When Death Takes a Friend Away

Ann Garms

At Thanksgiving time, thoughts turn to friendships. They come like gentle waves kissing parched beaches, each of them welcome.

It is a season to value friendships, particularly when death takes a friend away.

Such are my memories – sweet as the aroma of holiday foods – of Ann Garms, who died recently at age ninety-five.

Life was not a gallop for her. Instead, she maintained a steady gait, focused on an exceedingly small universe.

It included Brownwood First Baptist Church, Howard Payne University, line dancing, “pink lady” hospital volunteer work and frequent phone conversations with Cleta Garms, her Andrews, Texas, sister-in-law.  She never flew on a plane and rarely left Brown County.

Many would conclude that her life was simple and monotonous. And they would be wrong.

We first met soon after I finished college in the early 60’s. She prepared the papers for my car purchase at Weatherby Motor Company, where she worked for thirty-five years.

I noticed her quick smile then, and easily recognized her upon my return as HPU president in 1985. I knew she was a friend of the university, and often delivered bags of popcorn to her home, where she always provided a gracious reception. She invariably placed the gift in her little pantry. (Some twenty-seven tons of corn and forty years ago, popcorn became my “calling card.”)

   Ann enjoyed university events, although was never an HPU student. Her only formal education was at an Abilene business college.

However, she was “Ph.D. wise”—no, more than that. Her life was well-ordered with much wisdom. This widow of thirty-four years was fulfilled, optimistic and active throughout life.

She ate sensibly, exercised and rarely needed medication. The only medicine she had in her home was aspirin. Ann was hospitalized just twice in her life, both times briefly.

She happily set her own pace in a hurrying world and was easily the most frugal person I’ve ever known. But, I can count on one hand’s fingers individuals whom I believe equal her generosity.

HPU is primary beneficiary of an estate she guarded carefully. She viewed ordinary personal spending as “taking away” from the bequest about which few others knew. One day, she called to ask “permission” to buy an automatic garage door opener. Only this year did she purchase a clothes dryer; she used it once. Ann drove her twenty-year-old car until a few days before her death.

Most of her wardrobe was provided by Cleta, who, along with Cleta’s late husband, Harold, “connected” her with HPU. (Cleta and Harold, both teachers, were awarded baccalaureate and master’s degrees by HPU. He was co-captain of the 1954 football team and was invited by several teams to try out for professional football.)

 Ann wrote delightful letters in longhand, each character delicately shaped, and was keen of mind to the end. Once she sent a salmon patty recipe, calling later to advise adding baking powder to “puff ‘em up.”

I’d agreed to speak at her memorial service, but was out of the country when she died.

At the service, HPU’s Louise Sharp revealed a secret to which only she remained privy.

   “One day, Ann asked me to come by her house,” Sharp said. “She took me straight to her tiny pantry, which was hip-deep in Dr. Newbury’s ‘presidential popcorn.’ Ann never wanted to hurt his feelings or for him to think she was giving it away, so it stacked up. I simply don’t like his popcorn – too salty,” she added.

Clearly, that was “Ann being Ann.” She would never knowingly hurt anyone’s feeling, even if it meant storing popcorn, no matter how stale, for months on end.

Donors and donees can be friends. We were. Ann taught me and others much. She personified the old admonition of fundraisers: “Don’t give ‘till it hurts; give ‘till it feels good!”

Soon her estate will provide one of the largest endowed scholarships from an individual in the 124-year history of HPU.

So, despite her stance on my popcorn, she demonstrated her love for Christian higher education. Thoughts of my friend draw me ever closer to a biblical scripture for MY own epitaph. Current HPU President, Dr. Bill Ellis, may want to consider it, too:  AND IT CAME TO PASS THE BEGGAR DIED.

Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Speaking inquiries/comments: newbury@speakerdoc.com. Phone: 817-447-3872. Twitter: @donnewbury. Web site: www.speakerdoc.com.

Humorist Don Newbury is author of When The Porch Light’s On.

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