Carrie Atkins Meeks, 87, cosmetologist, imaginative cook

Posted: March 07, 2014

THE FIRE WAS rapidly devouring the house in Fairmount, and two little girls were trapped on the third floor.

Heedless of her own safety, Carrie Meeks went after her daughters. She ran to the third floor through the thickening smoke as her husband, Tomie, tried to beat out the flames on the first floor.

Carrie scooped up 5-year-old Paula and carried her part of the way down the stairs until she could walk the rest on her own.

She tried to go back to the third floor to get 3-year-old Leslie, but was driven back by smoke.

Frantic, she and her husband, who had given up trying to fight the flames, ran outside. Someone had placed a ladder against the side of the house and they scrambled up.

It wasn't tall enough to reach the third-floor window, but, undaunted, driven by desperation, Carrie managed to climb the rest of the way up to the window.

She found little Leslie, coughing in the smoke but otherwise unhurt, picked her up and carried her out the window and down to safety.

That dramatic rescue in the summer of 1951 was an event she never forgot. Years later, she told her daughters, "If y'all had died in that fire, I couldn't have lived."

Carrie Atkins Meeks, who operated her own cosmetology business in her home and sold dinners there on the weekends to make ends meet, a devoted churchwoman whose faith saw her through serious health issues, died Feb. 18. She was 87 and had been living at the St. Ignatius Nursing Home in West Philadelphia.

After the fire destroyed all their possessions, Carrie and Tomie worked hard to recoup and were able to buy a home in Brewerytown.

She worked for a time for Dee's Record Shop and the W.T. Grant department store before enrolling in the Apex Beauty School in South Philadelphia. She then was able to start her own business.

People who enjoyed Carrie's dinners were treated to such delights as fruitcake marinated for half a year in Creme de Cacao. Someone quipped that it should have been served in shot glasses.

Carrie was born to William Atkins and the former Pauline Williams. She contracted tuberculosis as a child and had to spend many months in a sanitarium. When her health was restored, she attended the Lydia Darrah Elementary School and Stoddart-Fleisher Junior High School. She enrolled at William Penn High School for Girls, but had to drop out in eighth grade to help support the family.

Not long afterward, she met her future husband, Tomie Lee Meeks, who had hitchhiked to New York and then to Philadelphia from his home in Charlotte, N.C., with his buddy Charlie Sifford, who went on to become a celebrated pro golfer.

Tomie was a Navy veteran of World War II, having served in the Pacific. He worked for Nabisco and as a security guard before his death in 2004.

Carrie was skilled with needle and thread, and in carpentry, plumbing and electrical work. She designed and executed many improvements to her home.

She was a 30-year member of Deliverance Evangelistic Church and co-founded its Hope Plaza complex in North Philadelphia.

Severe arthritis hampered her activities in her later years and she developed spinal stenosis. She never walked again after surgery in 2000.

"Nothing shone as brightly as her big brown eyes above her smile, or erupted faster than her laugh," her family said.

She is survived by a daughter, Leslie Yvonne Meeks; a son, Gregory Lee Meeks; a sister, Pauline Atkins Denson; seven grandchildren; and several great-grandchildren. She also was predeceased by her daughter, Paula Meeks Morton.

Services: Memorial service 11 a.m. March 15 at Art Sanctuary, 628 S. 16th St. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Salvation Army or to the American Red Cross in support of fire victims.

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