont, PA 19010.

Contact John F. Morrison at 215-854-5573 or, or follow on Twitter @johnfmorrison

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