Ethel Lance

“I forgive you. You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to her ever again—but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul … You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. If God forgives you, I forgive you.”

Nadine Collier, Daughter

Nadine Collier, Ethel Lance’s daughter, rocked the world when she stood at the podium in the court house and addressed her mother’s murderer. Nadine was the youngest of Ethel’s children and considers herself her mother’s best friend. They spoke every morning at 7:30 to check in on each other, and that was followed by several calls or texts throughout each day.

It’s easy to see why. By all accounts, Mrs. Lance had all the markings of a youthful spirit, despite her 70 years. She is remembered as a lover of Etta James, dancing and perfume. She was known to partake in a little gambling now and then, was quick with a joke, adored Porgy and Bess, and loved Gospel concerts. She had worked as Emanuel’s sexton for five years, and security cameras had caught her dancing as she vacuumed.

She had started working as a custodian in 1968 after the opening of the Gaillard Municipal Auditorium, and stayed until she retired in 2002. Through the years she took the opportunity to take her family to gospel performances there. In her role as custodian, she took pride in being the model of discretion. James Brown, Jimmy Carter, Martin Luther King and other celebrities had been in the rooms she kept tidy, but she never went into details about what she may have witnessed after they left. She had been approached with promotions many times, but didn’t seem interested in managing other employees.

A Fixture at Mother Emanuel

A Charleston native and lifelong member of Mother Emanuel, Ethel Lance was a constant fixture at the church. Either working, attending Bible study or services, she was known to be there almost 7 days a week.

Her grandson remarked how common it was for him to reach out to check on his grandmother, but always have to wait for a callback, because she had to “go and take care of the church.” Her daughter Sharon Risher remarks that “The church was part of the fabric of her life.”

“She was at the church seven days of the week. I believe if God gave her eight she would have been there eight days a week. … Mother Emanuel was deep down in her spirit, her soul.”

Rev. Norvel Goff


Ethel Lance
Ethel Lance ( WFAA )

By all accounts, Ethel Lee Lance was the family matriarch, heart, and strength. Her 6 grandchildren remember her as a symbol of love, with steadfast encouragement for them to succeed, and plenty of grits and bacon for breakfast, and the “heart of the family”

She led her family through the loss of her husband in 1988 and then later when her daughter Terrie died in 2013. Her granddaughter Najee said at her ‘Granny’s’ funeral;

“…thank you, Granny, for keeping your promise to my mother before she died, and that was to get me through school. Granny graduated high school. My mother graduated college. And now I have to graduate with a master’s.”

Najee Washington


WFAA Staff. 2015. “Dallas Daughter of S.C. Church Shooting Victim Finds Comfort.” WFAA. July 11, 2015.
Von Drehle, David, Jay Newton-Small, and Maya Rhodan. 2015. “What It Takes to Forgive a Killer.” TIME.Com, November 12, 2015.
The South Carolina Department of Education. n.d. “Ethel Lee Lance – South Carolina African American History Calendar.” Accessed July 21, 2019.
Simeone, Jessica, Tasneem Nashrulla, Ema O’Connor, and Tamerra Griffin. 2015. “These Are The Victims Of The Charleston Church Shooting.” BuzzFeed News. June 19, 2015.
Keneally, Meghan. 2015. “Moments of Grief at 1st Funerals for Charleston Victims.” ABC News. June 25, 2015.
Darlington, Abigail. 2015. “At Funeral for Ethel Lance, Family Says She Is ‘Symbol of Love’ | Archives | Postandcourier.Com.” June 24, 2015.