So tenderhearted was Darlene Marie Stevenson that when, as a child, she discovered a butterfly, injured and lying on the ground, she rushed to try and save it.
“She was warm and caring and always showed compassion toward others,” her sisters, Grace Mills and Valeria Jones, both of Pittsville, wrote in a heartfelt tribute to their 64-year-old sister, who was killed in a traffic accident near Tilghman Road in January.
Lisa Long admired that loving spirit and developed not only a working relationship, but a treasured friendship, with Stevenson as the women worked at Apple Discount Drugs in Fruitland, with Stevenson front counter supervisor and co-buyer for the store’s popular gift section. Stevenson worked at Apple more than 20 years and often accompanied Long on trips to shows, where they chose unique pieces.
In June, a sign with red lettering, Stevenson’s favorite color, was erected naming the section Darlene’s Gifts and drug store staff joined for a dedication ceremony.
“She was just a lovely person inside and out,” Long said.
“She just shined. Customers loved her. Co-workers loved her. We all just loved her. She was a very good dresser and she could accessorize just beautifully. Our tastes were very similar. We bounced ideas off each other. She was very creative.
“The gift shop was good but we worked together to make it more homey, more welcoming. We used more welcoming colors. We choose more gifts that kind of reflected what our clientele wanted,” Long said, adding inventory includes Pennsylvania Dutch and Russell Stover candies, stuffed animals, Simply Southern T-shirts, socks, beach gifts, knick-knacks and signs.
Stevenson, a Parkside High School graduate, was killed the morning of Jan. 25 after a car struck the vehicle she was in. Long was at home, getting ready for work, when she learned of her friend’s death.
“I never thought in my lifetime I would ever get that call. A woman’s life. She was a mother and a sister and friend. It’s very hard. We miss her every day,” she said.
“It was a tragic death. She was taken from us too early but heaven couldn’t wait,” Stevenson’s daughter, LaToya Brown of Salisbury, said.
“Mom did have an artistic side. When me and Mom spent our time together we had great conversations, we shared things, laughter. You could talk to her about anything without it getting back to someone. Mom went to church. She went to Powerhouse Church of God In Christ and she sang in the choir. She was an usher and she was on the Hospitality Committee.
“When my brother and I were growing up, she wasn’t strict but she was firm. She wanted us to better ourselves. She was very encouraging,” Brown said about her mother, who had six grandchildren.
Son Andre Jones, engaged to Shannon McCready, said his mother could always make him feel better.
“Her concern for me was different from her concern for my sister. I remember her saying to me – and I tell my oldest son the same thing – no matter what job you have always do your best. It might not be what you want, but at least you have a job. And put God first,” he said.
His mother had a natural ability to decorate a home, he said, describing every place they lived as “having style and always laid out.”
“At the funeral, there were so many people. There were people that didn’t have anywhere to sit,” Brown recalled.
“Mom had a big impact on a lot of people’s lives. The people that did my mom’s nails, everybody, were telling me Mom was a great person,” she said, adding Apple closed the store so everyone on the staff cold attend the funeral.
“When they told me they were going to name the gift shop after her all I could do was cry,” Brown said.
The daughter of Alice and James Collins, Stevenson was the oldest of five children, three girls and two boys.
“She was a good child, a good woman, a good daughter, a good sister, a good mother, a good grandmother, a good aunt, a good friend,” Mills and Collins wrote in the tribute.
“As a teenager she loved to write love songs and poems. She also loved to draw. She was a huge Motown fan and she enjoyed listening to soft rock music. She would spend some of her money she earned from one of her jobs on 45s, vinyl records, just about every week. During the ’70s, most families didn’t have a lot of money to afford babysitters so the oldest child would have to look after their younger siblings and Darlene had to. We were good kids, but sadly some of us would be mischievous and give her a little trouble at times when she was watching us. She would always cry and blame herself if one of us hurt ourselves doing something we shouldn’t have been doing even though it wasn’t her fault.
“She was just that way. When our mother was sick, we all helped to take care of her but Darlene would be the one to take her to all her doctor appointments and make sure she would take her medication correctly. We will never get over the loss of our beloved sister. That’s the reality. We will grieve forever,” they wrote.
When she was growing up, Brown often received advice from her mother – to faithfully pray and depend on God “to send the right husband.”
“I am married now and he is the only man my mom approved of. My mom loves him. My mom taught me how to cook a little bit even though I don’t know how to cook everything,” Brown said, but her husband, Richard Brown, is a chef interested in putting a new food truck in Salisbury.
“He was a great son-in-law to my mother. Whatever Mom needed, if she didn’t have the money, he made sure that it would get done. He treated my mom like the queen that she is. When she died, it hurt me to the core.
“It was in the morning. I was in bed still sleeping. I didn’t know about all this commotion going on. It was early in the morning but when my husband got home to tell us it was around 7:30 or 8 o’clock. He works for Republic Services and he goes to work at 3:30 in the morning.
“I heard someone open the door and I thought maybe he forgot something so I just rolled right back over and went to sleep. Then I heard someone cough and it sounded familiar. I said ‘That sounds like my son.’ He said, ‘Mom-Mom has been in a car accident’ and I said, ‘Let me get my stuff together’ and I’m so nervous my shoes were on the wrong feet. My husband came in. I said, ‘We got to go’ and my husband said, ‘Baby, just hold on. Your brother is getting ready to come up here.’ My husband broke the news to me. They said she didn’t make it.
“Even though my mother is not here I know she is in a great place and she is always going to be with me in spirit. I look at myself in the mirror and I can say my mom really hasn’t left because she lives within me. I can really sleep good at night. I don’t have any regrets because I did what a daughter should do for a mom.
“I always called Mom every day. I always made sure my mom was OK. Does she need anything? I told my mom I loved her. Not a day would go by that wouldn’t tell her I loved her.
“If you have a mother you need to cherish her while she is here. Give her flowers while she is here because once she is gone that’s it. You’re not going to get another mother.”