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.)

1 comment:

  1. thanks for posting. How could anyone not love James Neville and Catherine LeDuke?