Aunt Mary Stewart by Sharon O’Donnell

My Aunt Mary Stewart died last week at the grand age of 100 years old. She was the epitome of the Southern lady, full of goodness, hospitality, faith, and words of wisdom.  Back in March, our whole family got together to celebrate her 100th birthday, and this photo was taken then of her and her great-grandchildren.



She loved her family dearly — her three sons and daughter, her grandchildren, and these great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and her two younger brothers — the only two siblings left of the 12 children her parents brought into the world. My father, 91, is one of those brothers, along with the baby of the family, my Uncle Ben, who is in his 80s.  My sister and I had the honor of driving these two men to the funeral services for their beloved older sister, and I have to say it broke my heart to see the two of them sitting there in the church — once part of such a huge family that has now dwindled down to two of the original 12.  I like to envision my Aunt Mary Stewart arriving in heaven into the arms of her late husband, Mack, her 9 siblings who had gone before her, and her parents.

It was at Aunt Mary Stewart’s house where our enormous family of aunts, uncles, and cousins would gather every Thanksgiving — a huge undertaking.  She helped us stay in contact with each other and connect with each other in the days before social media and even email; in a family as big as ours, she was like the glue that held everything together. Her daughter, Jane, has carried on this tradition during more recent years.

Below is part of a letter I sent to Aunt Mary Stewart for her 100th birthday:

I remember when I started working in Fayetteville as PR Director at Putt Putt golf and I stayed that first night with you and Uncle Mack. I felt so welcome and like I was at a second home. The food you cooked that night for supper was delicious, and Uncle Mack -bless his heart – ran out in the pouring rain that next morning and moved my car closer to the door for me and then ran outside by me with an umbrella.

There was the time I was 23 and was getting ready to leave on a plane for my first trip to Los Angeles, and you stopped by our house. I was getting dressed and throwing things in the suitcase, and you sat on the edge of my bed and seemed as excited as I was. I remember your saying how lucky I was to be going on such a trip and how exciting it was to be able to travel. You then went on to talk about how wonderful it was to be young, and you told me to make sure I took a lot of photos of myself when I was young because time goes by quickly and it’s good to capture the memories. Looking back, I didn’t take as many photos as I should have — but yet memories like the one I have of you that day, are still vivid in my mind. I can still see you sitting on the side of the bed, grinning and as giddy as a school girl as I told you about my trip.

And Aunt Mary Stewart, I know you and your sisters wrote letters to Uncle Bill when he was in Italy during WWII and when he was first going through all of his PTSD issues. Thank you for being a precious sister to him showing your love for him during all those years. I’ve read some of those letters, and Uncle Bill knew you all loved him. There was a photo taken at Uncle Jack’s 90th birthday party of Uncle Jack, Uncle Ben, Uncle Bill, daddy, and you – the last photo taken of you all together. That photo was cropped so we could see your faces better, but in the original you can see you are holding Uncle Bill’s hand. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so sweet.
That is the way you are and always have been. We love you so much and are so thankful you are our aunt and my Daddy’s sister.


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