THE BLOG
08/29/2011 01:29 pm ET | Updated Oct 29, 2011

Remembering Mary Carter

Below are my remarks at my mother's memorial service. I followed my younger brother Craig who spoke about how, through an old friend of my mother's, he was able to get his first job out of college in an office where he met his future wife. Then my oldest brother David talked about how he had been a failing second-grader who my mother then taught to read ... which led him to eventually winning a Rhodes Scholarship. My youngest brother Kent then talked about some of the hardships that my mother endured and described how, on his walk home each night from his subway stop in the suburbs outside Washington, D.C., he would call her and how her voice seemed forever young. Then my sister Carol described how our mom was both a mother and sister to her and she enumerated the six qualities my mother taught her: service, giving, flexibility, healing, courage and vision. Then, below, is the text of my remarks. Enjoy.

Introduction & remarks by Craig Carter

I am the third of Mary's children. I have two older brothers, David and Scott; a younger brother, Kent; and a younger sister, Carol. You will be hearing from each of them shortly.

My mother had an extremely positive -- and powerful -- influence on my life, as she had that same influence on the lives of my siblings. One personal story will illustrate her influence on my life:

When I graduated from college, Mom encouraged me to stay in New York to find my fame and fortune. Eventually, I became a reporter at Fortune magazine. Of course, Mom was the first journalist in our family, and she had worked at Fortune about forty years before me!

But it was in my first real job in New York that Mother had her greatest impact. A dear old Kansas City friend of Mother's, Kenny Hudnall, lived near New York at the time. Mom introduced me to Kenny, and Kenny helped me get that job in trade publishing. It was on that job that I met Julie McFadden. Julie has been my wonderful wife for the last twenty-seven years. We have two beautiful children, Matthew and Lucy. And so, in a sense, I owe my marriage -- and my family -- to Mary Carter.

That is my Mary story, and that is part of Mom's legacy to me. Stories of Mary are especially important to the family right now. Stories help us remember Mother, honor her, and celebrate her life and times. Stories also help us at this time of sorrow and grieving. At the reception today, we want to hear your Mary stories. But first, we will hear stories from Mom's other children.

Remarks by David Carter

I would like to share with you memories of a gift Mother gave me more than fifty years ago. Cliché or not, this was a gift that truly keeps on giving. Although Mom passed away a week ago this evening, the gift continues every single day.

First some context:

In the spring of 1958 Mom was usually up two, three, or more times a night trying to help 6-year-old Scott during dreadful asthma attacks. Some of the attacks lasted about half an hour, but others went on for hours. There was rarely a night in those days when either Mom or Scott got a full night's uninterrupted sleep.

At the same time, Mom had plenty to handle with her day job - which was trying to help raise 3-year-old Craig, nearly year-old Kent, and myself, age 8.

At the time I was in second grade. The year before I had been dropped from the advanced reading group to the middle group, and in second grade I was dropped to the bottom group. I was charitably making "D"s in reading, but "F"s would probably have been more appropriate.

Despite everything else demanding her time and attention, Mom had had enough. She checked out books on reading at the library, read a bestseller by Rudolf Flesch called Why Johnny Can't Read, made her own flash cards, and began working with me in the kitchen every afternoon.

I was not an easy student. I was often a handful. And at first the teaching was all work and not much to show for it. Learning long vowels, short vowels, regular consonants, irregular consonants, and consonant combinations - it was tough.

Mom persevered. She taught me to read by teaching me phonics. Instead of guessing, I learned how to sound out words. I learned to read, and I learned how to learn. Within a year I was in glasses because I was reading 10 to 15 books a week, I was back with the advanced readers, and earning "A"s in reading was easy.

* * * * *

John Carter said at least 10,000 times that "We have a wonderful family." Nearly as often he noted that he was a lucky man to have met and married Mary Kilroy. Her offspring and many friends are similar beneficiaries of a woman who bestowed warmth and caring to all.

Remarks by Kent Carter

In the bedrock of the Carter family home, in the house we all called "702," Mother saw to it that two cornerstones were firmly embedded. They came from Mother's elementary school in Kansas City. The cornerstones, of course, symbolized Mother's roots. They also represented Mother's outlook on life -- the importance, to Mother, of seeking refuge, as needed, in a younger innocent world. In Mother's eyes such a world -- cleansed of all its sins and unneeded details -- was life as it should be.

702 also housed an antique paper doll collection clipped from the pages of the Lady's Home Journal. You couldn't miss them -- they hung in the entry hall. The paper dolls also symbolized an idealized, innocent world.

When Mother moved into Bell Court a few years ago, she never really left 702. She took the paper dolls with her. She could look out from her balcony and keep an eye on the house. As memory and reality began to blur, Mother was known to mention 702 in the present tense... as if her claim to that ground remained fixed in perpetuity... as if the world was as it should be.

But we know that, in addition to all the joys in her life, Mother faced numerous challenges: at the outset, the challenge of growing up without a father during the Great Depression; towards the end, the challenge of making sense of life without the companionship of my father.

As I've been sifting through some of these memories, I've been reminded of the recent re-make of that John Wayne classic, "True Grit." It's the story of a fourteen-year-old girl who, like Mother, lost a father. It's the story of a girl who, like Mother, has to develop her own true grit and inspire true grit in others

Now Mother would have called this a "hard luck story." For her, a suitable movie required a happy ending. "It's a Wonderful Life" qualified. But "True Grit," I think, sheds some light.

With true grit, Mother learned that she had to be tough - because life was tough; she learned that frugality was a virtue; she came to fear but always plan for a storm.

And yet, she always had those cornerstones and paper dolls and there was plenty to celebrate. Bragging rights mattered. Mother greatly admired the success of her brothers, Jimmy and Jack. She appreciated and applauded all the privileges her grandchildren have known. She wanted all of us to reach far - and report back on what we had seen or achieved.

But Mother knew that she had come from a different place and different time -- a world without quite so many frills and trappings. And yet, we know she helped pave the way for all that has followed; we know that she lived ninety full years -- long enough to see the seeds of all her efforts blossom.

As the farthest-flung child, living and working back east, I always enjoyed getting back to Tucson. To see Mom. To mull over my own roots. My sons and I dug forts out in the desert at 702. We basked in the promise of spring at Hi Corbett Field. Brenda became a devoted fan of hikes in Sabino Canyon, meals at Café Poca Cosa, and massages, pedicures and yoga up at the foothill resorts.

But I was also required to rely on a cell phone to keep in touch. I would talk to Mom often at the end of the day as I walked home from the Bethesda Metro. In the process, I discovered that the human voice is almost the last thing to grow old. And so, there was a timeless quality to many of our calls. I could think I was hearing the mother I knew growing up: young; full of energy and true grit; she, I'd like to think, could envision a son whose hair had not grayed, a son who still needed a mother. Mother might have said of it all that it was simply life, Kent, as it should be.

Remarks by Carol Carter

O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing is the last hymn we are singing today. It was the only hymn marked in Mom's hymnal. When I brought the hymnal to the hospital and Father Smith came to read the last rights, we sang this to her. So, it is the last live hymn she heard before she went to her reward.

Mom and I had no sisters. So we were mother and daughter, we were sisters, and we were best friends. I have six major ways of viewing the roles Mom played as a model in my life:

The role of Servant. Whether it was visiting the Brainards, baking bread for people at Devon Gables, working at the soup kitchen, or volunteering at the church, Mom modeled service to others. When she took me to Devon Gables she would say: None of these people asked to be here, and you may be like them some day.

The role of Giver. Mother had a gift closet, she wrote copious thank you notes and she was appreciative of everyone. She once even wrote the manager at Tom McCann about an outstanding shoe salesman who sold her shoes. She also baked cookies for our school classes every holiday, including President's Day.

The role of Flexibility. Mom was able to be flexible and grow despite the most difficult of life's challenges. Although she always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, she helped during some tough times in the 1970's. She enrolled in real estate school despite her fear of math and trepidation about being a student. She came through with flying colors by studying with flash cards and posters to review key concepts. At age 80, she started eight years of therapy with a psychologist she greatly appreciated, Dr. Martin Levy. At age 81, she went camping and fishing with David's family, including sleeping in a tent, because she wanted to be remembered as a grandmother who could camp.

The role of Visionary. Mom and Dad had a vision of a great family. They had a vision of a beautiful home that they built and that we all enjoyed for 47 years where they had an open-door policy for friends as different as the day is long. Many of our friends ran away to our home when they struggled with their own parents. Mom had a vision of my husband and of seeing me get married which was the last time many of us were all assembled with here in this church.

The role of Courageous One. Soon after Mom became a widow, she learned that she had breast cancer. When I was diagnosed with lymphoma in December, I accepted my challenge and tried to march through it as Mom did so bravely. Though we all decided not to tell Mom about the cancer, a few weeks ago in the hospital she noted that my hair was just like hers after her chemo - curly poodle-woodle. She said, " I hate your hair," and I knew that she knew. After her chemotherapy, she boldly imagined a new life without Dad that would still be abundant with love, as Dad would have wanted.

The role of Healer. Mom was the ultimate mom, whether she was taking care of Scott's asthma in every creative way, or treating Craig's broken collar bone, or helping me heal from many heart breaks before I met Norton, or helping Dad heal from emotional illness. She knew how to heal people by finding the best within them and nurturing that in every way.

When I said good-bye to Mom, I told her that she is with me every minute of every day in Norton, everyone in our family, and in each of you, our beloved friends. The movie I think of when I think of Mom is the Wizard of Oz. I asked, that when she was ready, she click her heels three times and Dad and her brothers would be there to take her over the rainbow. Less than an hour before she died, a beautiful full rainbow arced above. Mom is our rainbow, our girl from the heartlands, and she is forever in our hearts. As Norton always says: Goodbye for now.

Remarks by Scott Carter

How perfect that we gather at St. Michael's And All Angels to honor the newest angel, whose name is Mary.

* * * *

Thunderstorms are predicted in the coming days. That means that, over the last week or so, moisture particles have gathered around the world and, when they have condensed in a critical mass, it rains. So, too, when someone we love dies, particles of memories condense in our grieving minds and hearts until ... we cry. Mary is making a monsoon season in our eyes. She is a rainmaker... And we cry today not just because she is gone. She had a long, great life. And all must go sometime. But we cry in humility at the flood of memories she gave us.

* * * *

My mom said when she was a girl she only wanted someone to take her by the hand and lead her through life. But that did not happen. So she let that dream die to be awoken into her soul's full measure and become a gift to the world. She took others by the hand. She led them. And if an exodus from the only city she had ever known and loved for 38 years was needed to keep her asthmatic son alive, she did it.

Or: When keeping our beloved house was threatened in the early 1970's, my mother saw a survival path by partnering with our dad to sell real estate. But, though Mary was the hardest of workers, she had not held a job for 30 years. So she baked loaves of bread, put them in her car and drove these neighborhoods seeking lawn signs saying For Sale By Owner. " Then she knocked on doors, saying: "Good luck in selling your house. If you need a professional's help, here is my card ... and a loaf of bread which I hope that you enjoy". And, over time, folks called back: the bread was great and, yes, maybe they could use some help. And, by helping them, this Irish girl helped save the little Carter clan. Mary answered life's call. She used her gifts. And we best honor her memory by following her lead.

* * * *

Though Time was generous in sharing Mary with us, we all knew that this day would come. So then: how to thank one who gave so much? Which memory particle to evoke the entire rain cloud?

A few years ago, while driving to work, I got an idea. So I called the soon-expire-magic-code-from-my-childhood -- 298-7862 -- and said "Mom, I know what I will say about you after you've gone to your reward" -- she always referred to her eventual death as "going to my reward" -- do you want me to tell you now what I'm going to say at your memorial service?"

She said: "Yes."

Then I said: "Our mom always made cookies. Oatmeal. Gingerbread. But, before putting them away, she would carve an apple slice to put in the cookie jar. That way, as long as that batch lasted, the cookies absorbed the apple's moisture and stayed fresh. Well: Her world was the jar; her family and friends were the cookies; she was the apple."

* * * *

Last Saturday my daughter Calla and I flew here to join our family in Mary's hospice bedside. Her breathing was labored. Like it must have been during her five births. Or like my breathing when my asthma hit. I said: "Mom, you stayed with me through my attacks. We all will stay with you until this also passes." And we did. She died, peacefully, within a circle of love. We took turns saying goodbye to her alone. When my time came I ended by saying: "So, Mary, this is the last of all of the doctor's offices and hospitals we've visited together. Early on, mostly for me. Then, later, mostly for you. 'Good night sweet Princess, and flights of angels carry thee to thy rest.' And your reward."