jean pagel wier eulogy | 6/4/11 and 6/6/11

“Don’t mourn for me. I have had a good life. I had a childhood that I cherish. I had the best friends anyone could have. I had a husband I loved and a family I loved. I was lucky to have job I loved going to every day. We had wonderful holidays, trips and a lifetime of memories. Don’t mourn for me. I’ve had a wonderful life. I am at peace.”

Those are the words Mama shared with me when we were in Dallas in February for her brain biopsy. And I truly believe it because I’ve never known, and have heard from so many others, that they’ve never known, a woman with such a large capacity for living. Trying to honor her memory today can’t possibly do justice to the life force that she was. And she truly was a force of energy, and love – almost too much to contain. She was a YES person – she was always up for doing whatever anyone wanted to do, to go, go, go, and enjoy every minute of every day. Life was for living and she wanted to be on the inside track.

So while we don’t mourn the loss of her very full life and rather gather to celebrate it, selfishly we do mourn OUR loss, and quite honestly, our hearts are broken. Like any mother, she was our champion, our touchstone, the woman who gave us life. So today we’ll share some of our thoughts and stories about her, trying to capture just a bit of the essence of woman who touched countless lives.

You can’t remember Jean without remembering her smile and laughter. An eternal optimist, Mama was happy all of her life, even in time of trials. And that’s because she wanted to be happy. She thought if you waited for happiness, you’d be waiting a long time, so she grabbed it every day of her life. Even faced with brain cancer and a broken ankle, she was bravely ready to explore the options that existed, and looked forward, without doubt, to returning home. Even as she grew weaker, she continued to try her best. A few weeks ago she said to me, “You know, I never thought about this part of life.” What better could illustrate that she was always optimistic, never focusing on or thinking about the end, but rather on the business of getting the most out of every minute.

Mama always remembered with great fondness her childhood during the depression as a very special time in her life. The closeness of her friends and family in Cotulla stayed with her for life. Even though she spent over fifty years in Odessa, Cotulla was always home to her. She loved her mother and father, her good friends Margaret Ann, Sissy, Dorothy, Valda, Lottie, Marjo, Polly, Fredna, Prince, Louise, Henry, Luanne, WB & Irene, Carol Ann and LeeAnn, Becky and Jimmy, Dick and Debbie, Jim Dobie, Carr and Rebecca, Lee and Elizabeth and their spouses and children. And above all, she loved her sister Virginia Ann. They were as close as two people could be and we all celebrated her special presence in our lives.

[Note: Only the Cotulla eulogy version included the following excerpt from Texas Monthly, and introduction]

Here is something she wrote to the editors of Texas Monthly and was published in the letters to the editor:

Texas Monthly, July, 1989

Road of the Crowd (Letters to the Editor)

“After reading ‘My Favorite Place’ [TM, May 1989], I noticed that only the Brush Country of South Texas had been excluded. All we Texans know that Authors J. Frank Dobie, O. Henry and John Ryan Knaggs regarded the country around Cotulla as a very special place. Why, even George Strait goes back to the Frio River every night by transcendental meditation. When times get hectic around me, I close my eyes and I am transported back in time to the thirties, to a beautiful spot on the Nueces River. I see the greenness of the water and feel the 100-degree-plus heat as my family and I picnic under the live oak trees. On a good day we might see a wild turkey or a covey of quail, hear a dove cooing, or spot a stray coyote. We might see a deer that had come across the river from the Cochina Ranch game preserve, or we might wet a hook, hoping to catch the granddaddy of all catfish, but more likely we would snag a turtle. I haven’t been back there in years, yet I know that the live oaks still stretch all the way to the sky and that the catfish are still waiting to be caught – and peacefulness surrounds me.”

Jean Wier, Odessa

Mama was smart. I mean genius-level smart. She was a voracious reader, a skillful Jeopardy player (even until the absolute end last Saturday evening). She was an excellent planner and organizer, a natural leader and what some of you might not know, a very good and intuitive writer. I’ll share some of that in a moment.

But having a smart mother almost meant she was always two steps ahead of Jim, Daddy and me, and before we were in the picture, it also meant that she skipped a few grades of school and went to college at Southwest Texas Teachers College at 16. She loved her college years and her natural athleticism led to her career choice of physical education. This started the great occupation of her life: teaching.

Mama was never more fulfilled and in her element than when she was teaching, especially since she had the great fortune to land at Permian High School in 1960. Nothing affected her life more than being a teacher at Permian. Period. She loved every minute of it and her closest and dearest friends were friends she made there, lifelong friends who remain bound by their shared history and love for one another. She was passionate about all things Permian: football (she rarely missed a game in over 50 years), the band, the student council, senior assembly, school trips, the girls and boys she taught. She was always prepared for any task and while having as much fun as possible, executed her duties with great care and planning. She turned average things into great things, and was always ready to entertain with a humorous poem or reading she created for the situation, or finding a way to entertain her class while teaching them. But nothing gave her more pleasure than being a Pepette sponsor with M’Liss Schneider and Alice Jeffers. The three of them had the time of their lives, traveling to football games and forming bonds with the girls that last to this day. Mama was honored to be selected favorite teacher, and last year received the second ever “black shirt” from Permian, an honor reserved for a select few who have given significant service to Permian. For many, Mama truly embodied Permian spirit, and Mojo. She literally bled black and white her entire life, even going to football games last year and beaming with pride that Jim is now a teacher there.

In 1985 I was the art director of the Odessan Magazine and the publisher at the time, Susan Gibson, wanted to do a story on the meaning of Mojo. She asked me if I knew who might have a good perspective. I told her I might…Mama wrote a wonderful story, “What is Mojo,” that was published and is a very good accounting of the origins of Mojo, after all she was witness to its beginnings.

Here are a few excepts from that story in 1985:

What is Mojo? What does it mean? Where did it start? The general consensus of those who are at Permian then is that Mojo started in Abilene when the panthers lost by a score of 28-0 to Cooper Cougars headed by quarterback Jack Mildren. Permian alumni had been to a recent TCU game and had heard TCU students there trying to get this chant start. It didn’t work at TCU, but oh, did it catch on at Permian. It was introduced to the Student Body and the rest is history…

She goes on to recount the magic and excitement of that first 1965 winning season and the beginnings of the black shirt tradition for winning coaches, remembering Mayfield, Bartosh, Wilkins and all the state championships through when the article was written. Then she recalls some very specific memories by asking, “how many of you remember these?”

The Panther team of 1971 playing their hearts out at Abilene Cooper in a torrential rain—only to lose by one point. That was the only blemish on Coach Bartosh’s record at Permian.

At San Angelo in 1972, two Bobcats colliding behind the goal posts, knocking one another unconscious and Joe Bob Bizzell coming up with the football.

Seeing Russell Wheatley kick his record-breaking field goal in 1975 in Jones Stadium. Mojo at work?

Crying with joy with the Pepettes after winning the game in Austin in 1972…and consoling the pepettes after losing the game to Port Neches Grove in 1975. We had been excited because the pepettes flew to the State game and what a thrill it was to perform in Texas Stadium for the first time, where the real-live Cowboys played!

Meeting a young coach who had just come to Permian to be an assistant for Coach Bartosh. He told me if he couldn’t beat us, he wanted to join us. He was fresh from Palo Duro High School and I believe his name was Wilkins…

Larry Gatlin bringing us the District Bell from Odessa High in 1965.

Our football team and band playing and performing during the blizzard of 76.


The pride we felt when our band was Texas Honor band in 1974 and after performing for the Texas Music Educators convention, receiving a 10 minute standing ovation.

The excitement of first hearing, then seeing the band march into Jones Stadium.

But perhaps the best of all, the camaraderie that we all felt for one another then and still exists today. Once a panther, always a panther. This can only exist when there exists a common goal for which to strive.

Call it pride, call it spirit, but keep on calling it. You’ll never convince me that there’s not something to that thing called MOJO!

Those were her words, from her heart, a demonstration of her love of Mojo.

In addition to being a teacher, she was our mother and we had a fun time growing up on 49th street with our friends Roy and Hazel, Francis and Bill and the Combests. Growing up with Mama meant she turned her amazing energy into making every day of our childhood as special as she was. She was born to be a mother – to many, not just us – and every possible cause for celebration she turned into a special event. Valentines day, birthdays, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Fourth of July, Halloween – they weren’t just days to give a card. It involved a theme, gifts, candy, stuffed animals, decorations, something she baked, some craft she made, careful thought to make it a special day. To this day, she would still give us something to commemorate these holidays – a box of chocolates would arrive in the mail, a card with a $50 in it, a pair of red underwear for Valentine’s day. That constant reminder of her love will be something we miss tremendously.

And while all of these holidays were great fun for her and us, nothing compared to the motherlode of holidays: Christmas. She spent her entire year planning and shopping for Christmas, with a talent to select the perfect gift for everyone (something Jim got from her, too), creating a feast for 25 or more of our family, making decorations, baking, having friends over, going to Christmas parties. She loved every minute of the planning and details, and every minute of the celebration. But most importantly, she loved our Christmas tree, which symbolized to her the tradition of our family, where we all came together to exchange our gifts and our love. As many of you know, one of her favorite expressions was to declare each year’s Christmas tree “the prettiest Christmas tree we’ve ever had.” Which really gives you insight into the way she looked at life: each moment was special and we should enjoy it with happiness in our hearts.

A fearless seamstress, she made most of our Halloween costumes, school clothes, items for the house, her clothes and signature wrap-around skirts she’d wear over her PE shorts, clothes for friends and their children – she would try anything. She loved crafts and always had a project going – from decoupage to crochet, needlepoint, ceramics – she loved to try new things and make gifts for her friends and family.

She also embraced all things new: she was one of the first people I know to learn to use a computer and she loved email, Freecell and Facebook. And before email, she was a prolific letter and card writer.

Some of her loves included water skiing (and she was a master on the slalom), baking, experimenting with new recipes, surprising people with gifts or turning an ordinary event into something extraordinary with a little extra touch. She always went the extra mile. She loved all of her friends, and had a special place in her heart for her lifelong friends Emma Lee, Bob, Billie Ann, Susan, Keith, Stephanie, their spouses and children, and M’Liss and Myron. She loved her grand-dogs Tanka and her special baby Nash, who snuggled between her legs every day and who was nestled in her lap when she died.

But most importantly, she loved to have a good time and LAUGH. She was a prankster and without a doubt, her most memorable traits were her wit and sense of humor. She loved to make others laugh, too, and didn’t let them languish in sadness or pessimism. She was always the one cutting up, reeling you in, and then acting innocent, leaving you holding the bag. When we were looking through photos for her memorial, we were hard pressed to find a picture of her where she isn’t beaming ear-to-ear, or mouth full-open, mid-laugh. She was full of mischief and seemed to be one of those people who knew a secret about life that made you want to find out what it was. Martha Mitchell reminded me yesterday that Mama seemed to make each person she knew feel as though they had a unique and special relationship, between just the two of them. She was genuinely interested in people, an extrovert and people person, and she made people feel good about themselves. 

We were so proud she received her master’s degree and went on to be a counselor, and she loved that as much as teaching. She continued to volunteer with the schools and work part time after retirement when Steve Brown would call her in for a special assignment. In retirement she never slowed down or rested, in fact, she was busier than she had been teaching. She enjoyed her friends at water aerobics (which she continued until just a few months ago), volunteering with Meals On Wheels, the Odessa Women’s Forum, Contemporary Gardeners, and most importantly, her induction into  the Daughters of the King, a commitment to God and service she took very seriously. And she became one of the San Antonio Spurs biggest fans, rarely missing a game, inconsolable if it was blacked out or not broadcast in our area, and getting to attend as many games in personas she could. We got to attend two Spurs/Mavs games recently – one in December and one in March when she was considerably weaker, but she was there in full regalia: her Genobli shirt and Spurs rhinestone pin. And she couldn’t be happier because the Spurs won both the games! In retirement she enjoyed deeper friendships with old friends and enjoyed time with Daddy and us, family reunions, and continued to be the driving force in all of our lives. Thinking of a life without her is overwhelming, but knowing we have her example to live by is not only a gift, but comforting as well.

How lucky are we to have had her for 82 years? How lucky are we that this woman who loved many and who so many loved was our mother? We feel like we are the luckiest sons in the world.

Monday, when we lay Mama to rest in Cotulla, we will mark what would have been Mama and Daddy’s 58th wedding anniversary. I don’t know if two people were ever more well suited for one another, a perfect balance. They had an enduring love their entire lives, honoring the commitment they made to each other, their family and friends and creating a life together that inspires us to this day. Together they started many traditions: summers at the lake with dozens of friends and family gathering to have great summer fun, highly anticipated Christmas and holiday celebrations. They loved to travel, camping out across the country when we were children and then as empty-nesters, traveling to Europe, extensively throughout the US, and cruises through the Panama Canal, the Caribbean, the Rock of Gibralter and Alaska. And here’s something to think about: we never saw them argue or raise their voices to one another. They always presented a united front and were so in-sync that they were just naturally on the same page. They enjoyed a 25th anniversary celebration in 1978 and a 50th anniversary trip to New York with Jim and me in 2002, a year before Daddy died. We were as close as any family could be, perfectly imperfect, but loving each other just the same, and sticking together through thick and thin.

She loved so many of you that I couldn’t possibly do justice to her by remembering you all, but there are a few who we would like to thank.

It is the kindness of friends and family that made the last few months more peaceful for Mama. We thank her closest friends – Rosemay, Margaret, Hazel, Joyce, M’Liss, Robin, Joe, Helen, Elsie, Jean, her church family and extended family of friends, former students, neighbors, her nieces and nephews who loved her so dearly, and all the many who have expressed their love and concern. Many of you called or came to visit her, sent cards, flowers, gifts, and most importantly, love. Thank you so much.

During her final journey the past few months, Mama was also lucky to have a few champions who provided care for her, and comfort for Jim and me. Karen, Gail, Sonya, Luanne, the staff at Medical Center, ORMC, Texas Oncology, the Hospice House – the love you shared lifted Mama up and helped her through the trial of her life.

And a very special thanks to Dr. Anne Acreman: You are quite simply, the purest example of what healing should be. I have never known anyone so suited for a calling. On behalf of Mama, Jim and me, who looked to you to make sense of what was happening these past few months, and from our hearts, we thank you for the countless hours you spent with her and your unequalled compassion. Like Mama, you are one-of-a-kind.

Finally, there is one hero above all others who deserves special recognition and that is my brother. Jim, you helped Mama care for Daddy, and then stayed on to become her closest friend, seeing to her needs, taking care of her, taking her on wonderful trips, keeping her excited and active about the future and helping her to keep living after Daddy died. It’s rare to find a bond so close and strong as the one you two shared. From the first instant Mama became ill, you were by her side every step of the way, putting your life on hold to make sure she had everything she wanted to be comfortable and continue to live as fully as she could. For the rest of your life, you can be proud of the care and kindness you gave Mama. Yours was the name she called for towards the end and you answered by giving her your heart and soul.

As we try to go on with our lives, only able to carry Mama in our hearts now, we’d love you to share your memories at the online legacy site through the Odessa American obituaries (CLICK HERE). For those of you who are interested, there is also a wonderful photo tribute on the Frank Wilson Funeral Home website (CLICK HERE).

Our hearts will heal and we are comforted that Mama is at peace. From this point forward, we will celebrate and honor her, and we will live by the amazing example she shared. Mama, thank you for your unconditional and everlasting love.

In a letter she left for Jim and me, her final request was, in her typical humor: “Have Marcia do my hair, and don’t forget my eyebrows.”

Thank you all for celebrating with us today.