Lonzie Symonette, chaplain, Pikes Peak Hospice
We sometimes say that leaders are born. The truth is, they are — but generally not on the day of their natural birth. The Rev. Lonzie Symonette clearly recalls the day of her birth as a leader.
The year: 1973. “I was sitting in my kitchen, working on what you’d call a homework assignment for my Bible Study Fellowship class. It was so frustrating. It was a passage from the Bible. I couldn’t get it. So I prayed it, as if it were real. And my life was changed that very day.”
Symonette emerged from her kitchen a new and empowered woman. From now on, she told herself, she would stop trying to control her world. Instead, she would seek advice through prayer from a higher power — her personal God.
“Suddenly, I got a sense of purpose and peace with my journey,” she says. She knew what she had to do: become a member of the clergy. Her journey had had its challenges, pain and disappointment. But where once she fought these twists in the road, now she accepts them.
Symonette was born and raised in Miami, Fla. “I had a great mom and dad. They were hardworking people with strong work ethics.”
She came to Colorado Springs the way so many other women did in those days — trailing a husband in the military who’d been assigned to Fort Carson. “When I first set eyes on this land, saw the beauty of the mountains, I thought it was just gorgeous. I had never seen snow before. And I thought, ‘I want to know the God who made these beautiful mountains.’”
Following graduation from Fuller Theological Seminary (her third post-high school degree), Symonette was assigned to visit the sick and shut-ins. It was during a hospital visit to a dying parishioner when she met the hospital chaplain, who sensed a kindred spirit in Symonette. He suggested she study hospice and palliative care.
Once again, it was back to school for Symonette, this time the hospice care program at Penrose St. Francis. Certificate in hand, she set out on her new career: to attend to the critically ill and the dying. “The very first day I went to work at Pikes Peak Hospice, I exhaled and thought, ‘This is where I’m supposed to be!’” she says.
As head of the organization’s spiritual ministry, she has learned much about life from the dying. “I’ve heard people say they wished they had spent more time on their relationships with family and friends. I have heard people regret that they did not get to know their God better. In 13 years, I have never heard one dying person say they wished they had made more money or traveled more,” she says.
Symonette also is a published author four times over, owns and operates a publishing house, LMS Publishing, serves as an adjunct instructor at Fuller Colorado Theological Seminary, and manages the affairs of the Payne AME Church.
Her family played a significant role in allowing her to fulfill her mission in life. “I have a very understanding and supportive husband,” she says of Norman Symonette. “My daughters (Erika and Stephanie) are wonderful young ladies. I could not have done all this without their support.”
But most of the credit goes to God, she says. “It was that initial turning my life over to God that showed me the way,” she says. “It doesn’t mean your life will be easy. But it will have purpose.”
By Dan Cook