Eulogy for Pat Folkerth
August 13, 2022
On behalf of my sisters, Dianne and Linda, and all our families…we are so very grateful to all of you for being here at this service to honor our Mother. It means so much to see you all.
And a big “thank you” to Revs Ann Willett and Blair Thompson for presiding today. Mom never technically switched her membership from Northaven, even though in the time after my leaving here she visited Arapaho and got to know Blair there. So, thank you Ann for the gracious invitation to speak here as Pat’s son. Thank you to Blair…it means a lot for us for you to be here.
Thank to the joint Northaven and Kessler Park choirs that are here today…and our two directors, Jonathan and ????). It does our family’s heart good to see you here today.
We’re so grateful that today we are joined by so many folks from so many parts of our Mother’s life…
— Prestonshire friends.
— North Dallas friends.
— Highland Springs and Northaven friends.
— Lake friends.
— Atlanta Texas relatives.
— And we know that some of you are watching the livestream and we are grateful to you as well.
I want to also especially acknowledge the good folks at VNA Hospice for their care in these past months. And here the beginning, and also at the end, I want to acknowledge Mom’s three caregivers…Pam Herman, Linda Trent-Hernandez, and Sue Dashiell.
It’s fitting that this service is here at Northaven. Because, not only was this still Pat’s church…but as everyone in our family agrees: here at Northaven Pat Folkerth was by far the most popular member of the Folkerth family.
No! It’s true!
I mean, come on, you don’t have to gloss this over for me….some folks just sweetly tolerated me. You know that…
And those who sweetly tolerated me felt sorry for my Mom!
(That poor woman, with a son like that…I’m kidding…sort of…)
All jokes aside.
Here is the truth…if you asked anybody in our large, extended Folkerth or Mays family…or anybody here at Northaven….or anybody how knew her in Atlanta, or Dallas, or Callendar Lake, or Highland Springs or anywhere…they would ALL say that Pat Folkerth was one of the kindest, most gracious, most caring and compassion humans they ever knew.
I say words like those at a lot of Memorial Services…but you know how they are deeply true.
Our mother, Pat Folkerth, was universally loved, admired, and cherished as a friend by many, many people.
All us three kids…we all have some of our OWN friends here today. And one of the things we grew to understand as adults was that many of our friends liked our parents better than their own parents.
This is absolutely true.
We didn’t really fully understand this until we were older. But our friends loved to hang out at our house. Mom made our houses in Preston Hollow and North Dallas an inviting and welcoming place where our childhood friends felt welcome…even when their own homes were sometimes falling apart, sometimes filled with divorce, conflict, and sadness.
Mom made friends where ever she went. Good friends, who loved her as deeply as she loved them.
We three children have been looking at a lot of old pictures of Mom over the past few weeks and months, and one of the things that leaps out at you is just how much her hairstyles changed over the years.
Think back on every hairstyle of the past 60 years, and our Mother tried pretty much ALL them out.
And this is kind of a metaphor for her life, really. Just as her HAIR was constantly changing, SHE was too…East Texas girl, SMU coed, young stay-at-home Mother, professional woman, and Gran.
In ALL of these places, Mom was making new friends…even well into her eighties….AND she was keeping up with old friends too.
We have found a collection of letter drafts among her papers. It appears from the file that Mom would write letters to people who had experienced great loss in their lives…she would HANDWRITE the drafts, and then apparently write out the cards or letters. She had another file of poems and scripture verses and clipped out…copied and ready to place inside these letters.
Mom loved to entertain and open her home to others. She loved hosting parties. She loved hosting our friends when we were growing up. She had a graciousness and a style in this.
These were lessons that my sister, Linda, says she learned well….Linda writes:
“A mother-daughter relationship can be tricky. The changing tides of adolescence to independence can challenge the best of us. My mom and I were able to navigate those waters and come out as close later in life as we were when I was a child. She taught me many things: how to throw a party and be a good hostess; don’t leave home without your lipstick on; the art of writing a thank-you note and buying a thoughtful gift. (We shared a love of old musicals and any mystery or thriller from Hitchcock to Law & Order. I didn’t inherit her ferocious sweet tooth or her love of wandering up and down every grocery store aisle instead of sticking to a list.”)
Dianne remembers Mom’s desire to remember how she “always remembered what it’s like to be the new kid.”
And it’s true. Mom was always including outsider…
…our friends when we were kids
…but also family members who needed a place to land for Thanksgiving.
…a neighbor who needed a friendly and compassionate ear.
I remember often seeing neighbors sitting at our kitchen table, talking to Mom when we were younger.
Mom knew how to include people and make outsiders feel comfortable…
and Mom knew how to compassionately listen to others.
But if you’re going to really understand my Mom, it would help to know where these traits came from….
Mom’s desire to include the outsider came from being an army kid…
Although her family was from Atlanta, Texas…Her very earliest years weren’t spent there. Her father, our Daddy Sam, was in the Army, and it was World War II era.
As with all Army families in that day, they lived in states like Florida and Oregon. They visited places like California. Daddy Sam never shipped overseas.
But they traveled around a lot and lived a lot of places.
But Mom has a distinct memory of this period being HARD…because as they moved from town to town, she was often the new girl in school and felt isolated and left out.
This is the thing that we all remember her telling us as kids: How SHE remembered what it was like to be the “new kid” in school, and so she always tried to be welcoming to the newcomer.
The second life-event that shaped Mom’s empathy and compassion for others was the death of HER Mother, Lurline.
Our grandmother, Mom’s Mom, died when she was just 60 and Mom was still a young woman. But she had been sick with breast cancer for a decade…since about age 50.
I have only very vague memories of my grandmother…I was 5 ½ when she died.
But as I got older, I came to understand the depth of this experience for Mom.
Throughout ALL the very early years of Mom’s marriage to Dad…when I was a young…boy HER Mother was dying of cancer…in a time when the treatments were often bleak and harsh.
As a young child, I really do remember a sadness in Mom. I remember a book on grief by Rev. Charles Allen that Mom kept by her bedside for YEARS. (We found it!)
Mom was traveling back to Atlanta often to care for her Mother. And now, here she was with a snot nosed 5 year old boy (me) and pregnant with her second child, with a husband who was traveling for work a lot…and she would soon have two little girls.
…and HER grief was: her Mother would never be here for HER, as her family grew.
It was a huge loss for her…and she wrestled with it for years. (As I’ll note later, it shaped much of her later life too…)
But it was also this loss that turned her into an even MORE compassion person.
In those letters she often wrote to grieving people, she would often reference the loss of her Mother, or later my Father, as a way of empathizing with grieving people.
As an adult…Mom was a good listener…and a CONFIDENTIAL listener.
People trusted her with their secrets, and their sufferings….and she knew well how the hold the sorrow of others.
It’s where I have learned ALL of my pastoral skills.
Any skills I have for empathy, compassion, caring…listening…
There is NO question that those come from my Mother. That is a gift, friends: Being able to walk with the sorrow and pain of others…and my Mother was an expert at it.
After World War II, the family eventually settled back in Atlanta, Texas…and my grandfather went to work at the family business: The Mays Supercash Grocery store.
Before it was put out of business by Safeway and an unfair, politically motivated, persecution by the IRS, it was THE grocery store in town for decades. Mom worked there as a small girl, and was there almost every day of her childhood.
She remembers she and her sister Sandy checking the eggs laid by the hens…to see if they were good to sell to customers. She remembers delivering groceries to neighbors and friends. But she DID try to avoid the slaughterhouse out back…that, she said, was kinda gross.
Mom was was VERY VERY proud of being from Atlanta, Texas.
Our Mother had a theory of the universe….akin to a kind of quantum string theory, really…that everybody who is anybody has some kind of connections to Atlanta, Texas.
Did you know, Ellen…yes THE Ellen… once lived there? (Mom would tell you about it…)
Did you know SMU President, Gerald Turner lived there too?
Did you know Don Henley lived right down the road in Linden?
It’s true…I sort of dismissed all this for years, myself.
And then, in my 40s, I met Don Henley at a party, and he BEAMED when I told him my family was from Atlanta…he told me how he remembered shopping at the Mays Supercash.
So now and then, I almost started to believe it myself: Maybe Atlanta, Texas IS the actual center of the universe…
Mom never really left her East Texas roots.
When I was a small boy, she had a very PRONOUNCED East Texas accent…and, apparently so did I…you can hear them both on early family audio recordings.
These things faded as she grew…and she lived more in Dallas.
But we all three distinctly remember people calling on the phone to say “Is Patsy THAY-ER?!”
“Mom…somebody from Atlanta is calling…”
When was a young kid, Atlanta, Texas was SO ubiquitous…and loomed so large in my OWN mind that I was only vaguely aware that there was an Atlanta, GA.
When I was a kid, and somebody told me they had been to Atlanta, I would cheerfully ask, “Oh, Atlanta, Texas?!!”
And, of course, they would look at me confused and say “Nooo….”
Well, I didn’t know…it was big to me…
In high school, Mom was pretty much into everything.
She was in band for a year.
She was editor of the 1952 high school yearbook.
She was an Atlanta cheerleader, a class officer for two years.
And she was voted “Senior Class Favorite.”
The pictures of our Mother in High School and College are just so 1950s that they make your head spin. The pictures looks like something straight out of Happy Days.
Mom went to SMU, and rode the train back and forth from Atlanta to Dallas. She graduated SMU in 1956, with a degree in Speech and Theater.
Good Lord, was she proud of being an SMU Mustang.
Every time, as a kid, we were anywhere near SMU, I’d say to her: “Yes, Mom…I know that’s the dorm you and Mrs. Williams lived in…”
After graduation Mom went to work in the Dallas and Grand Prairie ISDs as a school teacher…teaching for a time, seventh graders.
She lived in a series of apartments in what we now call the norther part of Uptown…along Cole Avenue.
And it was there that she met a young aerospace engineer from Cincinnati named Dick Folkerth.
They lived with a group of young, single friends….hanging out at the pool.
Mom and Dad dated for several years.
Mom apparently became convinced that Dad was the man for her. Dad was apparently a little slow in asking her to marry him. In fact, she stated making plans for a long trip to Europe, which eventually pushed him to propose.
The got married in 1960…back in Atlanta…at our grandparents’ house.
And they settled here in Dallas.
And except for a two-year stint in California…they lived here in Dallas the rest of their lives.
For many years, our family lived in right here Preston Hollow, just down on Prestonshire. And where we lived as a young family…
That’s why when I moved here as Pastor to Northaven, I kinda already knew all about the neighborhood. Because these were the streets where we rode our bikes, and played with our friends.
That’s why…much to my surprise…Mom and Dad joined Northaven on my first Sunday here. (They never joined Highland Park…)
My sisters, were in here in the Northaven Coop as children (I was too old…) and I remember our whole family, coming up to the old Northaven church to wash windows when I was a kid.
Mom worked as a stay-at-home Mother for those early years, when we were all small.
She was a Scout leader, a youth sports volunteer…for basketball, football, softball, soccer, baseball…Mom was a PTA volunteer, and a classroom “room mother.”
She drove school carpool.
Let me give you just one story about her worry about her kids….and how she never forgot that loneliness of being the “new kid” from when she was little girl.
When we first moved to Prestonshire…it was in the very early years of Preston Hollow, and there weren’t obviously a lot of kids around.
Mom actually put an advert in the Dallas Morning News, offering to take care of neighborhood kids…not because she wanted to be a childcare worker…but as a rouse so she could figure out who the other neighbor kids were. (Nobody took her up on it…)
She eventually followed a neighbor kid home on his tricycle, just so she could meet the boy’s mother and hopefully find a friend for her little boy.
Throughout her entire life, our Mom was especially close to her only sibling, her younger sister Sandra Mays Guthrie… and her three daughters, Melinda, Andrea, and Melanie, who always lived lived nearby to us.
Melanie, Melinda and their families are still here in Dallas, and we have lived physically close, and remained close to them for our entire lives. We would spend Thanksgivings and Christmases in those early years…moving back and forth between our house and Aunt Sandy’s house.
Melanie said this about that time:
“We would eat then gather around the TV with our dessert and watch the cowboys games. Uncle Dick would be in the small galley kitchen we had doing dishes and cleaning up after our moms had worked so hard to make everything perfect.
This came from our moms came down to us and now Melinda, Andrea and I continue it on with our families.
Melinda and I talk all the time how we learned so much from Aunt Pat. What it means to be a loving and giving spouse, how to be a mom, how to clean and cook and how to be a giving caring compassionate human. After momma died aunt Pat was always there for us and she told us that many times she would do anything for us.”
In fact, it was a gaggle of girls, really.
In addition to my two sisters, Dianne and Linda, born 11 months apart…There were also those three Guthrie girls too.
And two MORE girl cousins on Dad’s side of the family…Leanne and Caroline…and we are so touched that they have come from Colorado and Illinois to be with us this weekend.
In fact, friends, break out the tiny violins for me…I was the ONLY boy…you had to go all the way out to second cousins to find two boys even near my age…and they both lived far away.
But Mom loved ALL of us kids as individuals. She loved all three of us in the ways we needed to be loved. She loved her nieces and sister.
And one of the ways she healed from the loss of HER mother as a young woman…was in soaking IN the joy of being with all of us…with her family.
Mom saw us all for who we were and she had a remarkable way of giving us exactly what we needed. In later years, Mom would talk about how PROUD she was of all of us…how unique we all were…and we are…we are all very different people.
She was SO proud of all our spouses…and she LOVED all her grandchildren so deeply….Maria, Sam, Addie, and Theo.
She loved them all so much, and loved going to see them in gymnastics, swimming, theater and band….
She used to tell us all how we all ended up with the spouses that we needed, in the cities where we needed to be, each with amazing families and lives…and that is true… And that is in large part due to the individual love and care our Mom showed to all of us as we grew.
We moved to Far North Dallas in the very late 1970s, and Mom continued all her many activities with us kids. The family spent many iconic summer vacations at the YMCA of the Rockies, in Estes Park, Colorado..and she became a good friend to a whole new group of neighbors and friends.
It’s here where our home really became that HANG OUT for all our friends, and Mom became the favorite Mom of a lot of other teen friends of ours.
But as those years passed, the death of Mom’s own Mother came back to her.
She was approaching 50…the age her Mother got sick.
Mom had no roadmap for what happens to a woman after age 50…only sickness and death.
I was off at college….Dianne and Linda would be launching off soon to lives of their own.
So, Mom let it be known that she wanted to go back to school and go back to work.
I think for many years of my life I imagined that this was a relative easy process. I mean, I was away at college, so I didn’t really think about it too deeply. You know…she made this decision, my Father said, “Sure, honey…” And life went on.
Well, apparently, not so much.
There was a good bit of conversation about it in the household. Because Mom was planning to go ALL IN…to become a career woman…and it’s pretty obvious my Dad was a tad concerned.
But Mom stood up for herself, and knew what she wanted. She knew from her Mother’s experience that the time might be short!!
At so, at a time when many people are thinking about SLOWING DOWN, she jumped right into a brand new adventure.
Mom trained as a paralegal, and worked for a decade for the firm of Baron and Budd in Dallas. Baron and Budd was a law firm that was EXPLODING at the time…doing tort work…a lot of having to with asbestos litigation.
During that decade, Mom worked on many large tort cases with that firm. She traveled all over the country, combing through evidence on behalf of their clients.
She wrote an important memo that became a key document in asbestos litigation…helping to prove that asbestos companies were engaging in a conspiracy about the harm of their products.
Our MOM did that!!!
All of the main partners in the firm have told Dennise and I over the years just how much they admired Mom, and how important her work was to their firm.
And she LOVED IT…she loved the travel, she loved the legal writing and research…she LOVED talking about law.
She told Dennise more than once that if she’d lived in a different generation, she might well have been a lawyer as young woman….and they loved to talk law together.
She later became the head of the “technical files” division of the firm.
A firm like that has lots of exhibits, and lots of documents to keep track of.
When she started, the technical files fit in one small closet.
By the time Mom retired, they took up almost an entire floor of an office building.
When Mom retired from Baron and Budd, she was the very first employee to retire from that very large law firm.
The fact that Mom modeled going back to work…changing her identity and changing with the times…this became an important role model for all of us kids.
Dianne says this about Mom’s worklife: “By going back to work, she taught us to stand up for ourselves, pursue our passions, instilled “girls can do anything”, making all three of us feminists…”
And Linda remembers a very specific conversation with Mom about this. Linda says:
“…the most important lesson Mom taught me was: “Don’t lose yourself in motherhood.” When we were in junior high Mom sat us down to talk. She explained she and Dad decided to have a family and that she had loved every minute of being a mother. Then she said… “I love being a mother, but my name is Pat. It isn’t Mom or Mommy, it’s Pat. I had a whole full life before I married and decided to have you, with my own friends and my own activities.”
As a gift to herself, she told us she was going back to school and to have a second career. Mom was ahead of her time in that way. Like possibly many of you here, I had never pictured my mother as a person, just as someone who fed me, helped me. My entire view of her was centered around me.
The “my name is Pat” talk definitely changed my life. Mom was so many things: daughter, sister, friend, co-worker, neighbor, mother, and wonderful grandmother.”
Isn’t that beautiful?
Pat Folkerth was more than just “Mom” or “Wife…” She was Pat in all of these things.
Pat was not on the front of social change…she didn’t March in feminist marches…or wave the banners of other social issues. But she lived it in how she lived her life.
However, speaking of feminism, we DID find a fascinating letter she wrote in the the mid 1990s. SMU Women’s Basketball was nationally ranked…at number six…and Mom and Dad were going to games.
But apparently, none of the local broadcasters were covering them….and it really grated on Pat.
So, she wrote all the major sportscasters…looked up all their addresses… Dale Hansen, Scott Murray, Mike Doocy, Craig Way, Norm Hitzges…even Ron Chapman!
Her letter begins:
I feel as though I have been living in a “time warp” for the last couple of weeks. As far as coverage of women sports is concerned, it could just as well have been 1955 as 1995.”
She goes on to chastise them for their lack of coverage, noting how NONE of them were present at local games. (Because, SHE had been there…)
She talks about how she first recognized the disparity in women’s sports when my sister, Dianne, played basketball in high school…and pointed out how the media had a job to draw attention to women’s sports.
“I once asked Skip Bayless why the media paid so little attention to women’s sports. He told me that no one was interested. So how do we get them interested, gentlemen? How can the public be interested if they are not aware of the prayers or programs or games?
It’s 1995— may we have your attention?”
You see, I think Pat got bolder and took more risks as she aged. And in that, she taught us all an important lesson about how to age through life.
But after about a decade of work, in her mid 60s, Pat decided it was time to retire. Again, she cited the idea that life was fleeting and short….you never know WHEN it might end…so savor each day.
And so it was that Pat started the final TWO phases of her life…first, retirement and grandchildren.
Mom…became working-Pat…became GRAN.
When Mom retired from Baron and Budd, that started yet another phase of life. Around that same time, Mom and Dad built a Lakehouse in East Texas, on Callendar Lake.
It was VERY clear to us three kids that their initial thought of the lakehouse was as a haven for their grandchildren.
I mean, when they first built it, the second and third bedrooms only had small twin beds….big enough for grandchildren…not so much for married adult children.
Eventually, it was like…oh yeah, maybe we should make room for our children too.
They did…The Lakehouse expanded over the years, and became another center of their life in retirement.
As we all married and started our own families, we no longer gathered in Dallas for holidays…but we would gather together at the Lakehouse…for 4th of July, for Thanksgivings and Christmases.
In retirement, Gran and Grandad traveled. They went to Great Britain. They went to New Zealand and Australia. They traveled to Houston to visit Sam, Addie, the travelled to Austin to visit Theo. They traveled to gyms all over North Texas to see Maria compete in gymnastics.
We ALL went back to Colorado for their 50 year wedding anniversary.
And in this, Gran gathered in an entirely NEW group of friends, once again….at Callendar Lake… here at Northaven with the bookclub. Again, in her late 60s and 70s, Pat was STILL making new friends.
She could always tell us what the friends on Sherwood Lane at the lake were up to, and she often gave me the scoop on the Northaven bookclub.
And now, following our Father’s death in 2015, Pat changed once again.
She announced to all us children in 2017 that it was time to leave her house in North Dallas, and move to Highland Springs.
She did the work on finding her apartment. Nobody pushed her to do it.
And at Highland Springs, in her late 80s, Pat was STILL making new friends, and reconnecting with old ones….
Gran was taking the the Vonlane bus to Houston and Austin…she was going to dinner and SMU games with us…and Mom’s Weekend in Arkansas. She went to Scotland with the Elmers, back to Colorado.
She was connecting with dear friends like J’ann Pybas…Cassie Ranta and Alys Richards…Alys’ daughter, Lynn…who I’ve known since our MYF days together called our two Mom’s “Thelma and Louise.”
Friends, as I close, I want to again thank the three caregivers…Pam, Linda, and Sue. Their skill and compassion these last months were amazing and a gift not just to Mom…but also to all of us as her family.
I want you to know the incredible sacrifice my sister made…making numerous trips to Dallas during these past five months. They were such unbelievably daughters to our Mother..throughout their lives, and especially these past few months.
But let me close by telling you my sense of my Mother and her death.
Pat Folkerth died with no regrets, and she died being reconciled to herself and to all of her friends and family having lived a long and full life. I think she would want me to tell you that.
Her cancer and memory issues came on suddenly last Winter, and she spent four challenging months in hospice. It was extremely hard to watch our strong, courageous mother wither physically….she STILL remained her same core self…loving, kind, gracious…throughout it all.
To the very end…she was still worried about how everyone else was doing.
When she got her cancer diagnosis…and even when I spoke with her just days before her death, she was able to say about her fate… “Well, it is what it is…”
And to understand this fully, I think you have to try to see her life as she did:
PAT FOLKERTH NEVER EXPECTED TO LIVE TO BE 87 years old. She was VERY glad she did…but she never expected it.
She told me this many times over the past three decades.
She outlived everyone, and she dealt with loss and grief as a young woman, and over and over again…
The death of her Mother…but also the suicide of an Uncle and the early death of another Aunt…
The too young and too early deaths of two male first cousins who were like brothers to her…
The death of her younger sister…and then her husband…
None of this was easy, of course. As she told me many times, getting older was hard. When I turned 55 and complained about being old, she said, “HEY! How do you think I feel?!”
Over time, our Mom became the Matriarch of a large, extended family…moving…changing and growing…into her final earthly chapter.
She was Mother and grandmother not just to us three kids…but to many more in our family…the last of her generation on both the Folkerth and Mays sides.
And for those of us who remain living…this generational loss hits us hard. It’s very sad for us to realize this generational loss.
But, friends, again, today even in our personal grief, I invite you all to see it from HER perspective…from Pat Folkerth’s perspective….because she and I talked about this many times.
She had NO expectations for a life at age 60. Much less age 70…and finally 87!
She used to tell me this specifically….that she was just glad to be alive at age 60…that she had no roadmap for it..so she just ENJOYED EVERY DAY.
This is why she was forever telling us to go out on the Lakehouse porch to have a glass of wine and ENJOY THE MOMENT….because SHE enjoyed her life…she savored it…lived it ever of her life fully and never took any part of it of it for granted.
From our Mom’s perspective, she got almost 40 bonus years more than what she feared she might have when was a young woman.
She got to know and love those grandkids…those grandnieces and nephews…to make new friends and have new adventures, even in her 80s.
And I think what teaches us all is to live each day as we have our lives…that life will be full of great joy and great sorrow. This cannot be avoided.
But…to see it all as a GRACE and a GIFT.
She was Patsy.
She was a Wife.
She was a Mother.
She was a Paralegal.
She was Gran…
And thanks be to God for her life well lived.