‘She’d be right there’ — Cleveland remembered for generosity

Published 3:13 pm Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Though Col. Martha “Tea” Stokes Cleveland rose high in the ranks of the United States Army after joining in 1944, she’ll always be remembered in the Heart of Virginia for her kindness, generosity and giving.

Cleveland, who died Sept. 24 at age 97, impacted the lives of everyone she met, according to her friend Joy Cabarrus Speakes.

“When you finished talking to Col. Cleveland, you knew that you could achieve,” Stokes said.

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Cleveland was an avid supporter of her church, Mercy Seat Baptist, along with the Moton Museum, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Order of the Eastern Star, Piedmont Virginia Chapter of Military Officers’ Association of America, Call Me Mister at Longwood University and SCOPE/Meals on Wheels.

She even volunteered at Prince Edward County Middle School.

“She’d be right there,” said 89-year-old Grace Moton, describing Cleveland as her best friend.

When Moton’s daughter, Monica, had second thoughts about joining the ROTC but instead considered going AWOL to stay with her sick father, Moton called Cleveland for help.

“When I called on her, she was right there,” Moton said.

Moton arranged for Monica to meet up with a friend of hers in North Carolina. Cleveland’s friend convinced Monica to join the ROTC, greatly helping Grace. Moton said Cleveland took her to the doctor on numerous occasions, and the two ate out a lot together.

They did a lot of talking during those times, she said.

“I’m older than you are. Come on!” Cleveland would say to Moton when her friend claimed to be tired. “She never stopped. And she never complained.”

After receiving her early education in Prince Edward County’s public schools, Cleveland finished nursing school in Richmond in 1943 and later received her bachelor of science degree at Hampton University, according to her obituary.

For years, Cleveland served in the Army Nurse Corps, where she rose to the rank of colonel.

Her overseas duty stations included Japan, Korea, Europe, Germany and Thailand.

During her time in the service, she received the National Defense Service Medal, Meritorious Service Unit Plaque, the Korean Service Medal and the Vietnam Service Medal.

“I met Col. Cleveland just before I retired,” Speakes said. “I met her at an activity at the Moton Museum,” she said. “She really was a striking woman and you took so much notice of her.”

According to Speakes, Cleveland was a major supporter of the museum.

“A humble woman, she was elegant,” Speakes said she realized of Cleveland after getting to know her better. “She was so generous. And through her journey, I think others were made stronger because of her. Cleveland was a longtime generous donor to the Moton Museum, especially its family challenge fundraiser. The museum would truly not be where we are today without her steadfast and devoted support.”

Speakes said Cleveland won trophies for her fundraising “because that was how generous she was” in wanting to see the museum grow. Cleveland also worked “behind the scenes” to help the needy and those who needed monetary help to get through college, Speakes said.

“She was just a beautiful, beautiful woman … She was just so strong. She was a pillar of the community,” Speakes said.

A funeral service was held Saturday at First Baptist Church in downtown Farmville.