I’ve been struggling to write this tribute to Mom for almost a year. She passed away last February, and though I’ve worked on it several times I’ve just now been able to finish it. Since today would have been her 85th birthday, I’d like to share some of what made her so special.
Nancy Kathryn Kennedy Smith was born in Purcell, Oklahoma, to John and Mary Kennedy on January 2, 1934, or 1-2-3-4, as she loved to share with a twinkle in her eye. On the night that she left us, I stayed up late thinking about her and saying a lot of prayers. When I went up to bed, the clock was at 12:34. I believe it was her letting me know she’s still with me, and I feel that way every time I catch that time on my phone or clock.
Mom was so proud to be a Purcell Dragon and in high school was active in the choir, as a cheerleader and homecoming queen, as well as busy working the soda fountain at the family’s Kennedy Drug Store.
It was in high school that she met the love of her life, Norman Autry Smith, also known as Dad. They continued to date when she went on to study art at the University of Oklahoma.
The two wed in March 1954 and began a lifetime of travel together. Dad’s service in the Air Force and his career led them around the country, with homes in Oklahoma, Connecticut, Colorado, Missouri, Texas, Illinois and California. They also loved to travel, which she continued to do after Dad died in 1997.
Mom’s organizational skills led to success in several positions throughout her life, including as office manager for Oklahoma Attorney General Larry Derryberry (put a pin in that name), working for the Park Hill School District—which, not coincidentally allowed her to keep an eye on me—organizing group travel in Alamo, California, and managing my brother Norman’s endodontic office. As a member of the GFWC Patrician Club for almost 30 years, she served in several leadership roles and enjoyed serving others with this group of dear friends.
Sidebar on Larry Derryberry, as children of politically involved parents—Dad was an Oklahoma State Legislator for 10 years—we campaigned. A lot. Styrofoam hats, banners, buttons, flyers, cute smiles and all, we worked the streets of Purcell. When campaigning for Larry, we were proudly known as the Derryberry Dingalings. True story.
Mom loved cheering on the OU football and basketball teams—I’m certain that Boomer Sooner was the first song I learned—and the Kansas City Royals, especially when George Bret was playing. She had a passion for antiques, art and music, and was an excellent pianist with a beautiful voice. Above all else, she loved her family.
I am so blessed to be her daughter. From before I was born, she was on my side. She knew I was coming early and told Dad and her doctor that, but they didn’t believe her and went to the OU/Texas game anyway. I was born, OU lost and both men came back looking quite sheepish.
She spent most of her life taking care of others…her sweet grandmother Kennedy, my godmother Opal Belle, her own Mom and, of course, all of us.
When the grandkids started to arrive, she stepped into a phone booth and came out wearing a Super Grammy cape. Wow. I have never seen anyone so excited about her grandbabies and great-grandsons, who all adored the love and attention she showered on them.
As soon as Julie and Norman started having kids, Mom and Dad moved back to KC from San Francisco and bought a station wagon, and that was that. She was all over those babies! When we shared our good news about Anna being on the way, I swear she levitated across the living room, over a room full of kids, to hug me and cry.
She didn’t just offer to babysit, she insisted. For the first 9 years as parents, other than daycare, we only hired a sitter one time. She was mad about that night for years, even though she was out of town when it happened!
Mom always put everyone else first. As adults, we learned early on that we couldn’t say that we liked or wanted something, or she’d just show up with it or have it shipped to us. She couldn’t bear the thought of any of us wanting for anything. As an example, after Scott and I toured Tillamook Cheese Factory in 2012, I decided that I really needed their cookbook once I got home. Well, the cookbook was $20 and shipping was $20. That ticked me off enough that I didn’t order it and mentioned it to her. It showed up in our mailbox a few days later.
Through thick and thin—and with me and Dad in the same house there was a lot of both—she was by my side. We got to spend some special time together exploring Dallas, Chicago and San Francisco as we moved around during my teens, although I’m pretty sure she almost traded me for a bolt of silk in China Town once. I must admit, it was pretty nice silk and I was a pain in the neck. Lucky for me, she couldn’t go through with it.
Some of my favorite childhood memories are the amazing pancakes she made every Sunday morning. That became one of our kids’ favorites as well. They were so thin, they were almost crepes. We also grew up singing while we were in the car. Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy. And kids will eat ivy, too, wouldn’t you?
And we sang show tunes. Lots of show tunes. Mom loved musicals and passed on that love to me. Going to see “Oklahoma!” with the family at Starlight right after Scott and I got married was a real eye opener for him as we sang from the car all the way to our seats. He was trying very hard to be invisible. It was a special evening for us all.
As you’d expect, the holidays have been particularly hard this year. I decided I would channel her creativity and mad craft skills to create a hand-beaded, velvet Christmas stocking for our new son-in-law. Mom made these for everyone in the family, including all eight grandkids. That was particularly challenging in the early ‘90s since we gave her five grandbabies in three years, but she was up to the task.
I loved working on the stocking. My sister-in-law Anita dug through Mom’s things to find her stocking supplies, so the Christmas tree is one that Mom cut out years ago and the wishbone and most of the beads and sequins were hers as well. I felt so connected to her while I was working on it, and I know that she was helping me through it. No one was more surprised than I was when the Mt. Sopris actually turned out looking like Mt. Sopris!
In April, family members from Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado and Oregon—including her favorite (and only) brother Ed—gathered at my brother’s house in Kansas City for a celebration of her life. It was largest family reunion in decades, a true tribute to the many lives she touched. You can see photos from the celebration below.
I know that Mom was with us at Anna and Dalton’s wedding this fall. She was so excited to hear all of the details after they were engaged. I’m glad she was watching the joyous event from above.
I’ll miss Mom every day, as I do Dad, but I see her in myself, in my kids and in the beauty around me. I have some of their collectibles and pieces of art, as well as some of her clothes, shoes and jewelry. Treasures that keep us connected along with the memories that fill my heart. I hope that I can carry on her tradition of love and caring for the rest of my life. Happy birthday, Mom.