A Tribute to My Mom

by Jonathan F. Partee

Margaret McClure Partee was born in 1935 in Khartoum, Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. She spent the first 17 years of her life in Africa, coming to the United States only on her parents’ scheduled furloughs. During most of those years, the McClure children attended boarding school in Egypt, a four week canoe and Nile steamer ride from their parents’ mission station. Mom never felt entirely comfortable in the traditional role of an American girl. Before one memorable New Wilmington Missionary Conference meal, bored with the unexciting activities of the rest of the girls, Mom caught garter snakes down by the creek and give them surprising new homes in the cafeteria sugar bowls.
Mom returned to America for her senior year of high school, intending to complete her college education, a medical degree, and then return to Africa as a medical missionary. At college, she met a slick and smooth-talking young man named Charles Partee,who convinced her to do something else for which my brothers and sisters are grateful.
Mom had a life-long love for Christ’s commission, teaching us kids an abiding love and concern for the world, and especially East Africa. Mom regularly used words from various languages like Arabic, Amharic, and Hindi around the house. All of us kids, at one time or another, found ourselves on the losing end of arguments with classmates and teachers as to whether words like saket, nunga-punga, or ishee were to be found in the Oxford English Dictionary.
Although generally quiet and reserved, Mom’s upbringing and Scottish heritage made her a fierce opponent in the face of injustice. When the school district in Storm Lake, Iowa and Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania refused to follow federal law regarding handicapped children, she took them on and won both times.
Her legendary toughness, iron will, and refusal to give up affected all of us, but perhaps no one more than Dad. In the early 70’s Mom informed Dad that the roof of our house needed to be reshingled. Dad was just beginning his career as a college professor, and agreed that he would employ some roofers to take care of it. Mom, who always watched the finances, told Dad that there was not enough money to pay for materials and labor, and if he would not shingle the roof, she would. After a decade and a half of marriage, Dad knew this was no idle threat, and if he did not want his bride up on the roof for all the neighbors to see, he would have to learn quickly how to shingle . He asked enough questions of local roofers to realize what he had to do, but either Dad did not hear, or the roofers did not say, that on steep pitches beyond the reach of the latter, when you hammer a standing platform onto an inch of rotten wood, you need to nail into the joists. Needless to say, when Dad stepped on his platform it immediately pulled out of the roof and down he went, catching himself two stories above the ground by sliding into the ladder with his legs through two rungs. In this precarious position, he thought that he could recover if he could get an adult to stabilize the ladder at the ground level. Looking down he saw wide-eyed Charlie staring up at him. Dad quickly ordered, “Go! Call your Mother!” Charlie ran off, then returned and shouted up, “She said to tell you she is busy.” Mom was always busy, and regularly outworked the rest of us combined.
Although for the last 15 years Mom was hampered by the progression of Parkinson’s disease, she never complained. The most I ever heard her say about her disease was, “My stupid hand is not working today.” When Rebecca and Elizabeth were born, years after the initial diagnosis, she came out to help us and even at that time could outwork a normal human.
In the last five years, communication had become more and more difficult, and verbal communication had become rare. However, when one of us was crying beside her bed a few weeks ago, she opened her eyes and said, “Buka (buck-ah).” This is the Ethiopian word for “Enough.” I believe this to be her last instruction to us. She would not want to be excessively mourned; she was utterly confident in Christ’s promise that nothing could separate her from the love of God. She never looked backwards, ever forwards, and would entreat us to do likewise. It is now to those of us who remain to pick up these earthly burdens and carry them as courageously, as tenaciously, and as resolutely as she did.

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Memorial Service for Margaret McC. Partee

A Reflection by Andrew H. Purves

On this Pentecost weekend, the Gospel text for Sunday will guide my reflections. At John 16:13 where Jesus is preparing his disciples for his departure following his resurrection and ascension, he says that he will send the “Spirit of truth” who will guide his followers into all the truth. Margaret McClure Partee was exceptionally well-gifted with the Spirit of truth. This Spirit of truth, both speaking it and living it, guided her life.

I have the sense that the Spirit of truth did not descend upon Margaret gently and serenely; as a dove, inducing passivity. Rather, I suspect the Spirit of truth came upon her, in an image familiar to the Scottish Celtic Christian tradition, as a wild goose: fierce, at times awkward, uncontrollable, uncompromising, convicting, restless, and ever on the move, challenging and provoking. The Spirit of truth within Margaret was not tame, but was at times, at least to me, a bit unnerving. When the Celtic church chose the symbol of the wild goose to characterize the Holy Spirit at work within believers, surely it was to characterize such spirit-gifted and truth-centered people as Margaret Partee.

As a woman of faith Margaret believed in Jesus Christ with conviction and determination. Jesus Christ was her truth. She knew what she believed. Her boundaries were clear and secure. A child of the mission field she had evangelical clarity and missionary intensity. Her faith had nothing of triviality or sentimentality. It was solidly built on the sure foundation of the one who is the Truth, Jesus Christ.

As a wife and mother she understood that there could be no space between truth and love. Truth at home meant loyalty and commitment. And home was not just Charles and their children, but included many foster children who were swept into her fierce embrace as she reached out to the least of the little ones. And for her truth could be demanding. If a retaining wall was imperceptibly off, for Margaret it was just off and had to be rebuilt. If a paint job was imperceptibly off, for Margaret it was just off and had to be repainted. Her commitment to truth was undoubtedly exacting for those around her. But truth was always fully informed. Charles, as you know, is a man of many maxims. One has stood the test of time: the sign of an intelligent man is that he marries a woman brighter than he is. Charles, no doubt, learned that at first hand. Margaret was a woman of truth.

The loss of someone dear is painful indeed. And pious words fill no space where once a beloved woman lived her life. As we look back and remember with thanksgiving so also as people of faith we look forward in hope to the great mystery promised for those who die in Christ Jesus. And as people of faith we are confident that the Spirit of truth has led Margaret to rest in the One who is himself the Truth, unto ages and ages, Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen