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Phyllis Foster Gardner


Sunrise: April 29, 1953

Sunset: November 15, 2020

Phyllis Christine Foster Gardner was born to Clarence and Celeste Foster on April 29, 1953. She is third of six children and the oldest daughter. She was a sickly and was diagnosed with a heart murmur as a child. At age five, being inquisitive, she climbed into her mother’s mannequin box. The box was larger than her and when she tried to walk she knocked her feet out from under her. Never defeated, Phyllis tried again. She has worn glasses ever since. Another characteristic that developed during childhood was her heart for caregiving. Her mother became very ill when Phyllis was ten. She told us the memory of having to wave at her mom from the sidewalk because children were not allowed in hospitals. Being the oldest girl, the household duties became her responsibility. She watched over her younger siblings, cooked, managed household chores and kept up with her schoolwork. She balanced adult responsibilities exceptionally well for a child. During her early years, the Foster’s lived in Oakwood. Phyllis fondly recalled a shared neighborhood garden, a party line phone and the dresses her mother would sketch from department store windows and custom make for her. Her parents were working parents. Celeste was a dynamic 1st grade school teacher and Clarence worked long hours as a ship fitter for the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. After Phyllis, came Carey and Mary. So the family was officially a household of four children. Her oldest brother Clarence was playing football and matriculating through St. Paul’s University. Her next oldest brother, Vincent made his living in New York. Patrick was the oldest boy that lived in Oakwood with them. Norfolk was phasing out the Oakwood community and the Foster’s needed a bigger home. As the Lord would have it, Clarence, Sr. crossed paths with a white family who was selling their home in a nice neighborhood nearby called Greenhill Farms.  Not long after, The Lord provided and Clarence moved his family into a beautiful brick home on the corner of Philpotts Rd and Sedgefield Dr.  Having a knack for carpentry, he remodeled the upstairs to be two additional bedrooms and a loft area that the children (and eventually grandchildren) used as a library and play area. He seeded a home into the family. Presently, the Foster family has grown two generations and still regard Sedgefield Dr. as the family home.

Academically, Phyllis described herself as “daddy’s dumb child”. She says he used to bite off her erasers to make her think her answers through before she wrote them down.  Her determination paid off because Phyllis went on to do some great things in her academic journey. She attended Rosemont Jr. High School and learned to play piano from her maternal grandmother Christine Thomas. She graduated a “Mighty Pilot” from Norview Senior High School in 1970. At the time of graduation she was 17, President of the Future Nurses Club and already earned her LPN certification from Norfolk Technical and Vocational Center.   She took her first position as a LPN at Norfolk Community Hospital. Shortly thereafter, she started the Nursing program at Norfolk State University. She worked and went to school full time.  Somewhere “between classes” she caught the attention of Gerald Gardner. She recalls spending time on her Aunt Rosetta Riddick’s porch, who “coincidentally” lived directly across the street from Gerald’s parent’s home. Gerald and Phyllis had a short marriage but a lasting love and in 1974, Phyllis gave birth to Christina Celeste.

After working awhile, her father and paternal grandfather Lester Johnson convinced her to return to school. Norfolk State University did not yet have a Nursing Degree program, so she followed her mother’s legacy and attended Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) to complete her degree. Her grandfather passed away while she was taking her state boards. Never the less, she passed and graduated from Hampton with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 1980.  She has been a very proud Hampton Pirate ever since. In 1981, her maternal grandparents, Christine and Herman Thomas, sold her a corner lot in Titustown for $1. She designed and had her first home built on the corner of Willingham and Hughart Streets. It was completed in 1982.  The three bedroom brick home was perfect timing. During her time at Hampton, she bought a Green Chevrolet Camaro from Colonial Chevrolet. She left the dealership with a new car and the attention of a dashing car salesman, Vince Davis. Their son Patrick Odell was born in March of 1983. Patrick was named after Phyllis’ father, Clarence Odell, who ironically had a family nickname of “Pat”.

Phyllis was a professional Nurse for over forty years before retiring in 2012. She has worked at the following hospitals:

  • Norfolk Community Hospital (LPN, ICU)
  • Portsmouth General Hospital (LPN, ICU, PSYCH)
  • Norfolk General Hospital (now Sentara Norfolk General) ( RN, ICU/CCU)
  • DePaul Hospital (now DePaul Bon Secours) (RN, ICU, CCU, Home Health)
  • Riverside Memorial Hospital (Nursing Clinical Instructor)

She has served as a Home Health Nurse at the following agencies:

  • Beverly Enterprises (Home Care Nurse)
  • Personal Touch (Home Care Nurse, Supervisor)
  • DePaul Home Health (Home Care Supervisor / AIDS & HIV Care Coordinator)
  • American Home Health (Home Care Case Manager Norfolk/Richmond)

She has served as RN in Quality Assurance at the following companies:

  • Tricare
  • Wellpoint (renamed Amerigroup)

Phyllis is the true testimony of an overcomer. She has triumphed over so traumatic experiences in her lifetime. Her parents died on the same day in July of 1986. She took care of her maternal grandparents at home till their deaths. Her health issues alone are a true testament of God’s keeping power. She has endured multiple health issues. Phyllis has suffered 6 strokes and a broken back that required major surgery her neck and lower back, knee surgery twice and two carpal tunnel surgeries. In 2012, the Lord decided it was time to relax a bit. Phyllis was diagnosed with a degenerative neurological disease called Machado Joseph’s that led to her retirement. Since retirement, she has been on two cruises, developed a liking for “penny machines”, casinos, Cook-Out BBQ sandwiches and long drives. For the first time in a in a long while she was able to come to church regularly and became a regular attendee of Midweek Bible Study and Sunday Service. She could be seen up in the balcony every Sunday until her balance made it dangerous to climb the stairs. In 2016, she went to the ER with a bout of Pneumonia she could not seem to get rid of. It was the beginning of her final battle. During a surgery that removed most of her right lung, it was discovered that this pneumonia was actually Stage 4 Lung Cancer. She went through two rounds of Chemo and decided “this is the Lord’s battle” and went home on hospice. That was in 2017.  Virginia Oncology gave her 18 months to live. IT IS 2020!!!

She leaves to carry her legacy her daughter Christina, her son Patrick and a devoted “daughter-in-love”, Belinda. She has three grandchildren, Geramiah Xavier Gardner, Aubrey Tyron Bates, Jr. and Kaylah Adan Bates. She is survived by three brothers, Clarence O. Foster, Sr. (Betty Foster), Patrick A. Foster, Carey L. Foster, Sr., and her baby sister Mary F. White (Alfred D. White, Sr.). She is affectionately known as “Aunt Phyl” to nine nieces and nephews and just “Phyl” to host of family and friends.  She was strong. She endured. She was loved dearly and she will be greatly missed.

Viewing Friday, November 20, 2020 2:00pm - 6:00pm Metropolitan Funeral Service 7246 Granby Street Norfolk, VA 23505 Service Saturday, November 21, 2020 11:00am Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church 934 W. Little Creek Road Norfolk, VA 23505 Interment Calvary Cemetery 1600 St. Julian Avenue Norfolk, VA 23505 The family is following the CDC and State of Virginia guidelines for funeral attendance

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Condolences(13)

  1. reply
    Head, Edwards Family (Diven St./Titustown) says

    Condolences and prayers for the family.

  2. reply
    Rev Linda Clark says

    Dear Christina,
    I was so very sorry to learn of the passing of your mother. Please know that I’m am praying for you and your family. May God’s precious grace continue to be with you in this difficult time my friend.

    • reply
      Rev. Brenda Brown & Kairos Freedom Schools of Virginia says

      To our dear Christina and family,
      We are saddened to hear of the passing of your mother. Know that your Kairos Freedom Schools family grieves with you as we lift you up in our prayers. May God continue to bless and keep you now and in the days ahead.

  3. reply
    Renisha Ricks says

    We are so sorry to hear about the passing of Ms. Gardner. Praying for the peace of the family ❤️

  4. reply
    Philippa Smithey says

    Christina,
    I am so sorry to hear about your loss. The pride your mother felt about you and the kind of person you are must have given her tremendous joy throughout her life. Be strong and know that you are loved and appreciated.

  5. reply
    Judy Barrington-Eure says

    Sending condolences to the family of my former classmate and neighbor. Keeping the family in my prayers.

  6. reply
    KaSean P Davis and Vincena Davis says

    Dear Christina and Patrick,
    We are saddened to hear of the loss of your Mother and our sister friend. Our long conversations and her humor will be missed. We are praying for strength during this difficult time for you. May all the happy memories and love shared with your Mother be remembered help you to celebrate her life. May God bless you both. With love, KaSean and Vinnie.

  7. reply
    Yolanda Carson says

    I know that the Lord has said “ Well done the good and faithful servant!”

    My prayers, condolences and love to you Chrissy and your family. Her beautiful smile and personality will forever live on through you, your brother and your children.

    Love,
    Yolanda and family

  8. reply
    Professor says

    May God bless you all as you journey through a time like this. Our assurance is that there will be a “great getting up morning” when all God’s children get together: what a time, what a time. To you “Missy”, my love always.
    Phyllis’ “Professor”

  9. reply
    Robert J Anderson Sr. says

    So sorry for your loss my prayers to the family

  10. reply
    Judith Walston Henderson says

    To the Cary and Mary and the entire Foster Gardener Family. I am so very sorry to hear of the passing of your dear loved one. Phyllis brought so much joy to me during my growing up in GreenHill Farms. It wasn’t always easy but Phyllis helped me get through some very tough times. I loved it when she’d come and pick me up in that funny colored Toyota that your parents once had and that big ole Oldsmobile. I remember walking down the street from my house to visit Phyllis and her newborn daughter Christina. I haven’t seen Phyllis in many years,but often thought about her and wondered where she was and how she was doing. Well, I know now that she is alright now. Safe in Jesus’s arms. I’m so sorry that I have missed her Home Going Service. May God comfort you and keep you during this most difficult journey and in the days to follow. God bless you always. You have my heartfelt condolences.

  11. reply
    Judith Walston Henderson says

    So very sorry to hear of a very old friends passing. My heartfelt condolences to the family. Phyllis was one beautiful person.

  12. reply
    Judith Walston Henderson says

    Resting in the arms of Jesus. That’s for sure. So sorry to hear about Phyllis passing. But she’s alright now.

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