Giving. Devoted. Faithful. 

Those were the words family and friends used to describe Rose Mae Starnes during her funeral March 9, at Greater St. John Bible Church, 1256 N. Waller.

“Mae was a giving person; she would give you the shirt off her back,” said Rev. Ira Acree, the church’s pastor and Starnes’ cousin. 

 That giving spirit, he said during the well-attended Sunday afternoon service, led Starnes to become the primary guardian of Yasmin and DeMarcus Acree, the children of her sister, Joyce. When Joyce died, Starnes stepped in, even against the family’s advice.

Some family members, Acree recalled, urged Starnes to “live her life” because her only daughter, Shakelia Johnson, was an adult and Starnes had become an empty-nester. But Acree said Starnes didn’t want her sister’s children to bounce from foster home to foster home. That, he recalled, was something she couldn’t live with. 

“She believed in doing her part,” Acree said. “She was a good person. She had a good heart.”

Lindetta McGlory who attended elementary and high school with Starnes, agreed.

“I couldn’t ask for a better friend,” said McGlory, who knew Starnes for 46 years. “No words can explain the type of person she was. It just hurt me when I heard that she was gone.”

Starnes, 57, died Feb. 24 from complications from diabetes and renal failure. But many who packed the church’s pews last Sunday lamented that her heart was heavy over the disappearance of her adoptive daughter Yasmin. In 2008, Yasmin, then 15-years-old, vanished from their West Congress Parkway, two-flat home.

Friends and family said Starnes had lingering questions about her daughter’s disappearance. They said Starnes often wondered whether Yasmin was alive or dead or held captive somewhere.

“I think that bothered her a lot,” McGlory said. “That might have been why she got into a depression.”

Starnes’ daughter Shakelia Johnson said it was hard for her mother to heal and move forward without answers. She recalled that her mother was also plagued by a sense of guilt — that had she been there that night on Jan. 15, 2008, none of this would have happened 

“It took a toll on her life, on her health,” said Johnson, a mother of two — Shakenna and Divonnie. “She just let everything go. She lost her home. She tried to hold on to it just in case Yasmin came back home. She didn’t want her to come there and no one was there. She just held on until she couldn’t hold on anymore.”

But Johnson noted that her mother loved her sister’s children. Though they were a handful at times, she took them to Disney World, threw them birthday parties and made sure they had Sunday dinners. Johnson said her mother made sure they had all the “things they never had before.”

“She loved them as a mother,” Johnson said, describing her mother as a humble person.

Starnes, who worked as a CNA, leaves behind her mother, four children, 10 siblings and six grandchildren. But the love for her family matched her love for God and the church, friends and family said of Starnes. She was a member of Greater St. John Bible Church for 15 years, serving on the pastoral-aide committee.

“When I tell you she was a good church member, I am not being biased because of our relationship,” Rev. Acree said. “She wasn’t a free-loader member. She paid her tithes. She didn’t believe in tipping the Lord.”

Even when her illness took a physical toll on Starnes, Acree said she still managed to come to church.

“I know there were times when she came into this place, you can tell she was weak; weak from dialysis, weak from other challenges she had physically, but she pressed her way to the Lord’s house. She was afraid that if she missed church, she would miss her blessing.”

Any part of the church that Starnes could participate in, she was willing to do it, added Alberteen Acree-Brown, Starnes’ aunt and Rev. Acree’s mother. “She loved life. She loved traveling. She loved her children. She loved her church.”