Rick’s mother died last Thursday. Here is the eulogy Rick gave at her funeral:
Eulogy For My Mother
Geraldine B Roberts
(January 11, 1937-June 26, 2008)
By: Richard L. Roberts
In my mother’s final days, with her body shrunken and yellow, lacking the strength to leave her bed, she gave everyone around her a gift. It was her smile. She felt miserable and she was frightened. But when she looked up and saw me, or my brothers, or my father, or a grandchild, or a friend, or any of the wonderful caregivers who helped her so much, she would brighten up and smile. And her smile would raise our spirits, if just for a moment. The smile said that she was happy to see us. But it also said that she did not want us to suffer on her account. She died as she had lived: caring more for others than she did for herself.
My mother was born, Geraldine Springer. It was during the depression and she lived in St Mary’s county in a house attached to the family’s failing general store. As my grandmother says, “they had running water only when it rained.” But she was fortunate in two respects. First, she grew up during a time when being named Gerry Springer was less of a problem than it would be today. Second, she had caring and hardworking parents who always found a way to put food on the table, a roof over her head and clean clothes on her back.
At the age of 14, her widowed grandmother fell ill from heart disease and could no longer live alone. My mother left her home and went to live with her grandmother in Baltimore where she attended high school at Forest Park. She helped care for her grandmother for almost three years until she awoke one morning to find her dead. Then, barely 17, my mother lived alone, hours from home, in her late grandmother’s apartment while she completed high school.
Soon after high school, while still 17, my mother met Leonard Roberts, my father. Many of you know my father, and know him to be a smart, hardworking and honorable man, which he is. But from all I have heard, those qualities were far from obvious back then. He was penniless and unemployed, lacking both formal education and trade. Yet my mother saw through that; she saw him for the man he truly was. And she loved him. She married him when she was just 18 – a happy marriage that lasted 53 years, ‘til death did they part.
When first married, they both struggled to find steady employment, starting out with an income of only $34/week. Their favorite way to spend a night out was to buy a five-cent cup of coffee at Howard Johnson’s and sit there talking for six hours while slowing drinking it. A favorite Sunday ritual was to lay in bed reading the paper and sharing a giant chocolate bar. Although they initially struggled financially, and at times they each faltered, the other was always there to pick up, and together they made a powerful team. Within a couple years they were able to buy a three bedroom, one bath house – the house in which they raised me and my two older brothers; yes, I said one bathroom.
My own early memories of my mother are of her taking care of me and my brothers all day – then, after tucking me in at night, she would get in the car and drive to her night job at Baltimore Gas & Electric. I don’t know how long she worked at night, but she was always there to wake me up in the morning and give me breakfast. When I was bit older, she started working full time during the day and, at night, would take college classes to help her advance at BG&E. Despite working full time, she earned straight A’s and yet never left us in any want of her care and attention.
Many of you know the extent of my mother’s extraordinary volunteer service to others. In any service organization, a small percentage of the members perform the bulk of the work that makes the group’s service possible. My mother was one of those essential few in every service organization she touched, from the Jewish War Veterans Auxiliary where she served as district president, to AARP, where she was an officer and board member, to Toastmasters where she was a district officer. She taught public speaking classes to both school children and home schoolers. She provided volunteer services to area veterans hospitals for more than 25 years. In 2007, she received the Award of Distinction from the Maryland Senior Citizens Hall of Fame, an award that was certainly well deserved. In all of these things, she worked with my father – they were an inseparable team.
As many of you know, my father also served as a leader in many of these organizations. He was always president of this, governor of that or commander of the other. But what you may not know is that for every leadership position my father held, for every honor he was awarded, my mother played a critical role, behind the scenes, doing much of the day-to-day work that made my father’s work possible. You might have known this, but if you did, it is because my father told you or you figured it out on your own – you didn’t hear it from my mother. She never sought the spotlight nor claimed credit for herself, even when credit was greatly deserved.
I would like to tell you something else you may not know about my mother: she was highly intelligent. I don’t mean that as a casual description; you all know she was smart. I mean it as a matter of verified fact. She was curious whether she could meet the requirements to join MENSA – the club for people with exceptionally high IQs – so she took their standardized test. Her IQ measured over 150 and easily met their membership requirements. She never actually attended any MENSA meetings or events and she told very few people about it. She did it for only one reason: she just wanted to see if she could.
My mother spent her life taking care of everyone else, and she did it with love, intelligence and quiet humility – she had always done so and we blithely assumed she always would. That she was like a force of nature, constant and unchanging. Now, with her passing she defies the laws of nature: for some of us she leaves a vacuum which will not be filled. She was truly the best of people and she will be dearly missed.