Each time someone greeted Jesse Love and asked how he was, the son of Mississippi sharecroppers and one of Sonoma County's most admired Pearl Harbor veterans and men of God would respond the same way.
He smiled his 10-megawatt smile and replied, "Happy, thankful and blessed!"
Love, a founding member and 60-year pillar of Santa Rosa's landmark Community Baptist Church, died Wednesday evening after several months of failing health. He was 91.
Love's smile and gratitude endured many hardships, among them the discrimination the African-American man faced upon enlisting in the Navy at age 17 in 1939 and, a few years later, upon settling in the nearly all-white town of Santa Rosa.
"He was always a gentleman. Kind, gentle and helpful," said Vivian Coffee, a longtime friend and the widow of late Community Baptist Church pastor James E. Coffee.
Love "was not a fighter," she said. "He tried to get along with everybody. He was always trying to see the good in everything."
Another old friend, Carole Ellis, the Sonoma County educator and human rights advocate, said, "If you didn't know his last name, you could have guessed it.
"This man was love."
Jesse Love worked more than 20 years as head housekeeper at the former Community Hospital. In his private life, he was senior deacon of his church and chaplain for several veterans groups, including Theodore Roosevelt Post No. 21 of the American Legion.
For decades, the mere sight of him pulling up in the white-over-blue Pontiac Catalina he purchased new in 1972 brought joy to ailing veterans and members of the Community Baptist congregation, and to servers at his favorite Santa Rosa restaurants and markets.