It is a very special thing to see John Carroll University administrators, faculty, students and members of the surrounding communities standing together to celebrate the life of a mutual friend, mentor, teacher and spiritual advisor. On Tuesday, Sept. 22, the JCU community did just that, as they honored the life of Rev. Valentino Lassiter, who was known as being “not just an academic” but also a gifted pastor, leader in the Cleveland community and beloved friend of JCU of 26 years. Lassiter passed away on June 12, 2015 at the age of 63, leaving a hole in the heart of all who knew him.
Through the course of the service, it was clear that Lassiter was a man of many strengths. As a man of spirituality, he led the East View United Methodist Church as a pastor for over 35 years. In the Cleveland community, he led by example through education and activism, and was known as being an advocate for the most vulnerable. In the academic world, Lassiter touched the lives of hundreds of John Carroll students and faculty members through his teaching, preaching, mentoring and loving support. The Rev. Donald Cozzens, writer-in-residence and adjunct professor in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, spoke to The Carroll News about Lassiter’s presence at John Carroll University.
“Val and I shared links that made us a bit more than colleagues. We were both ordained ministers who understood the joys and challenges of pastoral leadership. His everyday cheerfulness was grounded in a deep, abiding joy. That’s the truest sign, I think, of a true Christian. Val wasn’t my confessor, but I confessed to him my sin of envy. I really envied his deep, melodious preacher’s voice. His thundering ‘Amen’ always trumped my own ‘Amen’ or ‘Let us pray.’ I will miss this joyful, humble, caring colleague and friend,” Cozzens said.
Although it is impossible to encapsulate every aspect of an individual in roughly an hour, friends and loved ones of Lassiter filled the 60 minutes with their loving memories. The service began with an opening song from the choir of East View United Methodist Church, where Lassiter was a pastor. After the unifying melody, Vice
President for Mission and Identity, Edward Peck, welcomed those in attendance by stressing that although Lassiter left the earth, his presence is always amongst us. “I believe that he is with us in spirit, in his laugh and smile, his hopes and his dreams. We are inspired by his life and faith as a witness to the gospel of peace. We believe we will see him again,” Peck said.
After a series of readings lectured by John Scarano, Director of Campus Ministry and Sheila E. McGinn, Professor and Chair the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, members of the John Carroll University community shared some of their favorite memories of Lassiter with those in attendance.
Danielle Carter, Director of the Center of Student Diversity and Inclusion, shared her memories of Lassiter.
“When I first came to campus, Rev. Lassiter was one of the first people to reach out to me. During the first week of the semester, he invited me to his office, and we had a long discussion about being at John Carroll and being a black person on campus, and that he would be supporting me in any way that he could. We became friends immediately. I was in the office one day, and I overheard some students talking about his classes. One of the students was heading to class, and two other students who were not enrolled in the class were going with them. I thought to myself, ‘who does that?’ I just started laughing and thought, ‘they just wanted to be in his presence.’”
After Carter’s words, Pastor Kenneth Robinson, one of Lassiter’s former students, shared his memories. Robinson’s collegiate experience wasn’t traditional, due to the fact that he began his undergraduate career as an adult. Being surrounded by students who were 30 years his junior was often intimidating for Robinson, but Lassiter was always available to offer encouragement.
“I began to wonder what I could begin to say about a man who was influential in so many lives. A son, a brother, a husband, a father, a grandfather, an uncle, a brother-in-law, a teacher, author, mentor, confidant, colleague, advisor, comedian and friend. How can you wrap all that up in the time we have? He and I would sit in his office and talk about the different aspects of our lives. I was a little intimidated here, but he always had a word of encouragement for me in times when I felt like throwing in the towel. In his classes, I would see students who already took his course come back for more because there was something about the way he taught. His smooth voice, every now and then he would sing a song to emphasize a point. I believe his last assignment here at Carroll was to make sure I finished my studies.”
The service concluded with a benediction from Pastor Kenneth Robinson himself, who now serves at the Christian Valley Missionary Baptist Church.
Editor’s Note: The Carroll News extends our sincerest condolences to friends, family and loved ones of the Rev. Valentino Lassiter. As the voice of the student body, we know the loss of Lassiter is a deep sorrow felt by many. Our thoughts will be with both Lassiter and those affected by his death in the days and months to come.