The catastrophe of losing Barbara Duke.
Catastrophe. As I was racing down Beverly Boulevard to Fox to appear on Cavuto on Business, my phone rang in the car. It was a Dallas number. I answered it.
“Ben,” said a woman’s voice. “It’s Judy.”
That meant Judy Duke, the lovely daughter of our dear friend, Barbara Duke. Before I could say anything, Judy said, “I just wanted you to know that mother died this morning.”
That’s the catastrophe. Barbara Duke is, was, one of the women that my wife and I looked up to, loved, adored, gloried in, beyond almost anyone else on this earth.
She was about 84 and she had been extremely ill with cancer, but we thought she had a few more months. Now, she’s gone.
“Mother just was talking to my daughter this morning,” Judy said, “and she said she wanted to sleep, and she never woke up.”
Good way to go, I would say.
Now, let me tell you about Barbara Duke. I only knew her for about six years. I met her when I was speaking at Midland College in Midland, Texas in 2005, right after we bought our home in Rancho Mirage. She was at a reception at the Midland Racquet Club and she called out to me, “Hey, y’all. Your father in law was the handsomest man I ever saw in my whole life.”
She was a beautiful woman with bright blue eyes and a confident smile. She had grown up in Prescott, Arkansas, right next to where my wife’s father’s family, the Denmans, lived during the Great Depression and World War II. She introduced herself, told about how handsome my father in law, Dale Denman, Jr., looked in his USMA uniform and then his Army uniform, and then somehow it came up that she lived in Indian Wells, California at Eldorado Country Club in the winter. That’s only about twenty minutes or so from our club, Morningside, in Rancho Mirage, so I told her we would get together.
Sure enough, we did. We spent every Thanksgiving with her and her friends, mostly very cheery pals from Midland, and had many dinners with her and those same pals at the dining room at Eldorado.
To say she was a great hostess was an understatement. She was warm, welcoming, a super cook, a great one for jokes, and fiercely loyal. To go to her parties was to be in a room of cheerful, upbeat, good-natured men and women who seemed to have the world licked.
Our son came out for Thanksgiving, sat with the card-playing, football-watching men at Barbara’s house, and was a happy young man. Everyone around Barbara seemed happy.
A few years ago, Barbara decided that it was time for my wife and her and Judy to visit their roots in Prescott. It was too much to drive, so she chartered a jet. They moseyed around the DeAnn Cemetery in Prescott, and laughed and drank, and it went into the history books.
I can see I am not putting my finger on just how zestful Barbara was, but maybe some of you are old enough to remember Call Me Madame, the great musical about Perle Mesta, the famous Washington, D.C. social whiz in the Truman and Eisenhower years. She was called “The Hostess With The Mostest” and that was Barbara. With those haunting blue eyes and her endlessly calling out, “Hey, y’all, we still have two more courses to go.” Or doing the Razorback cheer, “Sooo-eee, pig, pig, pig.” But loudly. She meant it.
Barbara was a widow. Her lifelong (almost) husband, Bob Duke, a major player in the mud business and then in oil, had died in 2002. The only time Babs looked sad was when Duke’s name came up, and then she would reflexively cry.
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H/T to National Review Online