The Rev. Lillian Frier Webb did everything from pastoring a church to ministering to inmates to running a mental health therapy practice.
All the while, she was breaking barriers, relatives and friends said.
“She was a Renaissance woman,” said one of her daughters, the Rev. Jo-An Owings. “She defied all the boxes that others tried to put her in.”
Webb, 94, of Lakeview, died Jan. 25 at Owings’ home in Baldwin, where she was receiving hospice. She died of congestive heart failure, though she had survived lung and brain cancer about a decade ago.
During a long career in ministry, Webb worked at churches in Freeport and Port Washington, and gained a reputation as a beloved, memorable and straight-talking pastor.
“She was a wonderful, beautiful person,” said Bettina Heard, operations manager at Bethel AME Church in Freeport, where Webb was an associate pastor earlier in her career.
In 1985, she became pastor of the Mt. Olive AME Church in Port Washington, where she served for 18 years.
Webb was born in Harlem in 1922 at the dawn of the Harlem Renaissance. Her father, the Rev. Richard Frier Sr., founded the Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in East Harlem. Owings is the pastor there now.
Webb was a bright student, skipping two grades and gaining admittance to the prestigious Hunter High School. It was a rarity in those days for a black woman to attend the school, Owings said.
She went on to study at Hunter College, where she graduated with a degree in chemistry. She later received a master’s degree in religious education from New York University and a master’s in social work from Adelphi University.
In 1964 she became the first woman to be ordained in the New York Conference First Episcopal District of the AME Church — an area that covered New York City and some of its surrounding suburbs, said another daughter, Cay Fatima, of Lakeview.
After her ordination, she worked for the National Council of Churches and became involved in the Civil Rights Movement.
Webb later joined the Freeport church, and by 1975 opened a private practice called Therapy Et. Al. that involved the mind, body and spiritual healing arts. A certified sex therapist, she also developed her writing skills. For 10 years she wrote a popular advice column for Essence magazine called “Your Sexual Health.”
Webb’s work included a stint in the Nassau County Department of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, which led to a more unusual assignment. At the Nassau County Correctional Center in East Meadow she served as a chaplain for 25 years. She started an unusual worship service she called “The Church Inside.”
Each Sunday, between 80 and 100 women inmates would attend a service complete with a choir, ushers and Webb as the pastor.
Webb told Newsday in 2008 that the first service started with eight women and met in a laundry room — the male inmates got the prison’s chapel. The women eventually got a better space.
“I don’t know how many I reached, but inmates have come to me and said that [my work] was not a labor done in vain,” Webb told Newsday.
Some of the former inmates attended Webb’s wake at the Freeport church on Feb. 3, Owings said.
Webb is also survived by her former husband, Robert Stanley Webb, of Fresh Meadows; another daughter, Leslie Frier, of Manhattan; six grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
After the wake in Freeport and a funeral the next day at Mount Zion AME Church in Harlem, Webb was cremated.