Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Eulogy for a grand woman

My mother-in-law passed away August 21st and I delivered the following eulogy at her funeral service this morning. Most of the words are mine.

Kathy and Bill Otte

Kathleen Otte was a grand and gracious woman. In the 83 years of her life she was a daughter, sister, friend, wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and widow. She inhabited each of these roles with a courtesy that defined who she was. She was a gentle lady in every sense of the word.

As a woman in a kitchen gathers items in her apron to carry, so did Kathy gather people around her. She gathered family, friends, acquaintances and strangers. She had no need to call them, they were drawn to her. We were all drawn to her. And in their native Wisconsin, Bill Otte was the first one to be captured in her orbit. He, like her Wisconsin family, first knew her as Katie Berg, an outgoing high school girl who was game to try anything – even learning to play the saxophone.

Married in 1954, Katie – now Kathy – took up her role as officer’s wife and mother. In 1964, Captain William Otte’s unaccompanied tour to Okinawa was changed to an accompanied tour. So Kathy found herself boarding a military chartered aircraft in Ft Bragg, N.C with her five young children – Gale, the eldest at 9 years old, Steve a babe in arms, Jeff just a year older and Mark and Greg with baggage in tow. And when the call came to board the plane for the 2 day journey she gathered her baby, not one but two diaper bags, and marched forward dressed, as required for travel in the period, in a hat, dress, hose and heels, reminiscent of Jackie Kennedy.

Sometimes, in her role as an officer’s wife, Kathy gathered people to her that had found their way mistakenly. In the family housing section of Ft. Bragg, N.C during the Viet Nam war a green Army sedan carrying two officers in dress uniform was not a welcome sight – it foretold news of a soldier’s death. When the staff car parked in front of their house, and the two officers came up the walk to their door, she knew the purpose of their visit. She went to the door, listened to the inquiry of the officers, and directed them down the street to the correct house.

In 1977, when Lieutenant Colonel William Otte was the Deputy Post Commander in Schwabisch Hall, Germany, Kathy made their home a gathering place. I certainly gathered there a few times myself. There were 10-14 people eating dinner there every night and only 7 lived in the house. And another always seemed to show up as we were sitting down.

The numerous cookbooks in her home showed her decades-long interest in cooking, and she had plenty of opportunities to practice. Especially in the “Meals for large gatherings” categories. She knew everyone’s favorite dish when they came to visit – from flank steak and German potato salad, to raspberry pretzel goodness and cheesecake.

When Bill and Kathy retired from the Army and moved to Florida, their home in Gainesville became the gathering place. Nearly every Saturday in the fall, extended family and friends would descend on the home for Gator football games. In summer, the whole family gathering transferred to the beach for the 4th of July.

Kathy loved hosting her WOWE friends for bridge. She loved decorating her home for Christmas – ensuring each ornament, light, and piece of tinsel was perfectly placed on the tree. She loved to share her rule of Christmas shopping – buy one present for someone on the list, then one present for you!

Retirement, however, wasn’t all good times. Kathy took up maybe her greatest challenge: caring for the man she loved. When Bill passed away in 2006, Kathy gathered the children and the spouses and the grandchildren and the friends, young and old, to be by her side.

Just as she has done today.

I shall miss her. We all will miss her. She was a remarkable woman in ways that I find difficult to describe. She has gathered herself with Bill, in a place that one day, I hope, she will gather us all together into her apron again.