Remembering Elbert Lott

Evangeline Smith

Published 13 December 2023

Elbert “Bubs” Lott

October 9, 1944 – December 8, 2023

Elbert Lott passed away peacefully in his home on Friday, December 8th. He spent his last days saying goodbye to many beloved friends, drinking a Blue Moon, and eating bites of a homemade sloppy joe sandwich alongside sips of a cherry Slurpee purchased from his most frequented 7-Eleven. 

Elbert was born in Cherokee County, Georgia to Odessa Holliman and Elbert Lott Sr. Elbert was raised by his mother on the south side of Chicago. He came from a large family, four sisters and a brother with lots of nieces and nephews. He often shared stories of his mother and grandmother and would credit them for his cooking knowledge as he would delight in corn bread, biscuits, grits, collards and ribs at the table. Elbert was an usher at New Friendship Baptist Church on 71st and Halsted St., which he began attending with his mother. When his mother passed away in February 1985, he went to live with his sister, Viola and her husband Larry Morgan. 

After Viola suffered from a series of strokes, she began the process of ensuring that Elbert would have another place to live. She reached out to Florence Lang, a program coordinator at Esperanza, an agency in the near west area where Elbert had begun receiving developmental training in 1979. In the mid 1990s Elbert graduated from the training program and began work as a custodian at Esperanza. Through connections with Lisa Wagner, Florence Lang knew of a worldwide organization with its beginnings in France, L’Arche, that was planting roots in Chicago and in search of their first core member.

In June 2000, Elbert moved into L’Arche Chicago’s first house on Austin Blvd as the founding core member. This home would later be named Angel House. He first lived with Sr. Maria Zeimen, the founding community leader, David Hovde and Laura Wassilak, the first assistants. In November of that year, Jean Wilson, L’Arche’s second core member, moved in. Jean and Elbert became fast friends and remained close over the years. They often found each other at events and sat together away from the crowd, taking it all in, side by side. Within the year of living in Angel House, Elbert started attending New Jehovah Missionary Baptist Church, just down the street. He played the piano every Sunday with great delight. 

In March 2016, L’Arche opened their third home in Forest Park and Elbert moved in. In conversation with the two other core members, Tim and Chris, they decided to name the home Friendship House. Elbert was inspired by his old church, New Friendship. Elbert was especially proud of two things in Friendship House: the pool table in the basement and Allie, the dog. Elbert would challenge his housemates to pool tournaments most nights, taking great pride in coaching and encouraging new players. His rules of the game were unique, and involved placing the 8 ball back on the table after it had been knocked in and continuing the game. Elbert believed in second (and third and fourth) chances. He would often say, earnestly and with a sweet smirk, “Don’t rush, take your time. Aim.” Where Elbert was, Allie the dog was, too. Elbert always made sure she had plenty of peanut butter, treats and scrapes from his own plate. 

In October 2019, Elbert fell walking down the stairs looking for Allie in the backyard and broke his hip, requiring emergency surgery. Complications in his recovery lead to a three-month hospital stay and an end stage renal disease diagnosis. When Elbert returned home to Friendship House in January 2020, he settled into a new pace: more doctor’s appointments, dialysis three times a week and the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite the drain and demands on his body, Elbert remained spirited and determined. After his fall, Elbert would often tell people, “I’ve got more work to do down here.”

He adored working and did not believe in retiring. Following his custodial work at Esperanza he worked at Concordia University in River Forest in their cafeteria. Elbert especially loved making made-to-order sandwiches for students on Fridays, and connecting with his co-workers. When the pandemic shut down the cafeteria Elbert was eager (and yet so patient at the same time) to get back to work. When it became safe to work again, Elbert started at Lake Street Theatre in Oak Park and made many close friends there.

Elbert was a man of faith and lived a life of deep vocation. He credited the “Man Above” for all of the blessings in his life, for his patience, his persistence, his perspective, his kindness. He believed in everyday resurrection, becoming anew each day. He would often tell people, “Everyday God turns me around, turns me around to kindness, love and friendship.” Elbert offered prayers of comfort and encouragement to his friends and the L’Arche Chicago community regularly.

Elbert had a slew of talents, gifts and accolades. He loved to play the piano and his bass guitar, which he named Lucille. He could sing “Ain’t No Sunshine” for a crowd of people with so much charm it was almost too tender to watch. He could reliably get a bullseye at the archery range and beat you in pool. Known as the “Grill Master,” Elbert stood patiently for hours next to the grill, cooking up hotdogs and hamburgers for the whole community on summer nights. His bedroom walls are covered with medals and trophies from his Special Olympics career when he ran track and was on the bowling team. From 2005 to 2013, Elbert was on the Community Advisory Committee for the Institute on Disability and Human Development at UIC. Elbert traveled nationally and internationally. He was an epic story teller and did hilarious impressions. Perhaps most impressively, Elbert knew about rest and ritual. Walks down to the liquor store and 7-Eleven, afternoons spent doing his numbers and watching wrestling, long sits on the front porch with a friend. 

Amongst the trophies and medals on his bedroom walls are photos of Elbert’s family and friends. Elbert was a terrific friend. He took great delight in his friends, proudly attended their weddings, sang at their baby showers, held their babies, played with their toddlers, walked their dogs, sat with them on the porch, spoke words of encouragement over them, prayed fervently for them, laughed kindly and gently with them, and sometimes at them. His advice and prayers were always consistent, “Don’t rush. Take your time. Be patient. Trust in the Man Above.” Elbert saw people. He listened deeply. It was his life’s work, to be a friend, and he did an exemplary job. When asked a few years ago how he wanted to be remembered Elbert said, “I’ve done my best, time for me to take some rest and go home. I’ve done what you’ve told me to do.”