Clara Lolita Roberts Abernathy (December 10, 1915-January 13, 2015) was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the first of two daughters of James Henry Roberts and Audia Mae Hoard Roberts. A few years after the birth of her sister, Evelyn, in November 1920, the Roberts family moved to St. Louis where they joined First Baptist Church.
From her earliest days known by her middle name, Lolita was educated in the St. Louis public school system, graduating from Charles Sumner High School in 1932; three years later, receiving her diploma as a certified music teacher from Kroger School of Music, then, within two years, a Bachelor of Arts degree from Stowe Teachers College.
On March 23, 1943, Lolita married William John Abernathy. To their union, my brother Wayne and I were born. A great sadness of my mother’s life was Wayne’s death in March 1995. A bit more than a year later in April 1996, her grief deepened immeasurably with the death of her beloved Bill.
Lolita was an educator, devoting the whole of her vocational life as an elementary school teacher in the St. Louis public school system. The church was the other major center of her life’s labor. She was a pianist at First Baptist Church and, teaching herself to play the organ, she became the youngest choir accompanist. Shortly after her marriage to Bill, they forged a compromise between her Baptist and his Methodist roots, joining All Saints’ Episcopal Church.
Lolita possessed a warm and welcoming spirit. Though soft-spoken and self-effacing, she was quick of wit, with a charming smile and an engaging lyrical laugh. A gracious host and a grand chef, her kitchen was the origin of varied epicurean delicacies, her oven producing many baked delights. A beautiful mezzo-soprano, Lolita, as she was wont to say (so typical of her penchant for diffidence), “was graced for choral, not solo singing.” Although her voice is stilled, long before by the inexorable encroachments of Alzheimer’s disease and now death, the glory of her life’s melody of love and laughter shall linger as impassioned breath in the heart of my soul.