my Momma: a portrait of a lady – a personal reflection on the occasion of her death

Clara Lolita Roberts AbernathyClara 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.

15 thoughts on “my Momma: a portrait of a lady – a personal reflection on the occasion of her death

  1. Thank you again, Paul, for sharing this lovely lady, your mother, with us. I pray for peace in the midst of sadness as you remember her life and mourn her passing. I think I can almost hear her singing.


    • Thank you, Sandy. Verily, I oft hear my mother’s voice and see her hands gliding effortlessly over the piano keyboard. As she frequently said of those she honored as God’s saints, I speak of her as “a special one”.


  2. Paul, what a month of change you are having! I hope and pray you can hold this lovely image of your mother as she finds her voice again in a better choir than she has ever known! She must have been so proud of you, Pontheolla, and Kristen.


  3. You’ve given a wonderful tribute to your mom. I hope your memories of love and laughter will sustain you as you go through this incredibly difficult time. Alzheimer’s disease may rob our loved ones of everything, but it can’t touch our memories of or our love for them.


  4. Well do we remember Lolita’s smile, her laugh, her warmth and her wisdom. Peace and much love to you and Pontheola…..Bill(Sonny) and Alice


  5. Paul, my mother (Constance Blackwell) and myself (Laura Blackwell) would like to express our deepest condolences to you. I remembered your Mom well even though its been many years ago. Cherish her memories always.

    Laura & Constance Blackwell


    • Dear Constance and Laura,

      I thank you for your kindness. Mercy! How many, many years has it been since we, as I recall, first and also last saw one another? Somewhere in my cache of photographs, I have pictures of that time. Again, thank you and bless you. Love always


  6. Our thoughts and prayers are with you dear Paul. Thank you for sharing the memories of your Mom. Quite a remarkable woman. What a gift she gave to us in you. I can see so much of her in you, both of you carry strong and handsome appearances and yes, both endowed with that glorious musical talent.
    With love, Susan


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