Friday, May 22, 2015

Catherine LeDuke: 99 Years of Love

I cannot express my thanks enough to Lyle Lankford for the incredible tribute he paid to my Mother, Catherine LeDuke at her "last performance" on May 9, 2015. 
Catherine LeDuke's final play was a huge success by any measure used.  The set was provided by the Tiptonville Presbyterian Church.  Special effects did a superb job providing an afternoon break in the storm clouds between noon and 3 pm.  They even saw to it that the sun was present during much of that time both in front of the church at 1pm and later during her last scene at the Tiptonville Cemetery an hour and a half later.
Danny Cook played the part of the Funeral Director to perfection, musical score was provided by Lois Lockhart throughout the entire production, Services were conducted by the Reverend Walter Lockhart, who performed his role with all the confidence of one who could have been Catherine's lifelong Pastor. Flowers adorning the set were provided by Blooms and Things.  The six "key grips": Morris Himel,David Lovell, Tony Rhoades, Jerry Simmons, Ed Sumara, and Morris Himel III handled their duties well.

The supporting cast on the front pew behaved themselves despite being played by all Catherine's children.  Only minor equipment failures were reported to the prop department.  The church assured the producers of this play that "no one ever used the front pew anyway.". Grandchildren, nieces, nephews, friends, and former students made up the remainder of the supporting cast and played their parts well.
The star of the show, Miss Catherine, looked beautiful in her green gown worn only once before during her induction into the the Teacher's Hall of Fame.  The outfit has been officially retired and will not be worn by any other players.

The leading man in this production must be singled out for his outstanding role.  Lyle Landford, trained, tutored, and mentored by our star, gave a stellar performance in providing what everyone present has proclaimed to be the "Best Eulogy Ever".  How he was able to convey all the dialogue without breaking into tears is a testament to his professionalism and years of experience in putting the training provided by his early Tiptonville High School educators into practice.
It seems only fitting to make the entire eulogy, written by Lyle, available to all those who were not able to be present at Catherine LeDuke's last production.  No tribute ever written on this web-site can hold a candle to the beautiful words you have written and delivered so eloquently, Lyle.  My entire family thanks you from the bottom of our collective hearts.


“Miss” Catherine LeDuke
Lyle Lankford

Memorial Service
May 9, 2015
1:00 p.m.
Presbyterian Church
Tiptonville, TN

Amo, Amas, Amat;
Amamus, Amatis. Amant, Katharina!
We all love Catherine!

Where does one begin to eulogize the venerable, beloved Catherine LeDuke, one of the dearest and most influential women, not only in my life, but also in the lives of countless others?  I have chosen to begin with a description of “Miss” Catherine in the words of one of the wisest men ever to have lived.  King Solomon described her with these words, paraphrased only slightly:

An excellent woman, who can find?  For her worth is far above rubies.  Strength and dignity were “Miss” Catherine’s clothing, And she smiled at the future.  She opened her mouth in wisdom, And the teaching of kindness was on her tongue.  She looked well to the ways of her household, And did not eat the bread of idleness.  Cathie, Jimmy, Richard, and Sue rise up and bless her; “Mr.” James Neville also praised her, saying:  “Many women have done nobly, But you excelled them all.”  Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the Lord shall be praised.  Give her the products of her hands, And let her works praise her in Tiptonville, Lake County, and Tennessee.

Appropriately, we honor this excellent woman here in her beloved church which she attended faithfully as long as health permitted.  It was here she taught Sunday school and served as an elder.  As Solomon said, she feared the Lord and could therefore smile at the future.  Her guidepost was the same as that of the apostle Paul, who wrote to the Philippians, “…I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”  Practiced throughout her life as if in training, this motto served her well in later years as body and mind began to fail.  Still strength and dignity were her clothing.  When greeted by friends and adoring former students at Sunday lunch, ever the lady she had always been, her response was gracious with gratitude for the recognition and an added “I love you” or “How can I help you?”  What an inspiration she continued to be, even in the state in which she found herself late in life!

Her words of wisdom and teaching of kindness, both in and out of the classroom, both in and out of books, will continue to bear testimony to her excellence as a master educator for many years to come. As a teacher and mentor, she was unsurpassed.  Latin, English, and history she professed with masterful skill, but her influence, example, and inspiration went far beyond the cold facts of those subjects. She was a teacher of English, “extraordinaire.”  Hardly a day passes that I don’t sing the praises of one who insisted on endless grammar exercises, diagramming, and composition.  When I was required in my work at Vanderbilt to edit someone else’s writing, I would often think to myself – and sometimes aloud! – “You obviously did not have Catherine LeDuke for grammar!”

And, oh, the lovely literature to which she introduced us:  reading aloud to us short stories, poetry, and plays and even allowing us to experience the beauty of words through reading, and often reciting, aloud.  I still remember as though it were yesterday, her reading a short story which ended with the words, “I seen the little lamp,” and still get a lump in my throat.  I wish I could remember the title of that lovely story, I believe written by Katherine Anne Porter.

It was “Miss” Catherine who introduced us to Shakespeare with the reading of “Julius Caesar.”  In our senior year we read Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”  She chose to read the part of Lady Macbeth on the day we were reading the scene in which the line, “Out, out damn spot” appeared, to allay any embarrassment which might arise among us sheltered students!  What an innocent age in which we grew up!  What happened to those days?!

 And then there was drama, which she chose to add to her schedule as an extra-curricular activity.  She brought out of a bunch of “country kids” talent they only dreamed of having!  And that, I know from experience, takes “talent!”  I credit her for teaching me how to slurp coffee from a saucer, a valuable lesson in life!  And I shall never forget the night she taught Marie Rogers (Huffstutter) how to walk like an “old woman,” which I’m sure Marie will find to be a valuable lesson!  “Miss” Catherine’s extra work in forming and directing a drama club at the Tiptonville High School was a labor of love which is still remembered with gratitude.

Having lived through two world wars, she was passionate about the teaching of American history.  We stood and repeated the “Pledge of Allegiance” to the flag daily.  Patriotism was taught with fervor.  Exploration of our country’s history certainly enhanced my appreciation for what had transpired in our past and how it continues to shape our present and future.  At the end of that year of American history, “Miss” Catherine gave each one of us a small American flag, which I still have among my treasured souvenirs.

But my most valued treasure is the blessing of having grown-up in the 50’s and 60’s in a little west Tennessee town where I was inspired by mentors like Catherine and James Neville LeDuke and others, including, of course, my own parents.  And how many hundreds of times could this statement be multiplied!  A teacher’s influence is immeasurable, and, of course, often unknown.  On Wednesday, I attended the funeral of one of my high school classmates, Fredricka Robertson Schleifer.  At that service, two of Fredricka’s former speech students paid tribute to her, but were they not unknowingly also paying tribute to Fredricka’s mentors as well?  Influence is never ending, being passed on from one generation to the next.  As Thomas Campbell wrote in his poem, “Hallowed Ground,”  “To live in the hearts of those we leave behind is not to die.”

“Miss” Catherine’s expertise in her chosen profession was acknowledged on many occasions, but perhaps the most prestigious was being recognized and rewarded as one of the initial inductees into the Tennessee Teachers Hall of Fame.  It was with great pride and much pleasure that I could be present on that celebratory evening.  Her works did, and still do, “follow her.”

 In addition to her brilliant career as an educator, she became an avid photographer in later life; was a fifty year member of the Eastern Star; a lifetime member of Delta Kappa Gamma; an active member of the Lake County Historical Society; and the first chairman of the Lake County Primary Care Center.  Let us take comfort in the words of the apostle John as he writes in the book of Revelation:  “Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth:  Yea, says the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them.”

Then there was her own “household” to which she did look and cook and clean!  She could not eat the bread of idleness.  She was a teacher after all!  There were many, many papers to grade, compositions to correct, and tests to be written between supper and bedtime and on Saturdays too!  While her children and husband helped, a mother and teacher’s work is never done.

Everyone in the LeDuke family had their jobs to do in the home.  But love being the underpinning of that home made for contentment and happiness if not always solitude and sanity!  And her children, Cathie, Jimmy, and Richard, none the worse for ware, do rise up and call her blessed, as well as her faithful friend and honorary daughter, Sue Hurst, whose special care has no doubt added many years of contentment and happiness to “Miss” Catherine’s life, as well as assurance and peace of mind to her other children.  Bless all of you!

Catherine Frazier Patty, a beautiful, intelligent young woman born and raised in Memphis, stole the heart of a handsome, intelligent young man born and raised in the tiny town of Tiptonville one hundred miles to the north.  The story is told that they fell in love under a tree in Memphis, and from that moment on neither was the same!  The love letters which they exchanged over the next several years were discovered by Jimmy and recreated in a book by him and his daughter Amanda..  “James Neville and Catherine: A Love Story” attests to the fact that each loved the other with an intensity rivaling the famed romance of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  So naturally, James Neville would have praised his Catherine saying, “Many women have done nobly, but you have excelled them all.”  And I can hear him now as he would interpret the words, “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain.”  “A little powder, a little paint makes a girl look like what she ain’t!”  There was no pretension in his Catherine.

Humor and the LeDuke family are synonymous.  “Mr.” James Neville and “Miss” Catherine played off of each other.  They worked well together.  The result was always good humor and fun.  “Miss” Catherine was like a “mother” to many of us offering wise counsel along with firm, but loving, discipline.  But in addition, she was the “real” mother of my best friend, and therefore, I was introduced to the LeDuke family early in life.  I shall never forget the first meal I ever ate in their home.  It was one of the “happiest meals” I have the pleasure of remembering.  This was long before McDonalds’ version of a “Happy Meal,” which pales in comparison!  We literally laughed our way through that delicious dinner of pot roast, rice, and gravy!  I, to this day, am not sure what tilted our tickle boxes!  But I do know that this family brought good humor to Tiptonville and Lake County for decades, and it will be sorely missed.

Where does one end a eulogy to the beloved, venerable Catherine LeDuke?  I’ll let her answer that question.  When we were asked to write a paper in her class, of course, a teenager’s first question is “How long does it have to be?”  I vividly recall her sage advice given over fifty years ago:  “Like the girl’s skirt,” she said.  “Long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to make it interesting!”  Well, since “covering the subject” would require more yards of verbal fabric than I have the time or the talent to weave, I’ll opt for “interesting!”  And that was extremely easy, for her blessed life as a devoted wife, mother, teacher, and model citizen has  been extremely interesting.

One of “Miss” Catherine’s favorite past times in later life was reading and having poetry read to her.  Jimmy tells me that often as he read poetry to her, she would begin reciting the poem he was reading.  Is that not amazing?  Should we not all be memorizing some beautiful poem or scripture to store in our memory banks? 

Perhaps following the untimely death of her beloved “Duke,” she memorized the second sonnet from George Santayana’s poem entitled “To W.P.”  Jimmy also told me that not many days ago his mother started reciting this poem as he began reading:

With you a part of me hath passed away;
For in the peopled forest of my mind
A tree made leafless by this wintry wind
Shall never don again its green array.
Chapel and fireside, country road and bay,
Have something of their friendliness resigned;
Another, if I would, I could not find,
And I am grown much older in a day.
But yet I treasure in my memory
Your gift of charity, your mellow ease,
And the dear honour of you amity;
For these once mine, my life is rich with these.
And I scarce know which part may greater be –
What I keep of you, or you rob of me.

Amo, Amas, Amat;
Amamus, Amatis, Amant, Katharina!


Jimmy LeDuke (I'd love to hear from you...feel free to comment below, or click HERE to send me an e-mail.)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Life goes on... And then it doesn't

Mother in her favorite chair holding her wedding dress
The sweet
Miss Catherine LeDuke actually left us several years ago......That is to say the Catherine LeDuke most all of us knew and adored.  She left behind a struggling mind and body that was lovingly cared for by her closest companion and friend, Nettie Sue Hurst.  Often our family would field the question:  "How did ya'll get so lucky to have Sue be in your mother's life?"  The answer is the one that Sue has repeated many times.  
The ridiculous

It was sheer coincidence Sue had made a decision to move back to Lake County that same summer of '77 that James Neville passed away.  Mother, never one to sit and dwell over that which she has no control over, was accepting an invitation from Cousin Kathleen Downs to take a trip to Europe.  Remember, Mother lived by one of her favorite bible verses found in Philippians 4:11: "For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content."  And Mother was content to go to Europe.  So she asked Sue if she would mind doing a little "house sitting" since she had not yet settled on where she was going to live since her return to Tiptonville.  Sue has been house sitting for over 38 years and we have encouraged her to continue in the place she has called home longer than any of us that hit the road after High School.

A week after Mother officially left this world for that far better place we all know she is now in, I find myself struggling with her favorite Philippians verse.  I simply do not have her strength of character, her quiet resolve, her stoic demeanor.  I am not yet "content" to be in this "state" where even the "shell" of Catherine LeDuke is no longer available to be with, to read poetry to and be amazed by her ability to recite many lines from deep within her functionally failed memory, to listen to her occasional chant: "Who am I, Where am I, What do I need to be doing next?"  We miss being able to answer: "You are Catherine LeDuke; You are in your own living room in your favorite chair in the house you built with James Neville; And you don't have to do anything except sit and look pretty and be an inspiration to us all."

She can still be an inspiration to us all, but I fear that when I break out of my "funk" and resume rebuilding my driveway, cleaning out my storage shed, re-organizing my office, hauling bags of mulch for Marty to use in her new garden areas, and all the other mundane chores that say: "Life goes on!", the memory of Catherine LeDuke will begin to fade; the pain I feel at the "now" complete loss of her will subside, the tears that I occasionally shed because I have more of James Neville's emotional genes flowing in me than Catherine's strong, quiet, controlled ones will begin to dry up.

As many of my friends have told me in the last few weeks, Catherine LeDuke did not teach English and Latin; she taught Life.  And "life" will go just as mother taught us, until it doesn't.  And we must be content with whatsoever state we are in.

I know Mother is very content now.  I just hope I can be soon.


Jimmy LeDuke (I'd love to hear from you...feel free to comment below, or click HERE to send me an e-mail.)


Thursday, May 7, 2015

"I Done Her In!!" A Tale of Catherine's Last Ride

About three weeks ago Sue called me to tell me that both of Mother’s caregivers were about to have surgery; Linda Wheat was having eye surgery and would be out for a week and Betty Campbell was going to Union City for more critical surgery and would be out of commission for 6 to 8 weeks.  So I hopped on my horse and headed north to help Sue with Mother and assist her in finding some additional folks to come in and sit with Mother.

We put out the word and found a real gem in Penny Hughes who would come in and assist Sue mainly during the afternoon and early evening hours.  When Linda returned from her cataract surgery to take care of daytime caregiving, and with Penny now filling in for Betty while she was recuperating from getting sliced open, I made plans to return to Atlanta on Tuesday the 21st of April.  Soooooo, Monday afternoon following a pretty good lunch with Mother the story of "how I done her in" began.

About two o'clock I started wiring her up with a medium-size ice cream cone and then asked her if she would like to take a walk with me downtown.  She actually asked me "Well, how would we do that?"  I told her all she had to do was let me assist her into the wheelchair that is kept nearby and I would roll her right down the ramp built at her front door a few years ago and off we would go.  The only word Mother ever needs to hear is "go"; destination has never been important. So with a warm coat on and a lap blanket in place, we headed toward Peacock's Florist Shop and Peoples Grocery store... at least that's what use to be across the street from Dr. Smithe's Office.

Mother and I actually made this trip several times last summer, but this was the first day in quite a few months that the weather was warm enough to venture out.  When we got across the street to about where the Lake County Banner office is now located, I could tell she was really enjoying the outing.  Whomever is responsible for the downtown improvements sure deserves a big hand!  The side walks and street crossings are very wheelchair-friendly.  The occasional park benches along the way make it possible for "old chair pushers" to sit down and rest.  

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Catherine Frazier Patty LeDuke -- 1916-2015. Mother, Wife, Teacher, Friend.

Hello all, this is Amanda LeDuke, Jimmy's daughter.  We wanted to let everyone know that Catherine passed away this morning, May 6th, in the home she lived in for 75 years.  We will post the official obituary soon, and will surely be posting more remembrances here, but in the meantime, we encourage you to leave your memories of her here and also suggest you visit read through some of these blog postings... there are lots of pictures and good stories worth reading about this amazing woman.

Visitation will be held at the Tiptonville Chapel of the Dyersburg Funeral Home Chapel at 405 Church Street, Tiptonville, TN from 5:00-8:00 pm on Friday, May 8.  The funeral will be held at Tiptonville First Presbyterian Church on Saturday, May 9. 

To contact Jimmy directly, email him HERE

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Great Tree Has Fallen

Charles E. Allen, Jr. 
I learned this week that a great man died.  A man I knew as Uncle Charlie, but who was actually my mother’s mother’s cousin’s daughter's husband. Though not directly relevant to this blog about Catherine LeDuke, I still feel compelled to honor him here, as I know she would allow.  They probably didn’t meet more than a handful of times… my parents' wedding I’d imagine, perhaps my sister’s too, plus a few other occasions where our particular branch of the family tree intersected.  But I can only imagine that she liked him well, and would approve of the poem I’ve attached at the bottom of this post.

For years, as a child, my memories of Charlie Allen revolved around long, rectangular envelopes at Christmas, the kind with presidential faces peeking through, usually tucked into the Christmas tree. And then, of course, the obligatory thank-you note afterwards.  “Mom, who are Charlie and Gracie again?” I’d always have to ask.  They were lumped into that amorphous group of extended family I couldn’t quite find a place for in my head.  Gracie was his wife, and the story almost always went back to how my mom was a junior bridesmaid in their wedding in 1954, when she was 10 years old, and how Gracie's mother was like a second mother to her.  My next memories start in my teens, when my sister went away to college at Vanderbilt, in Nashville, where Gracie and Charlie lived.  We began to see them more frequently, or at least I began to take note of it, and their place in my family story became much more clear. At that time Charlie ran a business furnishing all the TGI Friday’s Restaurants with their dining room antiques and artifacts, and as someone who has always loved random items, a trip to his warehouse full of old washboards and horseshoes and typewriters was a treat. 

But those were all vague memories, and though he seemed neat, it wasn’t until a few years later that I began to really appreciate all that he was.  On the night of my sister’s college graduation, a large group of family went to eat to celebrate and Gracie and Charlie came along.  I remember sitting next to him by chance and we began talking that night, about politics and religion, about humanism and humanity.  I learned something I probably once knew, that he had been an ordained Presbyterian minister, but left the church when his faith wavered.  I was a fiery atheist at the time (as opposed to the more mellow one I am now), and I loved talking to him.  I remember him saying we were “kindred spirits” and that delighted me. At some point the subject turned to various projects he was working on – building a log raft to float down the Cumberland River, and one that I think of often, his invention of what he called Dream Houses.  Dream Houses are little playhouses for kids that can be built easily, quickly, and cheaply, out of two pieces of plywood and a couple of 2x4s, and then painted or decorated however a child chooses.  He wanted to get Dream Houses built in low-income schools, and in developing countries, and in rural counties, to spur the imagination of little minds and make sure every child had a place to escape to that was their own, and there are hundreds if not thousands of little children who could confirm that he succeeded at that.  One of the last times I saw him, about 15 years or so after that graduation dinner, he was still talking about new places that were building new Dream Houses, and still talking about it with the excitement of a child. 

There were more places his conscience took him – he fought against the lottery in Tennessee on the grounds it is essentially a poor tax, and against a new football stadium in Nashville because of the fear public money would be diverted away from more essential services for people who certainly couldn’t afford to go to football games.  And I am sure there is so much more. I suspect that my knowledge of his philanthropy and good deeds is extremely limited and I am likely doing him an enormous disservice by omitting so many other causes he fought for, or inventions he made, or people he championed, all in the spirit of leaving the world a better place.  Whenever we met, there was always a new idea, always delivered with great passion and with tremendous knowledge. I thought of him often, and though I doubt he ever knew it, I admired him greatly, as one of the greatest men I have ever known.  

I didn't see him often, but I thought of him frequently.  We both have a connection to Louisville: he was born and raised here, I live here now.  His father, also a minister, helped found the recently-closed Presbyterian Community Center, not far from my house.  And not two weeks ago, at a party, I found myself in conversation with someone from the neighborhood where that community center thrived for decades.  Upset about the closing, he brightened when I said I knew the son of the man whose name was etched out front. "Charles Allen is a name I saw everyday going in there. He was known as a good man," he said.  "So is his son," I replied.

The last time I remember seeing him was when my dad and I were embarking on our retreat to begin serious work on the book of letters Catherine and James Neville wrote to each other just before getting married.  Dad and I met in Nashville and drove to a cabin a couple hours away, but first we arranged to meet up with Gracie and Charlie for lunch.  We told them about the project, and they were as excited as if it was their own, and I remember leaving there once again wishing we’d had many more hours together.  And tonight, I wish that still. 

When Great Trees Fall
Maya Angelou
When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly.  Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed.  They existed.
We can be.  Be and be
better.  For they existed.

Here is a link to his full obituary.  As my sister Jennifer said, "Get comfortable before reading his obituary, as his list of accomplishments is as long as the number of lives he touched."


These days, great men leave evidence of their greatness behind on the Internet.  Here are a few links:
* A school in Charleston, SC builds a Dream House
* More on the flatboat
* A story on the Louisville Presbyterian Community Center closing

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Anniversary of the Gettysburg Address

As many of you may have seen, today was the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. It's an amazing piece of oratory, well worth reading, and reading about, in the links above.  But we thought we'd honor that by re-posting a blog we did on Lincoln's birthday last year.  Enjoy. 


*This essay was submitted in 1959 as an entry to a national contest on the theme, “Reflections While Standing Before the Lincoln Memorial” sponsored by the American Association for State and Local History, in conjunction with Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), as part of a celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s 150th birthday.  The grand prize was $500 and publication in This Week magazine. Catherine LeDuke’s essay won 1st prize for the state of Tennessee and second overall.  We submit it to you today, on Lincoln's 204th birthday. 

Reflections While Standing Before the Lincoln Memorial

Dear Rufus,

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Getting Back on the Horse

Sometimes it's awfully hard to get back in the groove when you've been playing hooky for over a month but our readers are out there clambering for more news about Catherine LeDuke, and stories about James Neville, so I better saddle up and climb back on this literary horse before everyone abandons us.

Our excuse for being absent for a while can be partially explained by taking a second look at the previous blog posting "There's been a death in the Family" posted back in August when Amanda said her goodbye's to her faithful furry friend Frodo.  I encourage all you lovers of four-legged friends to seek out Amanda's tributes to Frodo written over the past eight weeks at a blog, Remembering Frodo.  You can read stories of a possum encounter, see a Frodo Foto Fest, hear a musical playlist of dog songs, and read a great story about Louisville, KY's September calendar pin-up play boy.


As for me, I have just returned from a trip to Tiptonville this past week.  Sue and Virginia Hayes make twice-a-year sojourns to connect with Barbara Markham who now lives in North Carolina, so I often get the honor to come stay with Catherine and play mother to my mother.  Mostly I just play chauffeur for our daily trips to the DQ for ice cream cones.  It's a tough job but I can handle it; "One large and one small, please."