(Ran originally in Sunday, January 26 editions of The Times and The News-Star.)
They loved each other longer than the 73 years they were married. That’s a long time to love someone, and a long time for someone to love you back.
This needs a poet but we’ll give it a shot, this love story between Renee Mowbray and her beau Don, a story that might not have happened at all had it not been for an evasive dog who chose the right nose to lick.
It was 1942 in Wales when three teenaged boys were stretching in the grass and sunshine in a park when a dog licked Don, 16, on the nose. The dog had gotten loose from its owner, 15-year-old Renee. If ever a dog was a man’s best friend, this one was to Don. Doggone lucky day for that guy.
She finally shyly told him her name, and so began this remarkable union that produced five children, 11 grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren, and many nieces and nephews in the United Kingdom.
Plus she had the joy of being foster mother to 22 babies. Think about that for a moment. Or for all day or all week.
Before the wedding in 1946 there was World War II to contend with, a whole other story. Despite the chaos of the time, this thing between Renee and Don was sure and stable and became legal not long after the late-night call he made to propose.
After being a captain in the Queen’s Royal Navy, Don was the young father who moved the family from the United Kingdom to Ohio in the 1950s. He became an ordained pastor in 1963, a university professor, the president of Centenary College, and both pastor and Interim Senior Pastor for several churches.
But by his side was Renee, always Renee, and she was the star. His star, for sure.
Maybe a year ago one morning, we were leaving after breakfast across from Centenary’s campus and Don said of being married so long, sort of astonished and in awe and grateful all at the same time, “Christ makes our love for each other new each morning. It just keeps growing, new each day. It’s just the most wonderful and amazing thing…”
I had to lean against the side of the building on that one.
She died in December at 92 from complications of a recent stroke and, as you can imagine, the past few weeks have been the worst of times with her gone, the best of times with her family together, serving each other, remembering …
When she became a pastor’s wife all those years ago, a transplant to Ohio from Peterborough, England, she was told she’d lead Vacation Bible School.
“OK,” she said. “But I’m not a leader … and what’s this Vacation Bible School?”
She figured it out.
As the First Lady of Centenary, this shy girl from England figured that out too, rising to whatever social level the occasion called for, with sincerity, grace, and wit.
But she surprised even herself when her love of and talent for calligraphy launched her into the pleasure of painting. And don’t look for anything dark or foreboding here. In a great meeting room after the service where friends and family celebrated her life, Renee was there entertaining through her works of art, sketches, and paintings of life as she witnessed and lived it, each a scene of bright colors and humor and, maybe the best word, whimsy. Quaint and fanciful.
It was a reflection of the brightness and good humor, a richness, that she brought to her existence, and to ours. Renee, the brightest color in the box.