Yesterday a dear member of our family breathed her last breath on earth, and we will all miss her tremendously.
If ever anyone deserved the title of Mrs. Athens Alabama, it was Helen Greenhaw. I doubt there was a board or a committee that she didn't serve on, especially when you add hers to the ones her husband Jackie took part in. Many times she was behind the scenes -- making costumes for the Poke Sallet Follies or in the kitchen for untold numbers of banquets and receptions. Having been a long-time teacher of Home Economics at Athens High School, her skills were legendary, and she put them to constant use to make the lives of other people better and their events more beautiful.
After retirement, she was well known for taking numerous photos, having them printed, and then sending them to the people who were in those photos. She sent countless cards, and it was always a delight to see her very distinctive handwriting on the envelope. She attended one of my book presentations and sent me a stack of photos afterward. When Steve and I got home from a recent trip to New England, a package from Helen was in the mail where she had clipped one of my articles and thought I'd enjoy having a copy.
Her hair and makeup were ALWAYS immaculate, and she probably still wore the same size clothes she wore when she was the head cheerleader in high school, the literal picture of good health and vitality. She celebrated her 80th birthday on September 23rd, and this is how she looked at our most recent family gathering in July of this year. No one would ever guess her age because she never seemed to add any lines or wrinkles.
(I'm pretty sure I should give photo credit to my brother Andy Collier).
Helen was not my relative by blood, but the moment she married my Cousin Jackie, she was immediately embraced and included in our big clan. I remember attending their wonderful wedding. Jackie's mother and my grandmother were sisters. Does that make us first cousins once removed or something like that? In any case, Jackie's parents (Jasper and Lorene), sister (Ginger), and wife Helen were welcomed to all of our family gatherings. Of course, we always enjoyed the wonderful dishes Helen contributed.
I knew about Helen years earlier because her mother was my 2nd grade teacher at Athens Elementary School. Mrs. Miller was beautiful, elegant, and soft-spoken. I was very fortunate to have had her influence on my education. Helen was so much like her mother.
I remember watching Helen cheer on the sidelines when Jackie was the star quarterback for the football team. Later, the two were amazing dance partners. Years ago, Steve and I decided we would join one of their dance classes. The rest of us tried our best to copy their movements, but when Jackie and Helen danced together they were naturals, anticipating each other's moves perfectly and executing the steps smoothly and with precision and intricacy. It was a thing of beauty to behold.
Jackie and Helen had three daughters (Sparkle, Summer, and Paige) who are each accomplished and great sources of pride for them. Jackie died in 2017 after a lengthy illness through which Helen was constantly by his side. They were married for 52 years. Then last year, oldest daughter Sparkle got a scary cancer diagnosis. Helen flew to California and moved in with Sparkle for 7 months, seeing her through every appointment, treatment, and painful aftermath. Sparkle is now back to good health, a fact for which we are all grateful to God.
Helen had many dear friends in Athens. A couple of them became concerned when Helen hadn't answered their calls or texts in a day or so. They went to her house and found that she'd had a stroke. Helen was med-flighted to Vanderbilt Hospital where a brain bleed was discovered that couldn't be stopped. The events of the past few days have shocked and saddened all who knew Helen. Since both my mother and then 30 years later my stepmother died in almost identical circumstances, I have relived those times and empathized keenly with Sparkle, Summer, and Paige. It's devastating. One minute your loved one is happy and healthy. The next their brains are irreparably damaged, and you sit by their bedside for a few days waiting for the inevitable.
There will be many tributes about Helen written in the coming days, but I felt compelled to add my own. Her life was a gift to her family, to our family, and to the people of Athens. Her example will be long remembered.
Psalm 116:15 -- "Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints."
All of the verses describing the woman in Proverbs 31 could apply to Helen, especially these:
Proverbs 31:27-31 "She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.