October 11, 1912 - May 4, 2010
On May 4, 2010 my grandmother passed away peacefully at the age of 97. We all gathered to say goodbye at a memorial service given at her church of 17 years in Ocala, FL. My father, her only living child of three, gave the following eulogy and I would like to present it here:
Mother’s eulogy presented at LIVING HOPE COMMUNITY CHURCH on June 16,2010 by Richard Willert
Thanks to everyone for coming, thanks to Rev Simmons for letting me speak.
This church has been an important place for my mother. She grew up in a church quite similar to this one and I, my sisters and our father attended the same church for many years. She was an active and devoted member there and devoted and generous here. But this church is important for other reasons.
Let me tell you why—I will try to be brief BUT am convinced that she is up there saying: “Richard, take your time, take all the time you need”. I think she would have loved to have been here and heard all that will be said.
My dad died in 1985; at the time I thought it might free up my mother, give her time to do things she wanted to do, because the last few year of my dad’s life required a lot of effort on her part taking care of him.
But our weekly phone calls took on a decidedly depressed air. She was lonely, she didn’t really complain, but you could tell: kind of at loose ends, usual energy was down. This went on for quite a while.
Then I began to notice that she was more positive and upbeat. Asked her if anything was different.
She eventually mentioned that a man had approached her a church, a man from her complex who had a reputation for helping all the shut-ins and who, on Sundays, came to church early and picked up all the litter so that things looked good for service.
It was, of course, nothing serious, he just sat behind her at church and they chatted for a moment after service. I told her that I thought that development was “nice.”
A few weeks later in our weekly call she casually mentioned that this fellow was sitting next to her at church, but of course it didn’t mean anything. He was just the guy who cleaned up the litter before service and helped all the shut-ins at the part. I again commented on how “nice’ I thought it was.
A week or so later she told me that he was sitting next to her and I continued to indicate that it was “nice.” But then she added in a small voice: “And he held my hand.” As I remember it, my response was a startled: “What?”
And then I heard that he had gone north to pay an extended visit to his family, and suddenly my mother’s mood as different again, not exactly dejected, but more anxious, at loose ends with nothing to do.
Soon though her mood returned to positive and I found out that this fellow had returned. I stuck to: “nice.” And she added: “ And we’re getting married.” I responded with another: “What?”
Well, as most of you know, shortly after that my mom married Bill Havernick.
Now, my mother was 80 at the time and Bill was younger. My thoughts went to aging movie stars who married younger men and for a while I was worried. I shouldn’t have been, though, because Bill’s caring and kindness gave my mother years of contentment that I doubt she would have had otherwise. I want to thank Bill for that precious gift. I should add that I’ve spoken to other members of the church and they felt my mother played a more active role in the courtship.
In July my mother will be interred at the family plot in NY. The family has offered Bill a spot next to her and I believe he will accept.
During their final years together however, and since her death, another member of your church has been important to Mother and Bill. Dorothy Simmons has spent countless hours helping Bill and Lil through their transition to Emeritus, closing out her affairs and just providing aid and comfort. The list of things I know about is long and I suspect there is a longer list of things I don’t know about.
I will always be grateful for the presence of these two people in my mother’s life.
Most people think of their mothers as special; I want to talk about my mother’s life before she came to Ocala to illustrate why I think mine was. Perhaps later you can share stories of her life here in Ocala.
My mother was born in 1912. Even at my advancing age that seems like a long time ago. I remember her talking about Civil War uniforms in the attics from relatives who fought in that conflict, and stories of President McKinley’s assassination during the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo.
Being born in 1912 meant that she graduated from High School just at the end of the roaring 20’s and beginning of the Great Depression.
She had been an excellent student and attended what was then the best public elementary and high school that Buffalo, NY had to offer. We three children went to the same schools and I’m convinced got points added to our grades based simply on my mother’s reputation from years before.
She was awarded a state Scholarship at a time when they were rare and prestigious and could have gone at virtually no cost to our Church’s college in West Virginia.
But she didn’t go. I’ve never really understood why, but I am convinced that, had she gone, she would have had a career that pushed the so called “glass ceiling” that kept women out of top jobs.
Instead over the years she:
With my father
- Ran a combination diner, gas station, and motel in the wilds of then very rural central NY.
- When my dad lost his vision went to work and operated a computer system in the early 60’s for a large company in the days before there were web-masters, software packages, and consulting companies.
- Wrote grants and managed the office for Robert Guthrie, the man who discovered the test for pku which has saved thousands of lives. Dr. Guthrie was a brilliant scientist but needed someone to manage the office and write grants to get the money. My mother did those things for him.
- She also took college courses at night and received all A’s.
It seemed to me as though she could do any task put in front of her,----including debating---I don’t think I ever won an argument with her growing up or since.
Let me conclude by returning to that point in her life when she didn’t get to go to college and suggest that that event has had a major influence on our family and represents a final reason why I think my mother was special.
The following will sound like bragging and overstatement but I don’t intend it that way and it feels true to me.
My sister Marilyn, who none of you in Ocala would have known, earned a masters, and would have gone further if she had lived longer. She married a dentist who has other advanced degrees.
My sister Carole who some of you knew and who was also active in this church had two masters degrees and married a man with a master degree.
I have a PHD. and am married to a PHD. who is here today.
My daughter Karin, who is here today, has a PHD. and is married to a PHD.
Marilyn’s daughter, Heather, who is here today, has two masters and is married to a CPA. who has two masters.
Marilyn’s son Rob, who is also here today, is working on his doctorate and is married to a school psychologist, Alana, who has a masters and is here today.
This wasn’t all due to my mother, of course, but I suspect she’s up there saying: “Well, it could have been.”
I think my mother was, in many ways, an extraordinary woman.
I appreciate your coming here this evening and hope we can talk more at dinner.
Thank you very much.