“Ticking time away from all. Tick, tick, it will take your dream. Get up and make your dream live because the clock will never quit ticking.”
Those were the words of Mrs. Leola Dillard, who at 108 years old, continually kept pursuing her dream of spreading kindness and love for over a century.
That incredible life ended this week.
“She was a precious lady who seemed to always put the well-being of others first,” said Bernie McGinty. “She will be missed by many.”
Words similar to McGinty’s circulated throughout the entire Yazoo community as news of Mrs. Leola’s death hit home. Mrs. Leola received national attention for her volunteer efforts. She met famous celebrities and national leaders. Yet, she always spoke of Yazoo and its people. It was her home, and she made Yazoo proud as well.
Mrs. Leola Dillard was born on Feb. 6, 1912 in Bentonia to Xavia and Roxie Runnels. She was their only child, and she spent her younger years on the family farm. Waiting at the window of her home each night, she would wait for her parents to return. It was then that they would enjoy food from the fields.
“That was one of the best times of my life,” Mrs. Leola said, in a previous interview. “But leaving the country and moving to Yazoo City was wonderful.”
After her family moved “to town,” Mrs. Leola began to explore a variety of hobbies and other interests. She started a crochet class, making coats and bedspreads.
Mrs. Dillard married Swayze Dillard Sr. and enjoyed 60 years of marriage and nine children. Their home was on Brickyard Hill. And it was on that Hill that Mrs. Leola began one of her missions in life: to improve the life of her children, her neighborhood, her world.
“On Brickyard Hill, she created a library in her home when we young children had no access to an adequate library,” recalled Gloria Owens. “She advocated for a park so we young children would have a safe place to play.”
The Leola Dillard Park remains on Brickyard Hill to this day.
Mrs. Leola was also very active in the local civil rights movement, including registering to vote and becoming the first African-American to work at the Mississippi State Employment Office in Yazoo City.
“I understood the system, and I treated everyone with kindness,” Mrs. Leola said. “But I stood up for what I believed in.”
Mrs. Leola was also a teacher and was instrumental in helping many young people get into the Job Corps. She created the Yazoo City Community Club for senior citizens. She bought school supplies for children. She was famous for her free community flea market held annually, eventully gaining more attention on Make A Difference Day.
Mrs. Leola Dillard worked three jobs to put her children through college at the same time.
“It was hard, but my dream of an education for all of my children worked out,” Mrs. Leola said.
Her dream...always giving love and support to anyone regardless of age, gender or race.
And that dream can be found within the people she touched daily.
Belinda Manor often visited the Dillard home as a home health nurse to tend to Mrs. Leola’s husband.
“I don’t think I ever saw Mrs. Dillard without a smile and caring words when she talked to you,” Manor said. “A true lady and advocate for her community, she will be missed.”
“She was a wonderful mother, and her children adored her,” said Linda Dozier.
Due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic, only immediate family will be able to attend Mrs. Leola’s funeral service. However, a visitation service will be held on Friday at Scott Funeral Home from 3-6 p.m. A spring memorial will be held to celebrate her life and legacy next year.
The legacy of Mrs. Leola will always remain in Yazoo. She is a part of Yazoo’s story, and her kindness and life lessons will continue for years to come.
“Kindness is one of the purest traits of the human heart,” she said. “Everyone should be kind. We have to love each other.”