Esther “Alene” Grice was born Aug. 30, 1923, to Henry and Patsy Bills in DeKalb, Texas. She departed this earth for her heavenly home on March 30, 2010, capping a rich and beautiful journey.
The youngest of three sisters, Alene was always referred to by family as “Baby Sister.” Because her mother died giving birth to her only brother, Henry, she and her sisters were raised by their aunt and uncle, Lecci and Elbert Graves.
During the Great Depression, the family moved north to Chicago where she completed her elementary and high school education and where she met her husband, Leroy “Chappie” Grice of Portland, who at that time was in the U.S. Army. They were married and she gave birth to her first child, Lynda, in Chicago. After Chappie was honorably discharged from the military, the family moved to Portland and established a home on North Benton Street where Memorial Coliseum now sits. Here, she joined her sisters, Margaret and Helen and their families, who had also moved to Portland.
Alene was Portland’s first African American elevator operator thanks to the good work of the famed Urban League Director Bill Berry in 1948. Portland was very prejudiced at that time, but she weathered all that because she and her husband wanted “a better life” for their children.
Her second child, Michael, was born in that same year. Her third and last child, Asaad Ali, born as Mark Steven, came into the family in 1958. By that time, she was solidly employed for Joseph’s Plastics as a shipping clerk and later served as an employment specialist for the Urban League, and then, the city of Portland during the Model Cities era in the 1960s and 1970s. She is credited for helping place many of Portland’s African-American young people in their first “career” jobs.
She was an active person and belonged to St. Monica’s Guild of St. Philip the Deacon Episcopal Church. Although she could not finish college, she highly valued education, was an avid reader of novels, and enjoyed her volunteer years at Beach Elementary.
The balance of her retirement was divided between her social and service club, the Social Odd Balls, and her grandchildren that she loved so dearly. She loved her husband and cherished the moments with her family. She was always known for her sumptuous cooking and holiday meals; and always found her home a gathering place for friends and family. She and Chappie enjoyed Jazz and traveled each year to the Monterey Jazz festival, until he passed away in 1980.