March 23, 1925–June 14, 2017
Eulogy for Pricilla Howe Elliot Farquharson by son, Bill Farquharson, 2017
On behalf of my brother Andy, sister Nanci, eight grandchildren, and two great grandchildren, I want to thank you for taking the time to honor the life of Priscilla Howe (Elliot) Farquharson.
Where do I start? When Dad passed away last August, I had so much material to use, so many jokes and funny stories, that I had to work to keep my Remembrance under an hour.
It’s different for Mom.
It’s not that she wasn’t funny. She was in her own way. It’s just that I’m having a hard time capturing the essence of my mother, a woman of grace and faith and endless optimism.
As I look back on my childhood and think about a way to summarize how my mother raised us, I came up with one key phrase: Loaves and fishes.” Being a depression-era baby, Mom was raised making the most of what she had. She was always stretching a meal so that one more person could eat with us. Nothing went to waste. Ever. It got to the point where Nanci or Marge or Cynthia had to hide the turkey carcass from Mom so that she didn't go into the trash and take it home with her to make soup!
Mom was “make-do.” That is, she always adapted to the situation. Loaves and fishes. Today, when my kids hear me say, “There's always a way,” they can trace its origin back to their grandmother. Mom had drive. Little surprise, then, that two of her three children would end up in Sales. It’s in our blood and it was passed on. When Cynthia and I gave Madeline the middle name Priscilla, little did we know that we would be blessing our third child with a stubbornness that would manifest itself into a determination and that made my mother so proud with her Madi’s accomplishment.
For one day short of 70 years, Mom was Mrs. John H. Farquharson. That name described her, but it never defined her, and it certainly never contained her. Mom’s independence could not be kept down. For example, Grace at every meal sounded like this: “Bless O Lord this food to
our use and us to thy service and make us ever mindful of the needs of others.
We said this for years. One day at dinner, Mom decided that it wasn’t enough to simply be mindful of the needs of others. We had act on those needs. But Dad disagreed and said there was nothing wrong with the grace as is. Mom defiantly said, “Well, you can say it your way and I’ll say it mine.” So, starting the next night and for the rest of her life, while my father completed the blessing with, “in Jesus name we pray, amen” our rebel mother would add, “and responsive to them.” Make us ever mindful of the needs of others and responsive to them. This might not seem like much but in a “Father Knows Best” marriage, this was huge.
Another example of Mom’s independence came somewhat at my expense. She was dropping me off at Bradley Airport for my first ever plane ride. I was 15 or 16, that age when anything your mother does horrifies you. There we were in one of the long lines at the ticket counter and the agents, all women, processed one passenger after another. After a few minutes of waiting, a man appeared and yelled out, “A girl will come out to open a new line shortly.” A brief Moment later my mother yelled back “WOMAN!” Every head turned to look at us and mine dropped into the teenage OMG position. “Excuse me?” The man, clearly surprised, asked Mom. Mom shouted back, “She’s a woman. She’s not a girl.” Red-faced and furious, the man gritted his teeth and replied, “I stand corrected. A woman will open a new line shortly.” And off he stormed. When we got to the front of the line, every ticket agent— even those who worked for a different airline but overheard— came over to thank her. As I said, Mom was funny in her own way. The fact that it came from a place of pure innocence made it wonderful.
In 1998, I had the opportunity to give a presentation in Australia and decided to take Mom along. Andy had excess frequent flier miles and I gave him the $3000 my client had given me for the flight. My father called it the highlight of the second half of her life. On our last day there, Mom realized that she was one pair of clean underwear short, and she did what any other of us would do: she cleaned a pair in the sink and hung them out to dry on the balcony…on the balcony of our $500 a night hotel. When she returned home and had her film developed, she discovered that I had taken her camera while she was in the bathroom and shot a picture of the underwear with the Sydney Opera House in the background. A souvenir from our trip. The way Mom told it, Andy had arranged the trip to Australia. ANDY? "Yes" Mom said." Andy gave us the airline tickets." She forgot about the part that I gave Andy $3000!
My sister Nanci used to work at Mass Mutual Life Insurance Company. She was on a business trip down to New Jersey, and she called Mom to tell her that she’d be taking the corporate helicopter up to the airport in Hartford, and would she mind coming to pick her up. Nanci told Mom to follow the signs for the helicopter landing pad and to meet her around back of the building. The helicopter took off, did a couple of laps around the Statue of Liberty, and then shot up to Bradley international. After a few minutes of circling, someone asked the pilot if there was a problem and the pilot replied, “We can’t land because someone has parked on the helipad.” Looking out her window— to her absolute horror— my sister looked down to see her mother excitedly waving at her. Mom would later explain her innocent mistake: “I followed your instructions. I looked for the helicopter landing pad signs and then met you around the back of the building. There were two lined parking spaces clearly marked, so I took one.” Nanci replied, “ Mom, those weren’t parking spaces. That was a capital H.” When my father stopped laughing long enough to tell me that story, he asked that I not repeat it, but I said it was just too good a story to keep to myself.
Mom’s gift to us, Dad would frequently say, was that she didn’t work. This allowed her to be home for us after school. But you know what? dad? I would even take it one step further and say that Mom’s gift to us—and I’ll include all of us— was her presence. Have you ever talked to someone and quickly come to realize that they’re not listening to you? Whether you can see it in their eyes or the fact that they’re playing with their cell phone, they’re not present to the conversation. Mom was present. Always. She was present to Dad for 69 years. She was present to Andy and Nanci and me and to her grandchildren and to her friends, to her church to her fellow Companions. She listened and made you feel heard. What an amazing old school lost skill that is.
Right to the end, Mom was the most positive person I’ve ever met. She believed she always had a choice of how to interpret things and every time—every time— Mom chose the positive. When she and Dad lived in an apartment on the first floor over at Webster Green, she noticed that two young neighbors would come over and sit on the grass outside their window, working on their computers. Mom commented to Nanci, “Isn’t it wonderful that these two come over to visit us?” Nanci replied, “ Mom, they’re not visiting you, they’re stealing your Internet!” Mom just chose the positive. She was blessed with innocence.
And now they are both gone. I was joking with Lynn Campbell, texting that Mom and Dad were so organized with their end-of-life papers and the design of the funeral service, putting everything in a binder and giving one to each of us. The only thing they didn’t do was to pick out a date. Lynn shot back a text: “Sure she did. She died in time to celebrate her 70th wedding anniversary with her husband.”
There is a difference between being rich and being wealthy. Mom and Dad were never wealthy, but they died rich. Rich, as it has been said, is not about what you earn. Rich is who you have beside you. They were blessed to have each other
and we were blessed to have them.
Mom loved the simplicity of life. She loved the sun on her face, a child sleeping on her lap, reading the newspaper with a pair of scissors in her hand ready to cut out an article or comic strip, pulling the shades down on the sunny side of the house ona hot summer’s day and calling it air conditioning, and bringing endless optimism to everything that she did and everyone whom she touched.
We were sitting quietly on the porch of a house in Vermont years ago, watching the white birch trees sway and listening to the sounds of nature when Mom softly said, “How can anyone not believe in God in a Moment such as this?”
My wish for you all is that you choose the positive whenever possible. Let someone cut in front of you in a traffic jam. Find a workaround. Never give up. And above all, be mindful of the needs of others…and responsive to them.
Pricilla Howe Elliot Farquharson Obituary:
Priscilla Howe Elliot Farquharson passed away on June 14, 2017 surrounded by her family.
Priscilla was born in Taunton, MA on March 23, 1925 to Ralph and Doris Elliot. She graduated from Wareham High School and then Massachusetts State College, now the University of Massachusetts, with a degree in Home Economics. While living in Amherst, she met John H. Farquharson, who predeceased her. They were married on June 15, 1947.
During her early years of marriage, Priscilla worked at Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company. When her children arrived, Priscilla devoted her life to her home and family. Priscilla and John were founding members of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in East Longmeadow, MA where they resided for many years.
After John retired, they moved to the Boston area to be closer to their children and grandchildren. Priscilla loved to cook, garden, write and engage in many forms of handwork. For years, she was an active member of The Society of the Companions of the Holy Cross.
Priscilla is survived by her son, Andrew and his wife Marjorie of Needham and three grandsons: James and his wife Abby, Scott and his wife Heather and great-granddaughter Aubrey and great-grandson Austin and John; daughter Nanci and her husband Jeffrey Lawrence of Framingham and granddaughters Christine and Elizabeth George; and son William of Sudbury and granddaughters Kathryn, Emma, and Madeline; her sister and brother-in-law, Winnifred and Robert Hebb and many nieces and nephews. Priscilla is predeceased by her husband John and her brother William Elliot.
A Memorial Service will be held at Christ Episcopal Church at 1132 Highland Ave. in Needham on Thursday, June 22th at 10 AM.