In loving memory of my mother
Elizabeth Grace Herr
January 2, 1925 – March 14, 2004
by her youngest son, Norm Herr
Memorial Service on March 20, 2004
Westminster Presbyterian Church, Pasadena, CA
March 20, 2004My brother Paul read Proverbs 31 describing a wife and mother of noble character. We chose this passage for the Old Testament reading because our mother was a noble woman who loved, and still loves her Creator. The Proverb states that such a woman’s “children arise and call her blessed (Proverbs 31:28)”, and today we do just that, knowing that she is with her Heavenly Father, in the truest state of blessing.
During the last three days of her life, we had the privilege of spending much time with my mother. Although she could not see, nor talk, she could listen and respond by subtle squeezes of her hand, raising her eyebrows, opening her eyes, and nodding her head. During the three days we spent much time in prayer, reading the Bible, and reminiscing with her. These were precious times and we want to share some memories with you that we shared with her.
Our Grandma and Grandpa Bohanon, her parents, were among the first people to go car-camping in California’s wild lands, traveling to remote campgrounds in a Model-T Ford. Mom grew up camping in such places as Quaking Aspen, Mineral King and Mammoth Lakes. She developed a deep love of God’s Creation, and imparted that love to all four of her children. Mom would frequently carry her copy of Munz’s Guide to California Flora, and would key out plants and teach us how to do the same. She would also bring her rock hammer and fill the car with her treasured geological samples. When we traveled along the coast she would take us beach-combing, collecting and identifying shells of every variety, and when she would rest, which was not very often, she would take out her binoculars and scan the horizon for birds whose call she recognized or was trying to learn. It is no wonder that I too developed a very deep love for the out-of-doors and a strong desire to share that love with our children and their peers.
Growing up with an adventuresome mother was a privilege few boys have. She understood my need to explore, and encouraged it every way she could. Some of my earliest memories are hiking up the beautiful Arroyo Seco near our home with my family, playing in the rushing stream and listening to the breeze in the sycamore trees. As I grew, Mom and Dad took me on more adventuresome hikes and fostered my desire to go exploring, backpacking, and peak climbing, in the Sierras. Mom served as our den mother when I entered Cub Scouts, and later encouraged my involvement in Westminster’s Boy Scout Troop 4. Last year my father, brother and I went to the 90th anniversary of this great institution and noticed that the boys were all wearing the Troop 4 neckerchief and patch that Mom had helped me design -- another small reminder that her legacy lives on in many dimensions. When I was only fifteen years of age, Mom gave her blessing for me to embark on a two-week backpacking trip through the Sierra wilderness with two hiking buddies. Mom and Dad had prepared me well, and the confidence she instilled in me gave me the courage to explore places that she had only dreamed of. Our children are now the fourth generation of avid campers, and share in the rich heritage that Mom has handed down to us.
Mom was a brilliant woman, and was always reading. Our house was filled with books and her love for learning was contagious. She got me a library card as soon as I could sign my name, and together we would search the stacks of the Altadena Public Library for books to feed the interests she inspired. As I grew, I frequently asked her what she thought I would be when I grew up, and without hesitation, she said that I would be a professor. My mother not only seemed to know what I would be good at, but she also encouraged me to pursue it. I am thankful for the guidance she gave, and I plan to dedicate my third science book, which I am currently writing, to her precious memory.
When I was in elementary school, my mother went to college to earn her Bachelor’s Degree and credential. The strange thing about this period in family history is that I really don’t recall her going to college. She placed her family higher than her career, and I do not remember ever feeling like I was competing with her studies. How she managed to do this so well is still a mystery to me. After earning her degree, Mom got a job at the local junior high school, which just happened to be the school where Paul and I attended. Although I didn’t recognize her existence on campus, in keeping with the typical adolescent code of silence, I was very proud of her. My friends frequently commented that she was the best teacher they had, and I knew it was true, because I learned daily from her at home.
Mom was a very caring and loving woman… just ask our father, her husband of nearly sixty years. During the reception we will be showing a digital slide show celebrating her life, and you may notice her giving an “Eskimo kiss” to each of her grandchildren at different times and places. She was always fond of her grandchildren and would play with them on the floor until her fibromyalgia prevented it. Mom loved her grandchildren and treasured time with them as much as they treasured it with her.
Mom was a hospitable woman, and her home was an inn to guests from around the world. When our friends Rudy and Ratna arrived from Indonesia as a newlywed couple, Mom and Dad provided them with a room in their home to start their new life together. Earlier, when I was in college, I called my Mom and said that about 25 of my friends from the UC Irvine Christian fellowship group needed a place to stay while attending a missions retreat on the CalTech campus. Her answer, of course, was that she would be delighted to house everyone. It never dawned on me that most parents would probably have been less enthusiastic about housing 25 strangers for the night. Growing up with parents like Mom and Dad, we learned how to make friends with people from everywhere, and our lives have thus been greatly enriched.
Although my mother often had a short fuse for small problems, she was very steady in the big issues of life. I never doubted her love and commitment to my father, and this made for a very secure and stable childhood. Her steadiness and calmness in the big issues of life were of help to us all. While pursing my Ph.D. at U.C. Davis I became greatly discouraged when my dissertation work had been “scooped” for a second time. Although I could see no opportunities on the horizon, Mom patiently listened to me day after day, and gave me the guidance I needed. I probably would not have gone into teaching, nor back to earn my Ph.D. without my mother’s encouragement.
Of all the childhood memories with Mom, my fondest is when she would sit on the edge of the bed and pray with us each night. She not only taught us the importance of prayer, but the importance of worship and fellowship as well. Attendance at Sunday worship and the Wednesday night program here at Westminster were never in question. Mom and Dad’s faithfulness as members at Westminster spoke volumes to me, and today her son is an elder at Valley Presbyterian Church in North Hills, due in a large part to the spiritual upbringing she helped provide.
For many years our mother has struggled with a thyroid condition, fibromyalgia, macular degeneration, arrhythmia, strokes, sinus problems and other maladies. While she was in the hospital I read her the passage that I just read from 2 Corinthians, and it bears repeating now:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.
Late last Sunday afternoon I was visiting with Mom for a long time during which time she gave little response. Then I asked her if she was looking forward to going home to be with the Lord, and with all her remaining strength she gave a firm “nod” of her head to say “Yes, truly, with all my heart”.
May we remember, as Mom did , that “God so loved the World, that he gave his only Son, that whosoever should believe in Him should not perish, but have eternal life”. As we celebrate Betty’s life, let us also celebrate the eternal life she shares with the Father. Our sorrow is but for a season, but our joy with Almighty God never ends.