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Virus claims Willie Mae Sheard, prominent member of Detroit's religious community

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

Willie Mae Sheard, who held a prominent role in the national Church of God in Christ, has died of COVID-19 after being hospitalized in Royal Oak since March 23, her son said Wednesday.

Willie Mae Sheard

Mrs. Sheard died Sunday, April 19, 2020, in Beaumont Hospital. She was 84. She is the wife of national Church of God in Christ Bishop John Henry Sheard, a longtime pastor in Detroit.  He also was hospitalized with the virus, his son said.

"She had come off the ventilator and was doing better, but she took a turn for the worse Saturday," said Sheard, pastor of Greater Emmanuel Institutional Church of God in Christ in Detroit.

Born in Detroit, Mrs. Sheard was a graduate of Cass Tech High School. She was chairman of the Bishops Wives for the Church of God In Christ.

Sheard said his mother "was a tremendous person and a leader of leaders' wives."

"My mother was an encourager who encouraged everyone to be the best they could be" and was a woman of faith who "loved the Lord tremendously" and encouraged others while displaying "no hypocrisy," he said. 

"She was just a positive lady," said Sheard, a general board member of the Church of God in Christ. "She believed in doing the right thing (and) in being true to God."

He said his mother encouraged couples to stay together and "work things out." Mrs. Sheard and John Henry Sheard were married for 64 years.

"She believed in doing the right thing," said J. Drew Sheard.

John Henry Sheard, 84, remains hospitalized but is improving, said his son. The elder Heard is the longtime pastor of Greater Mitchell Temple Church of God In Christ in Detroit. He also is chairman of the board of bishops of the Church of God in Christ.

In a message to members of the church last month, J. Drew Sheard and church Supt. Ethan B. Sheard shared the news of the couple's infection with  COVID-19, writing "In the spirit of transparency and to ensure the health and well-being of our church family, I want to share that Bishop & Mrs. John Sheard have both tested positive for the presence of the COVID-19 virus. They have been admitted to a local medical facility for observation. A season of uninterrupted rest and rejuvenation is requested as they recover from the COVID-19 Virus."

The message added: "We encourage and implore any person(s) that has been in physical contact with them to take every measure to guarantee your health and safety." 

J. Drew Sheard said Wednesday: "We have absolutely, absolutely have no idea where she could have gotten it. It's strange." He said the virus hit his mother "so fast" and that she experienced "shakes" among her first symptoms.

In addition to her husband and son, Mrs. Sheard is survived by another son, Elder Ethan Sheard, a COGIC superintendent; grandchildren, music producer and songwriter J. Drew Sheard II; and granddaughters Kierra Sheard, an international gospel artist, and Madison Sheard.

Her daughter-in-law, Karen Clark-Sheard, J. Drew Sheard's wife, is a member of the famed The  Clark Sisters gospel group.

A private service will be held Friday. J. Drew Sheard said a public service will be held at a later time once the pandemic has passed.

"It's so unfortunate that we can't have a proper service at this time," said the bishop who added that people have been calling from around the country about this mother.