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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Tribute to My Mother: Betty Queen White Stewart

A Tribute to My Mother: Betty Queen White Stewart

Eulogy From Mama's Funeral
by Jamie White Wyatt

Mama's High School Graduation
On behalf of our family, I want to thank everyone for coming. Your presence is a gift beyond words, and is very much appreciated. We are especially moved by those relatives, and special friends, who traveled so far to be with us yesterday and today. I won’t try to name everyone, but special thanks to a few of those who are here today: Ed’s brother, Bill and his wife, Linda, our Howard cousins, Kathy Malone and Mary Ruth Gardner, among others.

Our family has been well loved this weekend by our extended family and friends, and by Mama’s friends, many of whom we have just met. Nancy’s friends and neighbors have been wonderful about fixing meals and feeding us, and I thank them for that.
Park Street Methodist Church, Atlanta. Mama and Daddy were married for 40 years. 
When Mama married Sam, he embraced our family, just as Sam’s family has embraced Mama, and we are so grateful for that. Mama loved Sam’s grandchildren, and great-grandchildren as her own. She never referred to them as “step” anything. They were HERS. After Sam died, his family continued to include Mama in their family events.
Sam's and Mama's Blended Family
This funeral is going to be simple. Mama did not want much of a fuss made over her. So, in order to celebrate her life, and honor her memory, I’ve been making notes for the past couple of days. I’m going to tell you some eclectic stories to give you some insights into Mama's life and personality.

Mama told us often, and firmly, that she did not want a public viewing at her funeral. She enlisted her friend, Betty Waas, to ensure our compliance. I told Betty yesterday that we had honored Mama’s request, so Mama can rest in peace!

As you all know, Mama was a Southern lady. She knew manners, etiquette, and how to charm someone into giving her what she wanted. She loved her pearls, diamonds, and accessories, but was not flashy. I used to select her clothes when I was an assistant buyer for Rich’s and when I had my bridal shop in Decatur. I would put aside things that “looked like Mama,” call her, and she’d take a trip up to Atlanta to update her wardrobe. We both missed those days of getting nice clothes at cost!

Mama was also a Steel Magnolia: sweet, but firm. I heard a number of people saying yesterday that Mama was soft spoken, insightful, and funny when carrying out various board commitments. However, her family can tell you that Mama could also be very determined, opinionated, and unwavering in the conviction that she was RIGHT. I’m not positive, but some of us may have inherited that gene from Mama!

Mama loved her family-- especially her grandchildren and great- grandchildren. She told me recently about dropping off a gift for her older great-grandchild, Aiden’s, birthday. 

Mama’s grandchildren called her “Mimi.”* Some of you may remember that Mama’s oldest grandchild, Jonathan, was the star of the Herb White’s Marine TV commercials when, with a huge smile and a cute little voice, Jonathan implored, “Ask your Pop to buy a boat from my Pop!” (When Tricia was old enough, she also co-starred in the Herb White’s Marine ads and commercials.*)

Mama was proud of Jonathan’s new job in intensive care at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Just before the service, Jonathan told me that he and Mimi used to have dates. Before he could drive, she would pick him up, and after he could drive, he would drive her in her car. When Jonathan met Stephanie, they both started going out with Mimi. Mama loved Jonathan’s wife, Stephanie, and was so proud that they invited her to stay with them for their first married Christmas year before last.

Mama with her daughters and their children at Jonathan's and Stephanie's wedding.
It's hard to tell, but my navy dress was layered, just like Mama's.
We chose basically the same dress, independently. That happened a lot!
Even though Tricia’s ideas about fashion were absolutely not Mama’s taste, she always loved Tricia’s confident, personal sense of style. When Tricia was younger, I often accompanied Mimi on shopping trips looking for all things pink, purple, and sparkly, with which to surprise Tricia. Mama was so excited that Tricia finally had the job of her dreams as a flight attendant.

Mama enjoyed her visits with Brittany and Blake. More recently, she enjoyed their phone calls. Mama spent a little less individual time with my kids when they were little, mostly because we lived further away, but also because she had met Sam, and Mama and Sam stayed busy! Sam became Brittany’s and Blake’s new grandfather, and Mama and Sam faithfully made the trek each year for “Grandparent’s Day” at their school.

Mama proudly followed Brittany’s equestrian accomplishments, and her progress through law school. She followed Blake’s hunting adventures, and his collegiate football career, watching his games, whenever she could, on cable.

Mama was a tireless medical advocate for us and for Daddy, but I can tell you that she did not like it one bit when the shoe was on the other foot, and Nancy and I needed to advocate for her! She wanted to be in control, and do things her way, on her schedule, which doesn’t always work in the hospital. Mama resisted when Nancy and I had to give her some push back, for her own good. I’m sure that doesn’t surprise anyone who knew Mama!

We said in the obituary that Mama loved to entertain, and was always willing to open her home to others. Many people have written or spoken to us about that this week. I cannot begin to count how many club meetings, wedding showers, baby showers, church events, bridge clubs, garden clubs, and other things Mama hosted at our home.

Our florist and caterer, Edna Willis, and her daughter, Mary Tom, would have been on speed dial, had that been available! Mrs. Willis knew Mama’s tastes. Mama and Mrs. Willis worked together like a well-oiled machine.

Mrs. Willis knew that every one of Mama’s parties must have a floral decoration for the front door, something special on the wrought iron banister going from the living room to the dining room, arrangements for the table, with extra flowers for scattering on trays and tablecloths, and corsages. Mama gave Mrs. Willis the name of the honoree, in case that made a difference about special touches, and the desired color scheme for each particular party, and Mrs. Willis took it from there. Right before the party, Mrs. Willis would slide in and install the flowers. We never had to follow up on anything.
Setting up the table for Debbie Williams Bunnell's bridal shower....
flowers scattered, working on tray placement. 
In collaboration with Mama, based on her expectation of “simple elegance,” Mrs. Willis did the flowers for our weddings. She also made a spectacular funeral blanket for Daddy’s funeral out of dozens of white cymbidium orchids and exotic ferns.

Daddy and Mama at my wedding. 
Artistic Florist did a lovely job with Mama’s blanket. Mama would have loved the Queen Ann’s Lace; but we surely missed Mrs. Willis and Mary Tom this weekend!

Speaking of parties, Mama once cleared the furniture from her living room, and brought in tables and chairs to seat about 60 people to host a Tri-Hi-Y dinner for me. Mama hosted countless pool parties for her friends and ours. I heard yesterday that Mama hosted Kay Hanna’s rehearsal dinner when she married Calvin. I don’t think I knew that, but I’m not surprised!

Mama was a mother figure to a lot of people, and she ALWAYS welcomed our friends. We could have “company,” as she called visitors, anytime. We didn’t really even have to ask. Once, I brought home 13 friends from college to spend the weekend of Shrimp Festival at Mama’s. Mama didn’t bat an eye. She just fixed more food, and washed lots of towels!
Friends from Georgia College, Shrimp Boat Races weekend, circa 1975
There were always extra kids at our home. Mama always came up with “fun” things for us to do, and food to accompany each adventure. We’d pile up on Mama’s and Daddy’s king-sized bed and watch movies and eat ice cream together. We’d make s’mores on the barbecue grill. We’d spend the night in our mini-houseboat tied up to the dock, or we’d camp out in the back yard. Years later, I heard from a number of friends that our home was a respite  from the chaos in their own homes.

Mary Lucy Mierzejewski Kaufmann reminded me about the Hobo Party, Tacky Party, Hippie Party, and other theme parties that Mama planned for us. Nancy and I each had “Candyland” Birthday parties. 

Once, when Mama was on the decorating committee, I remember helping her cut out construction paper crabs to hang in fishnets for a Terpsichorean Club dance. Mama and Daddy loved to dance!

Mama and Daddy doing the Shag
As a home-economics major, Mama was all about food presentation! Our meals were balanced not only by nutrition, but by colors and textures as well. Mama regularly garnished our plates with parsley or carrot curls or radish roses, especially if we had company. Thad Lee used to tease that Mama put ligustrum shrubbery cuttings on all her food.

I have lots of memories of riding along with Mama as a child, while she was delivering food to those in need. For as long as I can remember, she took soup to  elderly friends, and baked and delivered Christmas goodies to give to people who helped her, like her bankers and the post office workers.

Someone from the library board mentioned that Mama always had doilies when she fixed food for events. They were right. Yes, she always did! She used her silver and crystal. And, following in her footsteps, so do I!

While my friends brought mostly bologna or peanut butter or cheese sandwiches for lunch at school, I often had cream cheese and cherries or cream cheese and pineapple, or cream cheese and olives, cut into shapes, or rolled up and sliced into pinwheels.

Friends still talk about “unusual” foods they first tried in our home, when mama fixed them—asparagus, Brussels sprouts, beef stroganoff, and other exotic foods. In 8th grade, Mama let everyone fix their own homemade pizzas for my birthday party. It was the first time many of my friends had eaten pizza. 

I think Mama had the first microwave oven in Fernandina. My friends came over and marveled at how it could cook frozen barbecue sandwiches in just one minute! We had one of the first color TV's, too. Daddy was always one of the first to have new gadgets.

Mama loved to try new recipes, and daddy was an adventurous eater, so Nancy and I were introduced to lots of unusual foods. We tried different cuisines as we traveled. Once a week or so, Mama would try out a new dish. Growing up, Nancy and I had to try at least one bite of everything. So did my kids.

One night, Mama fixed supper, and as we started to eat, Daddy looked at the main dish and said, “I cannot believe you fixed that awful recipe again!” Mama replied, “I fixed it especially for you, because you said you liked it.” Daddy said, “I was just being polite. I guess that was a mistake!” So Mama said, “Well, I guess I’ll just throw that recipe away.” We all learned our lesson. From then on, if we didn’t like Mama’s new recipe, we’d simply say, “Mama, you can throw that recipe away!”

Mama was confident and independent. She was a successful businesswoman in our family boat business. Mama didn’t think anything about getting in the car and driving for 7 or 8 hours. She regularly drove to Atlanta, by herself, to visit us, until last year.

Mama loved listening to books on tape when she traveled. They made her trips go faster. She enjoyed passing along her tapes and book recommendations to me. We always discussed “real” books, as well as the audio books, that we were reading.

Mama instilled her values, and nurtured the qualities of independence and self-reliance, in Nancy and me. Consequently, when most of our friends were not driving off the island, Nancy and I were driving to Jacksonville and beyond, as soon as we got our licenses. At 17, Debbie Williams Bunnell and I took a road trip to Atlanta and the North Georgia Mountains, which Mama helped me plan. When I graduated from college, I drove to Canada by myself!
Mama, Nancy, and Sheep in Colonial Williamsburg 1974
Mama shared her love of travel with us. While we were growing up, Mama planned lots of weekend adventures for us at various attractions. We went to Gatorland, Weeki Wachee, and various and sundry other roadside attractions.  If we saw a place that looked interesting when we traveled, we stopped!*

We traveled to New York, D.C., California, and out West, among other places. We also took regular trips to Atlanta and to the mountains of Rabun County, Georgia, both places that were as near and dear to Mama’s heart, as they are to mine.

"Roadside Attraction:" Mama and Me at Gold Mountain, NC
Several people reminded me yesterday of overseas trips they had taken with Mama. One of her favorite trips was to the Czech Republic. 

Mama's favorite photo from the Czech Republic. 
The last trip Mama and I took was a couple of years ago, to Savannah, for her Home Economics Honor Society’s National 100th birthday celebration. She was a 60+ year member, in Phi Upsilon Omicron, and the member at the conclave with the most longevity. Mama was treated with great respect and deference, and thoroughly enjoyed being the Belle of the Ball for that weekend.

At Mama's Phi U Conclave at the DeSoto Hilton in Savannah.
When Mama and Daddy took a trip, they always brought us a “surprise.” One of my most unusual surprises came from the first trip Mama made to Japan. I was in 5th grade. I’d read somewhere, probably in my Weekly Reader at school, that fried grasshoppers were a Japanese delicacy. I requested that Mama bring me some. She searched high and low, and brought me a Planter’s peanut sized can of fried grasshoppers. My more adventurous friends and I ate them, just to say we’d done it. Once was enough!

Nancy and I were both able to go to Japan and Hong Kong with Mama and Daddy on separate trips. Those were fabulous trips.

Ed, Jamie, Daddy, and Mama in Japan, 1986.
Some of our most memorable trips were "PFO’s", or Planned Family Outings. Everyone’s presence was required on a PFO. No excuses were allowed for missing PFO's! 

We went on regular PFO’s with Patsy, Aubrey, Debbie and Hugh Williams. Our parents took turns being "the Banker." When any of the kids wanted to buy a snack, or ride a carnival ride, we had to get money from the banker. Several times we went to a motel that had a putt-putt course and pool. We’d get three adjoining rooms with a kitchen, and we could roam between the rooms.

For Georgia-Florida weekend, and other special occasions, our PFO's included the Waas and Maddox families. We called ourselves the 4 W’s, Waas, Whites, Williams, and Waddoxes. We added a W to the Maddox name. Mama was famous for the deviled eggs she always took to Georgia- Florida games, where we’d rent out the yard and garage of a family who lived across from the Gator Bowl. Louise Webb’s son, Bill, mentioned on Facebook that Mama always made her deviled eggs for him.

Georgia/Florida PFO 1976 (With the Williams, Waddoxes, Whites, and Friends.)
Mama, Patsy Williams, Betty Waas, and several others were the original “Gumbo Ladies” who provided the first food concessions at the Shrimp Boat Races (now the Shrimp Festival.) They made gallons of Seafood Gumbo each year, to benefit the Pirates Club.

Over the years, Mama played in a number of bridge clubs. Some of the ladies had been playing together for well over 50 years. Mama was a member of the Fernandina Beach Woman's Club, Camellia Garden Club, The Merry Margaritas, and The Red Hat Society.*

Mama had a great sense of humor. When we could get her really tickled, she had a great giggle. One time, Nancy had some disappearing ink, which she squirted on Mama’s Mama, our grandmother, Gan. Gan almost had a stroke seeing that black ink on one of her favorite dresses. It disappeared right away, but Gan never forgot that Nancy did that to her. Mama, however, always thought it was funny!  

Having fun rocking our matching Christmas pajamas. 
Mama loved her volunteer work. While we were growing up, she volunteered mostly with church, school, and organizations related to their boat business. Later on, Mama started working during elections, and worked up to poll captain. She loved to call me after she’d worked the polls to tell me which of her old friends, and my friends, she’d seen that day.

Mama worked at the same bed and breakfast on their Christmas tour of homes, for years. Mama was passionate about her work for the Friends of the Library, and Community Hospice. (Article from the Jacksonville Times-Union from 2006 about Mama's hospice service.)

Especially dear to Mama, was her volunteer work at St. Vincent’s. She volunteered for over 16 years, and was given a lifetime membership in the Auxiliary. Mama worked in the surgical waiting room and helped with the gift shop. Ultimately, Mama served as the Auxiliary President, and helped start-up the Spirituality Center. Mama and Sam were proud to be supporters of St. Vincent's, and Members of The Order of the Cornette.

Mama always called to tell me when she got a new hospice patient. One time she called and said, “My new hospice patient, is the mother of one of your classmates.” “Really?” I responded. “Yes,” she said, “we had about a 45 minute visit today while her Mama slept. I’ve seen her over there the last couple of times I’ve been to check on her Mama. She was telling me that she liked to come to our house for after school snacks, because we always had Coke and Charles Chips in the can. Her mama only fixed Kool-aid after school. She remembered those chocolate covered Easter bunny cookies with white sprinkles that Charles Chips had. She said she liked going to work with us at the Jacksonville store, because we let you and Nancy take the boats out by yourself. We laughed about how her Mama and I always knew where you girls were, even though there were no cell phones.” “Well, Mama, who is it?” Immediately Mama changed to her professional volunteer voice and said, “Oh, I can’t tell you that, I don’t have permission from the family!” Mama could keep a secret! And she honored patient confidentiality and the HIPAA laws! 

To expand on driving boats, as I just mentioned, when I was in 6th and 7th grade, Mama and Daddy let me take my friends to work with them in Jacksonville. We had two small rowboats that we took out on Cedar Creek by ourselves. Starting when I was in about 8th or 9th grade, Mama and Daddy let us take 15-17 foot powerboats out by ourselves! We had to stay within sight of the business. We had shown ourselves to be responsible, so long before we had driver's licenses for cars, we were driving boats! Our friends LOVED sharing our adventures!

Nancy, age 12, near boat, Jamie, age 14, far boat, 1968.
When Daddy had his cardiac arrest, he had a classic near death experience, where he went to heaven. He could not find the words to adequately express his feelings about it. He would just shake his head and say, “You just can’t imagine how wonderful it is.” 

Daddy reported seeing family and friends-- some of whom had not made it into heaven. God gave Daddy the choice of whether or not to come back, and Daddy chose to come back to, in his words, “take care of your Mother a little while longer.”

After that experience, Daddy was a changed man. Always a man of strong faith, Daddy’s faith grew even stronger. He became less driven, more relaxed, and more tolerant of things that used to vex him. The experience showed Daddy how fleeting life is, and that the only things that are really important on earth are relationships. His powerful testimony impacted our entire family.

Mama took Daddy’s experience to heart. She had no fear of death. After watching her mother linger in a nursing home, and visiting so many friends in long-term care, Mama was adamant that she wanted to die quickly, and at home. She did not even want to discuss any other possibilities.

I am confident that in His wisdom, God granted Mama’s request. Even though Mama’s plan did not go exactly as she wished, she did not suffer much or long. I have peace in the assurance of 2 Corinthians 5:8 that Mama is “absent from the body and present with the Lord.” 

I have never thought of Daddy as dead, and will not think of Mama that way. As the poem says, “they are not dead, they are just away.” Mama has simply stepped through a door that we have not yet seen, and she is again waiting to welcome us home.

Mama had a servant’s heart. She was a true Proverbs 31 Virtuous Woman, except for the part about getting up early. She was a night owl, not a morning person. 

Two of the greatest gifts Mama and Daddy gave to Nancy and me were Roots and Wings. They grounded us and gave us a sense of belonging, then they set us free to fly on our own. In addition, Mama instilled us with  confidence, independence, determination, feistiness, and a sense of adventure. Unfortunately for us, however, Mama did not impart her organizational and filing skills.

So many people have told Nancy and me that we look like Mama. In the hospital a couple of weeks ago, one of the doctors remarked on the resemblance, and Mama said, “She won’t want to hear that.” I said, “That's no surprise to me, Mama, When I look in the mirror, I see you, myself!”

Mama with Nancy and me at Mama's wedding to Sam. 
A dear friend sent me an early morning text Monday, in regard to Mama’s death, that said, “The world is a better place because of the way she lived her life.” My desire is to live up to my Mama’s legacy.

In 2nd Peter, the Bible says that a thousand years on earth is like one day in heaven. Mama, we’ll see you in the morning!

*Items with an asterisk are corrections/additions to original eulogy. 


  1. What a beautifully written tribute to your mom. She really was a wonderful woman.

  2. If one can accurately synthesize a lifetime and have it actually resonate with life, you have done it. Peace to you and your family.

  3. A wonderful tribute to your mother and her well lived life.


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