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On Tuesday, December 12th, 2023, the celestial trumpets sounded, and the angels awaited as Helen (Taylor) Pilate embarked on her journey to her eternal home. Helen passed away peacefully in her home at the age of 101 in Chicago, Illinois, where she had resided since 1960.
Affectionately known as Mama Helen, Grandma, Aunt, Miss Helen, or GiGi, Helen (Taylor) Pilate was born on August 6, 1922, in Centralia, Illinois, to Rev. William “Bossy” and Mary (Smith) Taylor. As the seventh of twelve children and the twin to Helena, Helen embraced Christ at an early age in her father's church, Second Missionary Baptist. Her upbringing laid a spiritual foundation that not only became a cornerstone of her character but also served as a guiding light throughout her entire life. This deep connection to her faith profoundly influenced how she approached life's challenges, demonstrating a remarkable blend of resilience and compassion that touched the lives of those around her.
While Centralia remained Helen’s steadfast foundation, a cherished place where she could consistently reconnect with family and her deep spiritual roots, In her mid-twenties Helen embarked on a journey that took her beyond the familiar confines of her hometown. In 1954, she settled in Chicago IL, seeking new horizons and opportunities.
Despite the distance from Centralia, the values instilled during her upbringing continued to shape Helen's life, guiding her towards a purposeful path of service. Alongside her sister Nellie and cousin Kate (Smith), she ventured into a career in cosmetology. By day, she honed her skills and creativity in the beauty industry, while by night, she dedicated herself to tending to newborns as a certified nursing assistant in the delivery/nursing department at Cook County Hospital. This dual commitment exemplified Helen's work ethic and dedication, highlighting her focus on nurturing both the external beauty of individuals and providing compassionate care for children.
While at Cook County Hospital, Helen befriended Charlotte (Pilate) Robinson, who introduced Helen to her younger brother, Willie LeRoy Pilate, recently widowed with 5 young children. Charlotte knew Helen was perfect for her brother, young nieces, and nephews. After two years of dating, Helen and Willie exchanged vows in the spring of 1960 at Pilgrim Second Baptist Church, the Birthplace of Gospel Music in Chicago, IL, officiated by Rev. Junius C. Austin. Willie's role as a Deacon at the church automatically bestowed upon Helen the role of Deaconess. In this capacity, she faithfully served God, supporting her husband in the ministry and caring for the congregation and the church as needed. Helen also joined the Unit Church Ushers League of Illinois, Inc., providing over 60 years of service, ensuring all members and guests are greeted warmly and doing what is necessary to put guests in the right frame of mind for worship.
In September of 1960, Willie and Helen purchased their forever home on the south side of Chicago. Embracing the newfound role of motherhood to five spirited kids, Helen approached her responsibilities with a unique blend of love, discipline, and unmatched style. Helen, a true fashionista in the Taylor family, earned the affectionate nickname "diva" for her impeccable style. Her generosity extended to her children, ensuring they were always dressed in the finest attire with perfectly styled hair. As the years passed, when in-person shopping became challenging, Helen embraced the convenience of online shopping with her granddaughters and nieces, finding a new source of delight in staying fashion-forward.
As a testament to her deep affection for children, in 1964, Helen started a new career with the Chicago Public School System, focusing on caring for special needs and disabled students in high school and elementary settings, which spanned over an impressive 50 years of gainful employment. Devoted to her family, Helen's love was boundless, and she spared no effort in ensuring the well-being of all the children's lives she touched and embraced.
When circumstances required, Helen and Willie stepped up to become legal guardians, raising two of their grandchildren as their own. Furthermore, in 1985, Helen expanded her nurturing role by becoming a registered Foster Parent for the city of Chicago. Over the years, she opened her heart and home to over 25 misplaced children, providing them with the warmth and care only a mother could offer.
Helen's generosity extended beyond formal arrangements; her home remained a welcoming haven for any family member in need of temporary shelter, and she never turned anyone away. Even at the age of 91, Helen chose not to retire to rest but to continue caring for and aiding in the upbringing of a third generation of grandkids. Her unwavering commitment to family and community defined a legacy of love and selflessness that will be remembered for generations to come.
In her latter years, Helen found her final spiritual home at the Love of Christ Baptist Church in Chicago, IL, led by Pastor and Teacher Keith Gordon. Pastor Gordon was among the few who sat and prayed with Helen in the weeks leading up to her transition.
Helen is survived by three daughters—Joyce (Pilate) Smith, Alice (Pilate) Johnson, and Lucy Pilate—and three sons—Lucious Pilate, James Harvell, and Jamaal Pilate. Among those who held a special place in her heart and benefited from her role in their upbringing were her granddaughters, Michelle Pilate and her daughter, Olivia Pilate, whom she called “her special great-grandchild, and Henrietta Johnson, who would stop by once a week with flowers. Her special nieces, Marion aka “Bunny”, Rowena, Lisa, Renie, Barbara, great niece Lydia, and nephews Garland and Rick. A legacy of 10 grandchildren, 9 great-grandchildren, and 10 great-great-grandchildren, multitude of great nieces and nephews, and many more great-great nieces, nephews, and cousins.
In addition to her immediate family, Helen leaves behind her cherished circle of family and friends, which encompasses her brother-in-law, F.C. Bates, a special friend, James (Monsoon) Smith, along with caregiver, Jahanna (Shonda) Lindsey.
Helen's lasting legacy is one defined by love and warmth. She is preceded in death by her parents, all ten siblings, and her husband, Willie L. Pilate. Also preceding her were two sons—Larry and Willie C Pilate—two grandsons, Gregory Johnson and Charles Pilate Jr, and her daughter/granddaughter, Arie (Pilate) Jenkins.
A celebration of life service will be held at 1:00 p.m. Saturday, January 6, 2024, at Calumet Street Christian Church. Friends and family are invited to visiting hours from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the church. On-line condolences and memories of Helen may be shared with the family at www.maczfuneralhomes.com or on their Facebook page. Irvin Macz funeral Home is privileged to be assisting the family of Helen Pilate with arrangements.