Cover photo for William Fortson's Obituary
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1933 William 2017

William Fortson

September 3, 1933 — November 21, 2017

William Ernest “Bill” Fortson (a.k.a. “Pinky Brown”)

September 3, 1933 (St. Louis, Missouri) – November 21st, 2017 (Boulder City, Nevada)

An Obituary of Thanksgiving

The Fortson Family gives thanks to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for the life of William Ernest Fortson (“Bill”) who passed away at the age of 84 years old in this season of Thanksgiving.

We give thanks for his father Woodrow Fortson, a World War II veteran, chauffer for the Busch (Budweiser) family, and cook in St. Louis, Missouri and for his mother, Virginia “Dilsie” Brown McLaurin, of Madison, Illinois who was only 15 years old when she gave birth to him – the only child either one of them ever had.

We give thanks for his grandparents, Will and Viola Brown, a chipper in the Granite City steel mill and a homemaker, who raised light-skinned “Pinky Brown” as their own in Madison, Illinois. (“Mommy, Daddy is a white guy!” said his son Darryl to his mother. His mother informed him otherwise.)

We give thanks to Dunbar Elementary and High School in Madison, Illinois, whose school principal was George H. Lewis, Sr. and whose youngest daughter Harlean Lewis became Pinky’s classmate at the age of four, his wife at the age of 26, and their son Darryl’s dear mother some three years later. (Don’t all those who knew her miss her still?)

We give thanks to Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois, where Bill matriculated following his high school graduation in 1952 until being drafted into the United States Army, where he served stateside from 1955 until 1957.

We give thanks for the Chicago Board of Education, where William Fortson served as a truant officer and to the U.S. Postal Service (where seemingly every black man in Chicago worked part time at night in those days), from 1958 to 1961.

We give thanks for Chicago civil rights activist Al Raby, who paved the way for Bill to become one of the first Black salesman for Clairol Inc. Despite winning sales awards and because he was severely allergic to racism, inviting its perpetrators to kiss the more pigmented areas of his gluteal musculature, Bill was employed by other corporate firms in the 60’s and early 70’s, including the Warner-Lambert company, makers of the feminine hygiene product Vespray that his son Darryl would spray all around their apartment as though it was air freshener (and loving the smell!), and the Polaroid Corp.

We give thanks for Bill’s Package Liquors on 75th and Martin Luther King Drive in Chicago that my father opened with his stepfather, Elvin McLaurin. We thank all of the “fine gents and ladies” of that area of Chatham-Avalon who introduced young Darryl at the age of 12 to the “spectacle and pageantry” involved in the sale and pedestrian consumption of various and sundry beverages like Schlitz Malt Liquor Bull, Colt 45, Hereford’s Cow, and “Shake and Bake”, which was a “brick” of Wild Irish Rose wine with a packet of Kool-Aid in it.

After dealing with the inevitable consequences of his stepfather using the liquor store cash register drawer as a direct extension of his wallet, we gave thanks to Dr. William R. Lewis of Lewis Medical Clinic, who, following the closing of the liquor store, employed his brother-in-law as an administrative assistant for his medical practice, until such time as he pursued his passion and talent for cooking by starting Harl’s Deli at 79th and State Street in Chicago after the passing of his wife Harlean of 21 years in 1982. Finally, we give thanks for the Firestone Company and Reggio’s Pizza, who allowed “Daddy Bill”, as he was known by his grandchildren, to finish his time of employment with dignity, distinction, and satisfaction.

Upon Bill’s passing, he leaves one grateful son, Darryl Lewis Fortson (Shelia) of Las Vegas, Nevada, (known to him as “Hots”) who he disciplined more with fear than violence (except for the time he slapped the taste out of his mouth for looking at him side-eyed the summer before he left for college. It takes Dr. Keith Allen and Mr. Bradford Cooper to tell that story!) He leaves his son his singing voice, inferior to his father’s, that he used at Mount Nebo Baptist Church in Madison, Illinois and later at Apostolic Church of God, and on radio shows with Mahalia Jackson in the late 50’s. He leaves him his outrageous and irresistible sense of humor and a spirit bereft of malice for anyone.  He leaves him with the memories of a White Sox double-header where he and his son both fell asleep; Saturday morning meetings at Operation PUSH; the powdered donuts at Seaway National Bank on Saturday mornings after payday, his homemade sherbet and the taste of a Harl’s Deli corned beef sandwich; a banquet of Saturday and Sunday morning breakfasts always delighted in from late night leftovers from Lem’s, Leon’s, or Barbara Ann’s Bar-B-Que or Harold’s Chicken; his eloquent, creative, and hilarious use of the word “ass”; and the song “Hammer And a Nail” that he wrote for his granddaughter Patty.  He would have left his nephew Roland “Buddy” Lewis a case of Mumbo Sauce, but it spoiled in the summer sun in the trunk of his 1980 Oldsmobile Toronado (ROTFL!)

Bill leaves a grateful and loving daughter-in-law, Minister Shelia L. Speed Fortson, who he taught true joy. He leaves his granddaughter, Daryl Patrice Fortson of Miami, Florida, and his grandsons Larry I. Ford ( Lakaiia Russell) of Las Vegas, Nevada, and Benjamin William Scott Fortson of Miami, Florida; his former daughter-in-law Kimberly Moore Fortson of Miami, Florida, the mother of his grandchildren; the children and grandchildren of Shelia’s daughter Marquita Lottie of Indianapolis, Indiana – Antonia (Larry) Ingram and their children Carmelo and Armani of Las Vegas, Nevada; Danielle Lottie and her daughter Aliyah of Las Vegas, Nevada; Willie T. Graves of Indianapolis, IN and his son King; and Jamaica Bleu Laster of Indianapolis, IN and her sons Desmond and Yisrael; nieces and nephews Donna Lewis Stanley (Michael) and Don K. “Kenny” Lewis of Silver Spring, MD; Pam Lewis Rudden (Stephen “Beanz”) of London, UK and Los Angeles, CA, and The Honorable Robbyn T. Lewis of the Maryland House of Delegates of Baltimore, MD;  Atty. Tracey Lewis of Silver Spring, MD,  Wendy Lewis of Baltimore, MD, who were in many ways the daughters Bill never had but his brother-in-law Bill Lewis trusted him enough to share, and sisters-in-law Gladys S. Lewis of Townson, MD (mother of the above) and Karen S. Lewis of Dyer, IN; Don Eric Lewis (Laurie) of Silver Spring, MD; Terry Lynn Lewis of Silver Spring, MD and their mother, Mrs. Ellen Lewis of Silver Spring, MD.; Roland B. Lewis of Los Angeles, CA (whose success in Hollywood was the topic of his last conversation with his son before his passing), Kimberly C. Lewis of Atlanta, Georgia, and his sisters-in-law Barbara Lewis of Atlanta, GA. (mother of the above; Gregory B. Lewis of Gary, IN and his mother Mildred Lewis of Gary, IN, and young William R. Lewis of Durham, NC and his mother Joanne; his 2nd cousin, Dawn Matthews of Chicago, Illinois; his cousin-in-laws and childhood friends Harold Williams (Betty), and their children Harold Jr. (“Georgie”), Karen, and Lloyd Gregory Williams (Stephenie), all of Houston, TX; David Hodges (Andrea), III (wife) and their son David IV and Jonathan of St. Louis, Missouri; Ann Hodges Mullins (Herb) of St. Louis, MO and their children Chris Mullins (Sika) of Ft. Lauderdale, FL and Shelley Mullins of St. Louis, MO; Annette “Ninny” (Ronald) Shaw of St. Louis, MO; two godchildren - Bernard Long, Jr. of Belleville, IL. and Alaina Long Kamkwalala (Tonnie) of Florissant, MO; and their mother Bernadette Long of Belleville, widow of Bill’s childhood friend Bernard Long, Sr; and his dear friend, Edna Sanders of Chicago, IL, and her daughter Leslie and Lanice Sanders of Chicago, IL as well.

He leaves the laughter of his son’s friends every time his name is mentioned, recalling the hilarity of the things he used to say; Dr. Keith R. Allen (Somvang “Sam”) of Springfield, MO; Dr. Steven Bowman (Karen) of Chicago, IL; L. Bradford Cooper (Robin) of Chicago, IL, who was his dear and faithful visitor when no family member could be during their geographic absence from Indiana, and Guy A. Mason (Rena) of Chicago, IL.

We express our heartfelt gratitude to the physicians, providers, and staff of Munster Med Inn and Community Hospital in Munster, IN and to his faithful nurse Mona Bell who not only cared for him in Indiana, but travelled to see him while visiting Las Vegas; Sunrise Hospital and Desert Springs Hospital in Las Vegas, Nevada, and the Nevada State Veterans Nursing Home in Boulder City, NV who provided OUTSTANDING care to Bill in the latter years of his life.

Thank you all. And thank you, Jesus, for the life of William E. Fortson!

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to:

InReach Ministry

P.O. Box 81863

Las Vegas, NV



Monday, December 4th, 2017


Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery

1900 Veterans Memorial Drive

Boulder City, NV 89005

Recording of Service

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