Couple honors dead loved one by saying 'I do' at his funeral

ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Sharletta Johnson (left) and Sue Johnson (right) comfort their mother, Alfreda Johnson-Scott.
ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Sharletta Johnson (left) and Sue Johnson (right) comfort their mother, Alfreda Johnson-Scott.
Posted: March 29, 2013

REGGIE WADE and Monique McMillian-Wade got engaged in a Walmart parking lot, wore gold-and-black T-shirts to their wedding and got married at a funeral.

"I didn't think you could do that at a funeral," McMillian-Wade said. "I never even heard of that on TV."

Their March 9 nuptials took place during the funeral of Wade's uncle, Gregory "Chops" Scott, who allegedly had been gunned down by his own cousin and another man Feb. 27 outside Scott's West Philly home.

Before his death, Scott had promised to walk McMillian-Wade, 29, down the aisle, since her own father died years ago. Wade, 39, said that in a family big on promises, he and his bride wanted to honor the promise Scott had made, so they decided to combine their wedding with his funeral.

"This was the last time his presence was gonna be here with us, and he promised me," Wade said. "It's like I got to live up to my word. We never lie to each other. "

Scott's widow, Alfreda Johnson-Scott, 56, supported the out-of-the-box plan for the send-off of her husband - a man so beloved that about 2,000 people and several drill teams participated in a funeral procession that closed four blocks of Pine Street.

"We keep our promises, and he promised to give her away," Johnson-Scott said. "It might not have been the right way, but he still gave her away - and he was dressed for the occasion."

Wade and McMillian-Wade, who have three children, have been together for eight years. On Thanksgiving 2011, McMillian-Wade was celebrating with Wade's family when the topic of marriage came up.

"She started crying about how she didn't have no family because her dad passed away of liver complications," Wade said. "[Scott] held her, and while she was crying he said, 'Don't worry, I'll walk you down the aisle. I'll give you away.' "

So, one day last year, as the couple went shopping at Walmart, Wade popped the question, right there in the parking lot.

"We was probably arguing on the way there," Wade said. "As she got out, I met her and got on one knee."

The couple obtained their marriage license Feb. 13 and planned to tie the knot at a wedding chapel before April.

But on Feb. 27, Scott, 55, was shot to death outside his home by his cousin, James Scott III, 47, and another man, James Hiller, 25, over a longstanding dispute, family and police said. Gregory Scott once again told James Scott to stop drinking and selling drugs on Gregory's mom's porch, the family said. James didn't like that, and shot his cousin dead.

As a younger man, Gregory Scott had his own time as a "gangbanger" in West Philadelphia, family said, but after his wife threatened to leave him and take the kids if he didn't change his ways, he turned his life around.

Known to those who loved him as "Chops" and "Porky," Scott became a community leader and a drill master with the Gold Coast Buccaneers in West Philadelphia, and worked at his brother's Family Variety Store & Deli. He even had a signature handshake known around the neighborhood.

Planning his funeral wasn't that hard, because he would often talk about his own service, said his daughter Sue Johnson, 37.

"We're not scared to talk about death, so we already knew what he always wanted," she said. "When we'd go to a funeral, he'd say 'See, this is what I don't want. Here is how I want it.' "

What Scott didn't want were somber words read from a book or puffy faces filled with tears. He wanted the service to be unusual and joyful. That meant including songs, praise dancers, speakers, drill teams, a four-block-long procession that looked more like a parade - and a surprise wedding.

On the day of the funeral, the family was overwhelmed by an estimated 2,000 mourners, only 850 of whom were able to fit in the First Corinthian Baptist Church on Pine Street near 51st.

Minister Caleb Johnson, Alfreda Johnson-Scott's brother, who presided over the funeral, began the service by telling everyone to expect the unexpected.

"If you came to this looking for a funeral as usual, you are in the wrong place," he said. "This is going to be something unusual. This is going to be one for the books."

During the four-hour service, the Gold Coast Buccaneers drill team performed in the church and Scott's friends and family spoke and sang songs in his honor, including his daughters, Sue and Sharletta Johnson, who sang Celine Dion's "Because You Loved Me" as they twirled around his casket with a large picture of him in their arms.

It was toward the end that Caleb Johnson made the surprise announcement.

"I said 'Well, like I told y'all in the beginning, this was going to be an unusual service,' " he recalled. "I said, 'Now we're going to have a wedding.' "

Caleb Johnson said some in the crowd were shocked and some were amused.

"You had some gasps and you had some laughter because folks knew, who else would do this?" he said.

Alfreda Johnson-Scott then rose from her seat.

"I got up and said, 'Why you all sitting? It's a wedding, get up and clap!' " she said.

Wade and McMillian-Wade got out of their seats, dressed in their Gold Coast Buccaneers' black-and-gold shirts with Scott's picture on them, and stood in front of the casket while Caleb Johnson administered their marriage vows. McMillian-Wade cried the entire time.

"It was a simple 'Do you? Do you? I now pronounce you,' " Caleb Johnson said.

After the service, which was first reported by the Westside Weekly, McMillian-Wade was overwhelmed by well-wishers.

"A lot of people I didn't know said 'Congratulations' and 'Oh, your marriage is going to be blessed,' " she said.

Scott's family is still fielding calls about the funeral.

"People didn't want to offend us, but they were like, 'That was the best funeral ever!' I keep hearing this everywhere I go," Sharletta Johnson said. "I got one call and they said 'I heard your pop's funeral was off the hook!' "

Sue Johnson likes to imagine that her father was looking down on the whole thing.

"He was up there telling like 12 angels, 'Come here and look at this,' " she said. " 'This is how my family represent!' "


" @FarFarrAway

Blog: PhillyConfidential.com

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