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.