In Memoriam

Patsy Jo Ferguson Stephenson

December 14, 1931 – June 6, 2020

“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” -John 14:27

Sunday, June 14, 2020 — Last Sunday morning dawned bright and clear in Franklin, Tennessee, where my mother, Patsy Jo (Ferguson) Stephenson, passed away peacefully in the late afternoon of the previous day, June 6, with my sister Pam and myself at her side. No doubt she ordered up that brilliant Lord’s Day morning for us from her brand-new perch in eternity, as a kind of parting grace note.

Not a Sunday morning since I left home for college has gone by without my thinking of my mother — a woman of strong Christian faith, pure and simple and even “child-like,” as she used to tell me (when I was overthinking my own). Now, her children — Pam, Patresa, Paula, and I — her children-in-law Dennis and Fiona, her seven grandchildren, her six great-grandchildren, and her beloved husband of seventy years, our father, Wendell, are mourning her loss and celebrating the great, ongoing gift of her 88 years of life.

Given the inability to hold a proper service at this time, I’d like to take a moment here to offer a few thoughts and memories about my mother.

My mother was funny, even hilarious — sometimes unintentionally! — and had the good humor to laugh at herself. She loved to laugh.

She gushed over beautiful things — whether flowers or fall color, babies or Pacific sunsets, church music or the stained-glass windows of Notre Dame.

Like her father, who led the singing in church, she loved to sing — and knew the hymnal by heart — and she had a beautiful, even professional-quality voice.

Her accent, which she never lost, was a true West Texas twang — my name, from her mouth, was always “Weee-un.”

She got excited about Christmas, and decorating for Christmas, with the joyful abandon of a child.

She loved to shop!

She loved the Pacific Ocean, and spent countless hours walking and sitting beside it, especially in Dana Point, when she lived alone.

She suffered — in ways physical and emotional, small and large, superficial and profound.

She empathized with those who suffer, and gave of her time and energy to help others who suffered — at Los Angeles Mission; through ESL tutoring and mentoring programs in Nashville; and even in Zagreb, Croatia, during the 1990s Balkan War. She was, in her way, a great humanitarian.

She loved to travel (especially with her sister, Melba, and friend Andrea!), to eat (she was a good cook, passing down family recipes), to read good literature, and attend good theater, especially favorite musicals (My Fair Lady! Les Miz!).

She loved to tell and listen to stories.

She loved the Bible — and taught it to her children and others — and loved to worship.

She prayed, almost constantly, and shared that gift with her family and friends.

She talked… and talked… and talked… and we all loved her for it.

She was the daughter of a rural, small-town postal worker in Victoria, Texas — and married a son of sharecroppers from northeast Texas — and never forgot where she came from.  

She was whip smart — valedictorian of her graduating class at Abilene Senior High School in May 1948 — yet left Abilene Christian College after a year with her “MRS.” degree. I’ve always wondered what she might have done with a college education.

She was feistily political — and liked to argue (sometimes too much!). She was a conservative Republican who volunteered for the Goldwater campaign in Texas in 1964, yet moved gradually toward the center over the course of her life. In 2016 she voted for another former Goldwater volunteer, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and she grew to admire Bernie Sanders (though probably could never have brought herself to vote for him!).

She loved her neighbor — in the way Jesus meant it — whatever creed, color, nationality, or walk of life.

She was humble, “poor in spirit” (see the Gospel of Matthew) — acutely aware of her own shortcomings and sins, and begged forgiveness of God and of all of us. She taught us the power of forgiveness, even forgiveness of the unforgivable.

She taught us that “when someone is the most unlovable is precisely when they need love the most.” (Sometimes that someone was me.)

She died a “good death” — as if the Good Lord decided that this faithful servant had endured more than enough for one lifetime, so why make her suffer any more in leaving it.

She was a faithful friend to many, many, many.

She was a loving and beloved wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, sister, aunt, and fellow human being.

She truly adored her father and mother — and her brother and sister and their children.

She was deeply loved, and will be deeply missed, by too many to count — which, in the end, tells you everything you really need to know.

With my sisters, in the 1960s, a year or two before I was born.

. . .

“Be still, and know that I am God.”

Those profoundest words of comfort are from Psalm 46, among my mother’s favorite lines of scripture, and she repeated them throughout her life. We can honor her by learning to practice that blessed stillness and to know God’s peace — whatever “God” is to you — the peace that passes understanding.

In faith, hope, love, and the memory of Pat Stephenson, 

Her son, Wen