My mom passed away on September 19, 2011. This is the eulogy I gave at her funeral a few days ago.
Here is a photo of my folks with my first child, about 24 years ago. That beautiful baby, Kira, has grown up, of course, and is about to give birth to my first grandchild in a couple of months.
My mom was born Lois Leone Mumford on July 4, 1915 in Clam Falls, Wisconsin, to Grace Harvey Mumford and Wellman Mumford. Rumor has it that in my mom’s earliest years, she thought the fireworks celebrations were in honor of her birthday on the 4th of July.
Lois was the second oldest of four children, with an older brother, Loyd, and two younger sisters, Elsie, and Lillian. Lillian is still living, in Wisconsin.
Lois loved music as a child, a very natural thing since her father was a violinist and her mother was a pianist. One of her favorite songs as a child was “Can A Little Child Like Me, “ which we’ll be hearing in a moment, sung by Elyse Shackleton, my mom’s youngest grandchild.
At the age of 14, Lois met her future husband, Loren Shackleton, age 17, at church.
Lois’s family lived 10 miles outside of town, and there was no school bus service in those days. In order to finish high school, Lois completed her junior and senior years by living in the home of a woman with two children who needed housework to be done, and help with her children, so that Lois could live in town and attend high school. She was obviously a very determined young lady.
Lois and Loren were married on October 26, 1934, by Pastor Paul Shrock, at the home of the Mumford family. The relationship of the Shackletons and the Shrocks lasted for decades. I recall staying in their home when I was a child.
Loren and Lois worked in ministry for many years, starting with Christian radio broadcasting in 1937 with Melvin Miller (I still have a “business card” of sorts showing the broadcasters), and then pastoring in Stanley, Wisconsin, starting in 1939. With an interruption for attending college, they pastored together until 1968, in Virginia, Indiana, Missouri and New Mexico.
My sister Mary Lou was born to them in 1940. My brother Tom arrived in 1947, and I broke into the proceedings in 1951.
For many years after moving to Arizona in my last year of high school, Lois was the organist for the Tempe Church of God.
It’s impossible, of course, to state all the ways that my mom impacted me. All I can offer for now are some snapshots.
She started my musical training with a few months of piano lessons in the 1st grade. I complained a lot about how much my upper back hurt when I had to sit at the piano bench, so she let me stop. But both parents encouraged me to start the trumpet in our school band in the fourth grade, and that decision set the, uh, tone of my life in many ways. She accompanied me in countless performances, patiently learning piano parts for all kinds of music for contests and other occasions.
I still remember a chocolate shake she bought for us in the train station in Chicago when I was a small child, just her and me, on the way to Wisconsin to see her mother. It’s amazing what memories we create for our small children, and how much they will remember little things.
When I was twelve or so, I began banging around on the piano again, just out of curiosity about how chords worked, counting the half steps between the notes that made different chords and so on. She noticed, and showed me something called a “dominant 7th chord.” I didn’t know it at the time, but she had given me an early music theory lesson, and I was off to the races learning about harmony and melody. I’ve spent nearly all my adult life teaching music theory, in one form or another, and it traces back to her. Both she and my dad were endlessly patient while I played the same chord progressions over and over, getting their sound and function into my ear.
In the Kansas City area, where we lived when I was 13 to about 16, I was an up and coming trumpet player, playing in all kinds of school groups, jazz bands drawn from the city’s high schools, and so on. In addition to continuing to accompany me, she and my dad drove me to dozens of rehearsals and performances all over town. They usually sat in the front row. I have the impression that my dad didn’t always like the music I played, but she genuinely did. Her tastes were always a bit broader than his. On more than one occasion they drove me half-way across the state, so I could play a 5 minute solo for some contest or other. She would accompany, and he would offer opinions on how well my trumpet was tuned up before the performance.
I recall one trip in particular across the Kansas City area to a performance of a jazz band I was in. My dad wasn’t along on that trip. There was a huge storm, complete with something that looked like ball-lightning on the light and power poles as we made our way through the downpour with almost no visibility. She just kept on going, determined that I would get there in time to perform.
I recall at about age 13 or 14 coming home from school one day, and finding her crying (and trying to hide it) over a letter from my brother Tom, then a soldier in Vietnam. My mom was a praying person, and I know that she and my dad always covered their children in prayer.
Because my folks pastored at relatively low wages up until my senior year in high school (when my dad got a job teaching 5th grade in Eloy, AZ), they didn’t have enough income to send me to college. Even after financial aid, there were still going to be costs, and my mom took a job as a proofreader in the local newspaper in Casa Grande, AZ. Her spelling and grammatical skills were excellent, and I’m sure she rescued countless verbally incompetent reporters from their just rhetorical desserts, while paying for me to go to college at Anderson University in Indiana.
During my dad’s last years, she did an amazing job of caring for him, finding ways to get healthful food into him, getting him to medical care, and generally supporting him. I have to say, I have rarely seen or heard of two people who seemed more made for each other. Yet they were very different people. I think that, with God’s help, they grew together in the mysterious way that couples do when both spouses are seeking God’s presence in their lives. A lot of marriage counselors might have been well served by throwing away their theories and interviewing my parents.
When my mom was about 80 or so, she decided she wanted to learn how to use a computer. For the young people here, how many of you think that at the age of 80 you’re going to learn how to use a complex technology that wasn’t yet invented when you were 50 or so? But she brought typical Lois-style determination to the task, reading thick manuals and help screens, asking questions until she knew how to do what she wanted. Until her recent decline in health, when it got to be too difficult for her to get to her computer, we generally exchanged email five or six times per week. Some of these emails were closer in length to essays than text messages, if you get my drift. We discussed a great many topics.
After her stroke at age 87, she typed one handed, and the emails got a little shorter…. Though not always! As her vision got worse, her family gave her a larger monitor, and she kept on going. Since her hearing had deteriorated as well, and making phone calls was nearly impossible, email became our main way of staying in touch.
My mom dealt with her stroke in typical Lois fashion, with courage and determination. I used to say she was the “special forces” of retired people, as I saw her doing her exercises, trying to stay as independent as possible, doing as much for herself as she could. No Navy Seal works harder or is more determined to succeed in the mission. She did her best to manage every detail of her own life, even giving my sister Mary Lou advice to give to the hospice nurse near the end of her life on earth.
Mom was a voracious reader, and her granddaughter Tammy kept her well supplied with large print books. She watched C-Span, and knew more about the political controversies of the day than a lot of people.
My mom was what might be called the genuine article. She was trustworthy to a fault. More people than you might imagine found her to be a safe person to talk to. She simply did not betray confidences. She looked for the good in other people, again nearly to a fault. She found joy in many simple things, from ice cream to reading to table games. I never saw her put on an air (though a few times she did put on the dog, for a family celebration). If you needed to talk for a bit to someone who loved you and accepted you, a good strategy was to go visit my mom.
Galatians 5:22 says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” As far as I was ever able to see, that described my mom pretty well.