To my wife's family in Little Rock:
I am very sorry to not be with you today. It's a combination of schedule, a pneumonia that simply will not let go of me, and very bad weather here in Washington, D.C., where I am.
Mary Evelyn was my favorite face to see at any Denman gathering. When I saw her lovely, intelligent, eager face, I knew I was going to be able to have a conversation about something other than golf, a fine topic, but one about which I know about as much as a hog does about Christmas. For years, I thought that Mary Evelyn talked to me so much about the stock market and about her investments, especially in Wal-Mart, because she was obsessed with the subject. That made sense to me, but I realized after maybe thirty years of knowing Mary Evelyn, that she wasn't really all that interested in Wal-Mart or the Waltons or the cursed stock market.
She was interested in putting me at ease, and in reaching out to me to talk to me about something I felt at ease about.
This, I think, was the key to Mary Evelyn. She cared deeply about other people. Family, of course, but also children, church members, neighbors. She had a graciousness towards them that we rarely see in our fellow human beings. She put herself out to make other people feel better. This was why everyone, and not just me, was so happy to see her.
Alex and I used to talk about her and about Uncle Bob often and I am sure we still will. The image I have of this magnificent couple is of the young Bob Denman coming from Prescott to fight hand to hand against the Communists, so close he could reach out and touch them -- and of Mary Evelyn keeping the home fires burning then and afterwards. Willowy, never aggressive, but also never afraid. A real Southern lady, sort of like Melanie Wilkes in Gone With the Wind. She could bend but she could not break as long as there was someone who needed her love and her connection and her strength and patience. A real Southern lady, as my wife said.
I can see her love in Bob's serene but saddened face, in Stan and Bob's resolution as they have faced the challenges of this difficult economy, and now of this terrible loss, and in the kind faces of all of the Denmans right down to our future Rockette, Brittany (Britney?). It was her love that smoothed out the wrinkles of worry.
A few months ago, my wife and I were talking about Richard Nixon's comment back in 1952 that his wife did not have a fur coat. Mr. Nixon said that instead she had a "good Republican cloth coat." Then a few weeks ago, after we saw Mary Evelyn and Bob and Stan and Bob, Jr., here in Little Rock, I was marveling at the courage and kindness of the Denmans, especially of Mary Evelyn, Bob, and Stan, with whom we had spent the afternoon.
"Denman," said my wife, "a good American cloth name."
And in that, she summed up the Denmans, especially Mary Evelyn. Not flashy, not snobby, not arrogant, just the salt of the earth, the people who make Arkansas great and who keep America free.
When I think of life without Mary Evelyn, I think of a passage from the New Testament: "Ye are the salt of the earth, but if the salt lose its savor, wherewith shall it be salted?"
So, now we have lost for the earthly moment by moment the savor of Mary Evelyn's love and kindness. But among the community of the faithful, there are no dead. Mary Evelyn will be there in the bird song that Bob hears when he stands at the tee and pauses for a moment before he drives the ball. Stan will feel it when he sees his children's accomplishments and sees Mary Evelyn's expressions on their faces, as I so clearly can. Bob Jr. will hear her in the wind blowing across the campus at UALR. Among the faithful, there are no dead.
"I feel a lot better than I look." Those were the last words Mary Evelyn said to Alex and me when we left her side a few weeks ago in Bryant. Now, she is whole again, and we will see her again, and she'll smile her wonderful, mischievous smile again, and maybe we'll talk about Wal-Mart. God bless Mary Evelyn and all of you.