In my early 20s, I felt far from the Christian faith in which I had grown up. I was at best a lukewarm Christian. I eventually started going to the church of my teenage years, sneaking in right after the service started to find a spot in the back corner to avoid being seen. The anonymity along with the comforting rhythms of an Anglican church service helped me slowly move back towards my faith.
After over a year of sneaking-in-and-out of church, I was asked by someone who knew me, despite my best efforts at anonymity, if I could drive a woman in her 80s, Mrs. June Brown, to and from church on Sundays.
I agreed, thinking it would be a way to avoid being asked to be more involved in more formal ministries.
Mrs. Brown had other plans.
She called me the day before and asked when I would pick her up. With church starting at 10, I suggested a time I thought would be early enough to account for traffic and arrive just in time.
She politely let me know I would actually need to pick her up at 9 am, so she had plenty of time to visit with her friends before church began.
So much for hiding in the back.
The first Sunday as I slowly pulled forward during a break in traffic she sharply said, “This car does come with a gas pedal, you know.”
There were a few basic facts about Mrs. Brown that anyone knew within five minutes: She was a Republican, she would never change her mind, she loved her son, she loved organizing parties, and she hated yankees.
Mrs. Brown found out I had a job at the NCGA, working for a Republican. My job was mostly administrative, and I wasn’t particularly good at it. Even still, she was thrilled to hear every Sunday about which legislator I spoke to the previous week. She was proud of me for making a difference, no matter how small. I think she would have been just as proud of me if she found out I was working for a Democrat, even if she would never say it.
Mrs. Brown organized monthly “Dinner Clubs.” She meticulously planned rides for those who couldn’t drive themselves, seating charts for dinner based on who would be best suited to speak to who, planting conversational seeds in advance, and which meal each person should order.
Her recommendations were always correct, her plans always well laid. I’ve only ever met one other person who had a talent for planning a dinner to that degree, and they were one of the most successful politicians in North Carolina history. Mrs. Brown was that good.
Mrs. Brown loved to work. She worked five days a week until she was 87. In her 60s she was hired by an insurance company to call every client and wish them a happy birthday. They soon found out Mrs. Brown could keep someone on the phone until they paid past due bills, using her grandmotherly voice to sweetly ask, “Would you like to pay in full now, or set up a payment plan with the first half today?”
Mrs. Brown loved being active, going to the gym six days a week until she was in her late 80s.
She hated slowing down. It was surreal to see her in her final years nearly blind and unable to walk more than a few feet without assistance.
She loved to take me to lunch after church, buying my lunch every week while I struggled financially. The first time I was able to buy her lunch meant more to me than any gift I ever could have received, and it meant a lot to her too knowing that I had found my feet.
On a hard Christmas I would have otherwise spent alone, she told me to drive her to an Italian restaurant where we could enjoy a meal together. I’ll never forget her asking me to pass her the bread, because she was “so full of wine, if I lean near this candle I may light up.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about the final gift she sent me, a small wedding gift to me and my wife she was never able to meet because of COVID restrictions, and how she prayed with me for years through times of loneliness and financial hardship.
There will never be another June Brown, and I am so glad my path crossed hers.