Remembering Traci Gibson Little – a special light in Atlanta

By Maria Saporta

A week ago today, Milton Little texted me. “Removing life support shortly and letting her go.”

Less than two hours later: “She’s gone.”

She was Traci Gibson Little, Milton’s wife since July, 1993, and she had been his soulmate since they had met in December 1991. Their love for each other was infectious and complete.

Traci, 55, died when her breast cancer returned this spring – first found in her lungs and eventually spreading to other parts of her body.

A piece of all of us who knew Traci also died that day. And our hearts grieve for Milton Little, a Morehouse man who came back to Atlanta 12 years ago to lead the United Way of Greater Atlanta.

Traci Little

People filled the sanctuary of Impact Church on Friday morning for the funeral of Traci Gibson Little (Photo by Maria Saporta)

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago, Milton made sure Traci and I connected. We had only been casual acquaintances, but she quickly became one of those people I leaned on to help me through my journey.

Although we had different kinds of breast cancers, we shared an oncologist – Dr. Perry Ballard of the Piedmont Cancer Institute – and we had been prescribed similar medications. And we frequented the same pharmacy – the CVS at Ansley Mall.

Coincidentally, we ran into each other several times when we were picking up our various meds from the pharmacy.

Every time, we would start talking and not be able to quit. We would say our good-byes and then continue talking. She helped me deal with my cancer treatment by advising what meds to avoid and what meds had helped her. All her recommendations were spot on. I can still feel the gravitational pull that Traci had whenever we were around each other.

“That’s the way she was,” Milton told me when I went to see him at the ICU in the early afternoon of Nov. 4.

Traci was born on Feb 21, 1962 in Los Angeles. She attended the Bishop’s Schools for Girls, and then moved to North Hampton, Ma. to go to Smith College where she got a dual degree in economics and Spanish.

She joined the cultural affairs division of the Los Angeles Olympic Operating Committee and participated in the 1984 opening ceremonies. She then completed her graduate studies from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, earning her Master’s degree in 1987.

Upon graduation, she went to work for American Express in international banking where she spent her career until launching Gibson Little Associates, a marketing consulting company 20 years ago.

Taylor and Traci Little

Taylor Little with his mom Traci Gibson Little (Special)

At the wake on Thursday evening, Milton recounted how they met.

In New York, they both shared the same hairdresser – Hugh McDaniel – who happened to book their appointments at the exact same time.

Traci insisted on going first, so Milton waited. When she was done, Traci told Milton he must be really smart, and she asked how he could read the New York Times upside down.

Milton confessed to the friends and family at Impact Church in East Point that he had been distracted by her – and her long legs.

Hugh, their hairdresser, then scheduled their future appointments on the same day and the same time. Finally, about two months later, Milton escorted Traci to find a cab, and that was followed by phone calls and a lunch. Soon they were captivated with each other, and they became engaged in August, 1992.

She quickly adapted to becoming a stepmom of Milton Jr., a son from a former marriage. Then Traci and Milton gave birth to Taylor, who began his first semester at Howard University this fall.

Milton Sr. said Traci had wanted to live to see Taylor graduate from college and get married. But that wasn’t meant to be.

After nearly a dozen years with United Way, Little decided he needed a sabbatical to refresh his career. Weeks after getting the okay to take a sabbatical, they found out Traci’s cancer had returned.

The sabbatical became Milton and Traci spending days and nights together, going from doctor to doctor and visiting different cancer centers around the country – hoping to find any treatment that would stop her cancer from spreading.

Traci Little

Traci and Milton Little at the Atlanta History Center on Oct. 21 – two weeks before she died (Photo by Alicia Philipp)

During one phone conversation, Milton told me his sabbatical had not turned out the way he had envisioned, but he was doing exactly what he needed to be doing – spending as much time with Traci as he could.

Life is full of twists and turns, and we never know what awaits us around every turn.

Two weeks before Traci died, Milton Little was honored by the Herndon Foundation inaugural gala at the Atlanta History Center on Oct. 21.

Milton showed up alone at the reception, telling me Traci was still at home getting dressed and would be coming later. Because I was only attending the reception, I left without seeing her.

But Alicia Philipp, president of the Community Foundation, was there the whole evening, and she shot a beautiful photo of Traci and Milton.

“It was the last time she went out,” Milton said. Two days later, Traci was admitted to the hospital, spending her last week in the ICU.

Milton sent me texts letting me know of Traci’s deteriorating condition, and in one text, I told him I felt like cursing God.
Milton responded with natural grace and wisdom: “He has blessed me with her for 26 years – more than I deserve.”

A blessing indeed.

 

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

13 replies
  1. Anthony says:

    Greetings in the Name of Jesus.
    To my big brother Milton Jr and Family. May God Comfort You and Grant Peace. May he wrap his loving arms around you. Blessings your brother
    AnthonyReport

    Reply
  2. Denella James Clark says:

    Milton I pray God will continue to give you peace and comfort at this difficult time and beyond. I pray he will wrap his loving arms around you, Taylor and your entire family. Traci was a blessing and gift, a true lady with grace and class – you should take great pride in knowing that she has left this world far better having walked this earth. Hugs from a crossed the miles DenellaReport

    Reply
  3. Wayne Phillips says:

    Hey Cuz. You’re stronger than any man I’ve ever known and with that I’m sure life for you will continue to go on and to new heights. Be well and may God bless you in as many ways as you’ve blessed others.Report

    Reply
  4. Marti Wison-Taylor says:

    Love this tribute. Traci was amazing.When she was in Boston and we were having lunch we discovered that we shared a god mother, and from then on, I considered her like family. What a blessing to have known her, although she left before we were able to really bond more intensely, I was drawn to her graciousness and generosity.. RIP Traci.Report

    Reply
  5. Clarence E Peaks Jr says:

    OMG!!! What a beautiful service. My cuz was everything and then some! She was nice, smart, humble and kind. Milton, thank you for being there with her and for her. She is with God now and He will take great care of her. Be blessed. Love you cuz!Report

    Reply
  6. Phillip & Ingrid Tucker says:

    This is such a beautiful tribute to Traci and the incredible love that she and Milton shared. We are praying that God provides the Little and Gibson families with comfort. We don’t always understand His ways or His thoughts. But they are not the same as ours. Traci blessed us all! Thank you Milton for sharing your 26-year blessing with us! We love you!
    With Love,
    Phillip and Ingrid TuckerReport

    Reply
  7. Shirley Y Simmons says:

    What a beautiful tribute and sharing about a special lady! Peace and blessings to Milton and the rest of the family. May pleasant memories be comforting at this time.Report

    Reply
  8. Michelle Chalmers says:

    Traci was my best friend when we were young girls attending Bishop’s School. Her infectious sense of humor and majestic heart won me over instantly and I never, ever forgot her. She was THAT special. I cannot begin to fathom the loss felt by her family at this time and can offer only my prayers and deepest condolences. For me, she will live on – forever in my heart.Report

    Reply
  9. Anna Chalmers says:

    Traci, my sister Michelle and I spent several years at the Bishop’s School as dorm mates. Tracy and I had the same birthday and my photo of our birthday breakfasts in our Lanz flannel nightgowns and little tiaras will always be precious to me. Tracy and her family were always good to us. It is unimaginable the sense of loss that the family of our beloved Traci must feel. Stay strong, remember to smile, hug and love as Traci did everyday of her beautiful life. A new angel amongst us.Report

    Reply

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