Celester Lee "C.L." Slonaker, 1943 - 2003 

Members of the church present for the service say they'd never seen the place so full.

But what's most revelatory about a man who touched so many is not the number who showed up to grieve and offer condolences, but rather the number whose lives have been uplifted and made more meaningful by his presence. And in C.L.'s case it's innumerable.

If there were four points to C. L.'s compass they were family, community, education and faith. He was a diligent crusader for education, spending 36 years with Chesterfield County Schools, first as a music teacher and then as principal of Crestwood and Greenfield elementary schools. He served as director of elementary education before deciding his place was back in the schools. He left the post and became a principal once more, this time of Robious Elementary.

Teachers were loyal to him; a core of them followed him from school to school. And his students — according to the throngs who have signed the Times-Dispatch obituary-page guest book — remember him as an intellectual who could relate to kids and no matter how much time went by, always knew their names.

He was a connoisseur of classical music, particularly the liturgical kind composed by Mozart and Bach. He played six instruments from the piano to the violin. His passion for music is what prompted him to become a teacher. It also led to a 35-year role as organist and choirmaster at St. Andrew's, the neighborhood church he attended his entire life. And C.L.' s faith and dedication to the church — both his and Pine Street Baptist — wasn't something he engaged on Sundays alone. He believed in the Trinity, says his son, Allen, and because of this, never feared what he called the "physical" death.

David May, minister at St. Andrew's, remarked at the funeral how C.L. always wore bow ties and starched shirts, but didn't suffer from a starched personality. This is true. "He was a late-Victorian guy, a scholar, a Renaissance man, a classicist," his son says. "Still, there was not a pretentious bone in him. He never bought the best of anything and he drove clunkers his whole life."

He loved Looney Tunes and watched the cartoons again and again, laughing every time. When his kids, Allen and Sarah, were young, he took them on Saturday excursions around town — to Harvey Hardware for shoptalk and tools, and to neighborhoods like the Fan and Jackson Ward to show where their ancestors had lived.

But he prized Oregon Hill most. His funeral procession went south on Laurel, turned around, and traveled north on Pine, passing, lastly, his yellow house.

Then, there is Hollywood Cemetery. It was one of C.L.'s favorite places. He took his kids there often and went alone, too, to admire the landscaping, the history and the view of the James. The beauty of it all inspired him. It can only be natural that he rests there now. — Brandon Walters


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