This was supposed to be a column about my wife retiring after 20 years of teaching with L.A. Unified.
Instead, it’s an in-memoriam for my wife of 49 years, who died May 26. Her obituary is on the Green Hills website.
The following is an abbreviated version of the eulogy I gave at Trinity Lutheran Church, where she was a longtime worship team member:
Deb was born November 20, 1951, in Los Angeles. Many of you who knew Deb were probably surprised to learn she was 71, because she never looked her age and certainly never acted her age.
She had a troubled childhood, growing up in a broken home full of abuse and neglect. Surviving that is what made her the special person she was, giving her a gift for empathy that ministered to so many people over the years. Her one consolation as a child was getting saved; it was a struggle in her environment to grow in that faith, but she never lost that childlike love for Jesus.
She grew up in Gardena and was attending Gardena High when we met in the summer of 1968. I was sitting in my car near my friend Ray Wagoner’s house in San Pedro. Deb’s family had just moved into a house a few doors down. I saw this ragtop VW Bug pull up and park, and the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen, her hair up in curlers, the way they did it back in the ‘60s, got out. As she walked past me, she smiled. No strange girl had ever smiled at me before, least of all one this gorgeous.
She was just 17, if you know what I mean, and the way she looked was way beyond compare.
Yes, she was a Beatles fan, and that was the beginning of our 55-year relationship. I was definitely out of my league: She was a cheerleader and was voted Best Sense of Humor in her senior year. I was this skinny, pimply-faced sports writer. Go figure.
We attended Harbor College together, and when I went off to begin my newspaper career, she began work at the newly opened Marie Callender’s on Western Avenue. She wanted to go to college and was accepted to UCLA, but she had no money or family support. It was a dream deferred.
We were married on April 13, 1974, while I was working in Las Vegas. It was while we were there that she recommitted her life to Christ, and she and her prayer circle went to work on me. I accepted Christ as my savior in 1976, and in 1977, after being told by doctors she could not conceive, Matthew was born. That woman knew how to pray.
In June 1978, we were back in San Pedro, me at the News-Pilot and Deb now a stay-at-home mom. Still in her 30s, she underwent a hysterectomy that her body never recovered from, but she never let her physical ailments affect her relationships with people or God.
We decided early on to homeschool Matthew, and in the mid-‘80s, as a pioneer in the fledgling homeschool movement, Deb began what turned into a lifelong career as an educator.
She started as a campus aide at Cooper High, and, after we got Matthew off to Cal State Chico, she taught kindergarten for three years at Trinity Lutheran School. Wanting more and inspired by Barbara Bush’s statement, “If you’re not happy with your life, change it,” she returned to school in her late 40s and earned her bachelor’s degree and teaching credential at CSU Dominguez Hills, graduating summa cum laude. She later added a master’s in administration.
In 2003, credential in hand, she was hired by LAUSD and accepted a position at Carson Street Elementary School, where she spent the next 20 years dedicating her life to her students. How dedicated?
In November 2018, she had a stroke. She made an amazing recovery and returned to the classroom a year later, but the debilitating physical effects of the stroke left her in constant pain. For the next five years, she experienced excruciating pain from cramping in her legs and feet that would keep her awake for hours on end. She would go days without sleeping and still go to work the next day.
Fittingly, her final week at school was Teacher Appreciation Week. She came home daily with flowers, cards, and assorted gifts from students and parents. She was so touched by the expressions of love, but she wasn’t feeling well. It turns out she was experiencing a heart attack that entire week and was in the ER on Mother’s Day. She survived a quintuple bypass, and while she was in great pain that last week, we were hopeful for a full recovery. Then, one day after being discharged, while I was helping put her to bed at home, that precious heart stopped, and the valiant efforts of the EMTs couldn’t bring her back.
We’ll never know in this life why things turned out like they did, but we do know she’s no longer in pain. So many of her friends who wrote since her passing have pictured Deb in heaven singing and dancing with the Lord, and that will have to sustain us until we meet again.
I didn’t get a chance to say it that last night, but I will now: Goodnight, sweetheart. Love you. spt