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Service-oriented life of former City Council member Barbara Swearengen Ware ends at 82

Barbara Swearengen Ware valued the good that people do over a lifetime of service. She said as much a few years back when saluted at The New Tri-State Defender’s 65th Anniversary Legends and Leaders Gala.

The long-serving, former Memphis City Councilwoman – a passionate fighter for the residents of District 7 – died at Memphis University Hospital on Thursday, with her family confirming that she succumbed to COVID-19. She was 82.

Upon retiring from the council after sixteen-and-a-half years, Ware reflected upon her service during a conversation with the TSD.

“I have been an adamant voice for the constituents in District 7 and I have consistently responded to the issues that were important to the district,” she said.

“It’s been an honor to serve and I’m retiring to spend more time with my family, my children and grandchildren, and particularly my husband, who is my pastor, to work with him in the ministry. …

“The decision to retire and leave my constituents, colleagues and the other hard working and dedicated city employees is heart wrenching, but I sincerely believe it is the right thing to do.”

Ware’s retirement came on the heels of the state’s pursuit of official misconduct charges asserting that she maneuvered to have the Shelby County Clerk’s office renew car license plates on vehicles that had not been inspected, as was the law at the time. A diversion agreement settled the matter and she pushed on.

Perseverance punctuates the legacy of Ware, a1957 graduate and ardent Douglass High School supporter. Proud of what she accomplished while representing Frayser, New Chicago, Douglass, Downtown and other North Memphis communities, Ware said, “Some of the issues have taken years to come to fruition, but I stuck with it. …

“I fought years for the new Douglass High School, and I advocated for the new Manassas High School. I also fought for the only year-round swimming pool in the Bickford community, and I’m thankful for the privilege and honor to have served.”

Evangelist Barbara Swearengen Ware with her husband, Pastor Emeritus Albert W. Ware of Faith Fellowship Church. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley)

Ware was born on April 21, 1939, the youngest of seven children and was reared in the Douglass Community. She graduated from Douglass High School and pursued higher education at LeMoyne-Owen College and Shelby State Community College (now Southwest Tennessee Community College).

A U.S. Postal Service employee, she retired after 28 years of service. She was the first African-American female customer service representative here and held the position the last 10 years of her postal career.

A 1999 graduate of the Leadership Institute of Memphis, Ware was an ordained evangelist and a gifted singer. She was the wife of Pastor Emeritus Albert W. Ware of Faith Fellowship Church.

Ware’s family includes District 4 Memphis City Councilwoman Jamita Swearengen.

“Please keep my family and me in your heart and prayers as we mourn the loss of our love one, Evangelist, Councilwoman Barbara Swearengen Ware,” Swearengen posted on social media.

Barbara Swearengen Ware was the center of attention during the unveiling of a sign signaling the honorary designation of Councilwoman Barbara Swearengen Ware Street at the corner of Sunset and Mt. Olive Rd. (Photo: George W. Tillman Jr./TSD Archives)

Tributes and condolences to the family poured onto social media sites as early morning news shared news of Ware’s death. Elected officials on multiple levels acknowledged her passing and extensive community service.

Among the acknowledgements was this message from the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators:

“Barbara Swearengen Ware was a giant in our community who left an incredible legacy in the Douglass, TN community. Every encounter with Councilwoman Ware was filled with the warmth and support of a mother figure who truly loved her children. She will be missed dearly.”

Ware often said the theme of her life was: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways, acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Service arrangements are pending.

(This story reflects reports by Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell and TSD Associate Publisher/Executive Editor Karanja A. Ajanaku.)


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