CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. — Patrica Bracey’s routine begins each morning shortly after sunrise. The woman from Chester strolls with a purpose through Magnolia Lakes.
"It is the highlight of my day. So I am walking in this crisp morning and feeling good," Bracey said. "I haven’t heard my choir yet, though. My birds normally are singing."
The 74-year-old's destination never changes.
“My church. Iron Bridge Road!” she exclaimed.
Six days a week, Bracey shares her signature wave and smile with everyone passing by at 55 miles per hour.
Rush hour along this stretch of Route 10 hasn’t been the same for a year and a half.
“I’ve really met some fantastic people out here. Really nice people," Bracey said. “It is so funny. Some cars on this side tooting and then a car on the other side starts tooting, so I am like this. I am trying to do both sides."
Who gets more satisfaction is tough to tell.
“It makes people’s day,” she said. “And when it makes people’s day, it makes my day.”
Her motivation comes from a higher power.
“The Lord told me to do it," she said. "In June of last year, he told me to come up here and wave and smile, and I’ve been doing it ever since."
While snow and rain keep her inside, falling temperatures are not a problem.
“Last winter, I think the only thing people could see was my eyes. I was bundled up. The only way they could see my smile was my eyes,” she said.
During the pandemic, she sensed people needed a lift.
“This is my ministry. This is my church,” she said. “All it costs is a new pair of shoes."
The home health aide knew the perfect prescription. The Minister of Wave can change the course of a person’s day.
“She always brings a lot of joy. She always has a nice smile, and she always has a good word from the Lord,” driver Tisha Lee said.
Neighbor Mary Ginetz said Bracey's good deeds couldn’t be measured.
“I think that small act of kindness can spur another act of kindness,” Ginetz said. “Some mornings I leave, and I am like ‘ugh.’ But then I see her I think how awesome.”
Bracey is carving out quite the following.
“I’ll see people in the grocery store, and they’ll say, ‘You’re the lady on Iron Bridge Road,’” she said.
The South Hill native’s road hasn’t always been paved with laughter.
After falling on hard times 18 years ago, she lived out of her car with two dogs and a cat.
“I lost everything I had,” she said. “From June 20, 2003, to September 21, 2004. It was a tough go of it when I first when in the car because I was embarrassed and ashamed.”
She remained homeless until her family stepped in. Through her trials, though, Bracey never lost faith.
“God told me as long as I focus on Him, I’ll never be in the wrong place,” she said.
She is determined to share her blessings the most straightforward way.
“You can’t get more if you haven’t given some of it away,” she said. “The point [of the smile and wave] is. 'I see you. I see what you did, and you’re special.' And hopefully, they’re receiving it in the way that is given."
Bracey is the woman living on a wave and a prayer.
If you would like to return the favor and send her a wave and a smile, she stands along Route 10 near the Chesterfield County Food Bank.
She starts promptly at 8:15 a.m.
Greg McQuade at WTVR first reported this story.
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