This is my first Mother’s Day without any of my grandmothers.
Both my grandmothers, Rosemary Porter and Elizabeth Lyles, lived until their mid 90’s. I can’t complain about that. But I do miss their wisdom and their love. How lucky I am to have had such wonderful women in my life. There have been other wonderful women who have been lost in the past several years–Jackie Gaskins, my former mother-in-law and Sally Winn, one my mother’s best friends and a woman who was like a second mom to me from the time I was five years old on.
There are other women who still look out for me, women who I adore: my own mom, Marybeth Higuera, who is my first and biggest fan. My boyfriend’s mom, Patricia Gurney, who makes me feel very loved. My aunts, my friends’ mothers in Visalia (you know who you are!), Pi Phi alum across the country, and readers who share their love and support with me all the time.
I celebrate all moms today–new moms and mature moms. I send love to every woman who shares her heart with others. Thank you for your hard work, your sacrifices, your humor, patience and knowledge. I am grateful. The world is a better place because of you. I’d like to share something personal, too. I like to think I’m the writer in my family, but my older brother Thom, a business professor at UNC Wilmington wrote the following words and shared them at my grandmother’s memorial service several weeks ago in Fresno. I thought I’d put an edited version here in honor of my late grandmother and in honor of all grandmothers.
My Name is Thom Porter and Elizabeth Lyles was my grandmother.
Elizabeth Lyles accomplished many things. She started a business that has become incredibly successful, she gave of her time and money to causes she believed in, and she received many honors for the things she did. These are all documented in the obituary that ran in the paper and is in the bulletin today. However, the reason we are here today is not because of what she did, but because of who she was. One thing that makes me the saddest is that my children will not grow up knowing my grandmother. They will hear bits and pieces much the way I’ve heard bits and pieces of my previous generations – but I don’t really know them. Therefore even though they are not here as I was thinking about my remarks today, I thought about what I would like my kids to know about Elizabeth Lyles so they would know more than some facts and figures about what she did. As I tell my children about my grandmother and how she was able to accomplish all she did I will tell them that in my opinion it had to do with her values. Those internal beliefs of what is important in life. Grandmother lived through and was shaped by what shaped many of her generation – the great depression. Her values are her legacy as much if not more so than the company founded and helped build or any gifts she had been able to make as a result of her successes because these values have been handed down to her kids who in turn have handed them down to their kids and so on. And it is a testament to these values that so many of her kids and grandkids have achieved success in their chosen professions. So what are these core values that I will be attempting to pass along to my kids? I want to touch on three key big ones 1) loyalty 2) substance over style & 3) Industriousness in life
Loyalty – Elizabeth Lyles formed lasting and long term relationships – whether it be in her personal life, her business life or the organizations she devoted herself to. I can’t speak from experience on the relationship she had with her husband – but it must have been something very special. They started from so little – created a small pipeline construction company. They worked together as a team raising their kids and building that company. She formed close friendships that she was able to maintain over the course of many many years. The team that she worked with at LDI – so many of which have been there (or were there) for years and years are extremely loyal – which I think reflect the value of loyalty that was part of my grandmother’s make-up. My grandmother’s house today looks pretty much like I remember it as a child growing up. One place in her kitchen she proudly displayed little knick-knacks and presents she has received over the years. Well one year when I was about 7 or 8 I wanted to give grandma a Christmas present that I chose all by myself and I found the ugliest little pinecone owl thing. Well I think it says something about her loyalty that that darn owl is to this day on display in her kitchen 38 years later. Substance Over Style – There are so many people in the world who are primarily concerned about what shows on the outside. They want the fanciest cars, houses, & clothes – but when you look behind the flashy facade there really isn’t a whole lot there. Elizabeth Lyles was the opposite – she was substance over style – or perhaps substance was her style. Her successes brought her the resources that she could use to give to the causes she valued most – but she took very little for herself. One of my favorite stories about my grandmother was the time not all that long ago that she finally concluded that it would be useful to have a credit card. It can’t have been more than 20 years ago so grandmother would have been in her mid to late seventies. Well she must have undersold her financial resources a bit on the application, because this woman who was still working every day and was chairman of LDI was turned down for a credit card. (Which by the way they basically beg freshmen in college to take). As I remember the rest of the story Paul Read made a call on her behalf to BofA letting them know who they had turned down for credit and that problem was promptly fixed – but never the less – it is representative to me of her preference for understatement. Substance over style.
Industriousness – Elizabeth Lyles was industrious. And I don’t just mean a little industrious – I mean she was off the charts industrious. She went to work every day down at the Lyles company working on the books and her reports until time finally caught up with her eight years ago – when she was 88 years old. Just to years ago she presided over the shareholders meeting of LDI and she was as spry and as in command as ever banging that gavel.
But industriousness wasn’t just confined to work. Elizabeth Lyles was a doer – giving time to organizations she cared about. She read, she traveled on elder hostels to learn, she was passionate about genealogy – a passion she was able to share with her grandson Will Lyles, she played games, she went to the theatre and sporting events. She was a participator in life and not just a spectator.
My grandmother lived 96 years. Oh the things she must have seen. She lived through two world wars, a depression, amazing technological advances, personal tragedies and many successes. I have been a witness to less than half of that time, but from my observation she was always optimistic, matter of fact and above all happy. I don’t mean happy all the time – but I mean genuinely happy and contented with life. What a lesson – Hard work + Loyalty + Understanding what really matters = Happiness. That is the legacy she leaves and the lesson I would like to leave to my children about their grandmother.