In Memory: Fern Okla Campbell Kelley "Nanny"

In memory of her homegoing six years ago, I thought I'd post the brief eulogy that I was privileged to deliver during the memorial service of my wife's paternal grandmother. We all knew her affectionately as "Nanny". She was a dear lady who loved Christ and modeled His meekness better than anyone I've ever met.

Memorial Service
Fern Okla Campbell Kelley
January 21, 1918 - December 3, 1999

It is with great privilege that I stand before my family, the family of Fern Kelley, and friends and loved ones as well to share some thoughts about the life of a lady that meant so much to all of us.
But more than the privilege is the confidence and joy I have in saying this morning that Fern Kelley is in Heaven. My confidence comes not from anything that man has said, but only from what God has said:

And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
(1 John 5:11-13)

Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. (I Thess. 4:13-14)

And we know that Paul speaks of being “absent from the body” is being “present with the Lord.” (2 Cor. 5:8) So my confidence lies in the fact that Nanny’s only hope of salvation was in the finished work of Christ on the cross, in which she placed her full trust, and her life certainly showed evidence of this faith in Christ and repentance toward God.

The following was written by one of one of Nanny’s daughters:

Fern Okla Campbell Kelley was born on January 21, 1918, in Russellville, Arkansas when the snow was so deep, the wheels were taken off her grandfather’s buggy and replaced with sleighs so they could get down the mountain to get to a doctor.
At an early age, the Campbell’s moved their family to White Hall, AR. At this time there was said to be only 12 families living in the White Hall area. The Campbell family, along with the other families, made use of a beautiful spring of water located in the center of the community. The White Hall School, at that time, was just a white frame building. Nanny eventually graduated from Watson Chapel.
Having married during the depression, there were many hardships to bear, but Nanny never complained about anything. She always made the best of what was available and always wore the sweetest smile.
The family raised two daughters and two sons. She was very proud of her children and in her eyes they never did anything wrong. And I’m sure they didn’t! Nothing made her happier than spending time with her children. Even in these last few days of her life, she asked for her children and grandchildren.
Nanny’s life has always been devoted to doing for others, putting everyone else first and never asking for anything for herself.
When I think of the words, “smile” and “lady”, I think of Nanny. Even during the last days when her body was racked with pain, she would still try to smile at you. And she was always a true “lady”. A lady we will always miss.

To be honest, I have been thinking of things to say at this time from the moment we found out about Nanny’s cancer. I faithfully prayed that Nanny would have many more days in which to spend with her husband of 64 years and her dear children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. But I also trusted that our sovereign God, Who is the author and finisher of life, was totally and ultimately in control of her every breath, and if He chose to take her from us earlier than we would have selfishly preferred, then may His will be done. After all, for a believer, “to live is Christ”, but to die is certainly gain.

The first thought I had was a personal one, it involved the impact that Nanny had on my life, and impact that she probably wouldn’t take credit for. You see, it is God alone who draws sinners to Himself to save, but He chooses to use people as instruments in His divine plan of redemption. I fully believe that it was because Nanny and Papaw were obedient in bringing their children up in the Lord, that their son Gary was also obedient in bringing his family up in the Lord, and his daughter, Anita, through her obedience, indirectly introduced me to the Savior. Which is why, in God’s providence, I stand before you today as a minister of the Gospel.

My other thought about Nanny, was the legacy she left behind. Not only in her life, as has already been alluded to, but also in her last days with us. For any of you who were blessed to spend any time with Nanny as her body was winding down, you should have seen a perfect, biblical example of what it means to face death as a child of God. I just have to think that when Nanny heard the prognosis from her doctor that cancer had set in and she wouldn’t have much longer to live, though on the outside she simply smiled as always, on the inside I believe she eagerly anticipated the soon approaching day on which she would be ushered into glory to finally stand before the Christ that gave His life for hers.

If you spent any time around Nanny’s family over the last few days, you’ve probably heard all the stories of her selfless, humble, and modest character displayed throughout her life. Anyone who has ever had a meal with the Kelley’s, knows that Nanny will apologize for not having prepared enough to eat, when in fact she’s spread a Thanksgiving-size feast across the table. And if you could convince her that she’s made plenty (of food), she’ll modestly say, “Well, it’s probably not any good.”

Another funny story I’ve heard recently involves Nanny’s “resourcefulness”. This basically entails Nanny’s desire not to waste anything. She could often be seen washing paper cups, utensils, styrofoam meat trays, and any foil that can possibly be re-used!

As we all would agree, it is these internal qualities that are what make a person, and Nanny had an endless list of internal qualities that we can only attempt to emulate. But, we certainly can’t forget her outside beauty as well. I think Papaw has told the greyhound bus story to everyone who’s come to visit recently. It seems that while taking a bus trip many years ago, one man decided to have a contest to determine the prettiest woman on the bus. Needless to say, Fern Kelley won hands down!

My wife told me just the other night, how she hopes she can be the kind of woman and wife that her Nanny was. I trust that all of you who knew Fern Kelley can be the kind of person she was. But I can certainly say, that you cannot be the kind of person she was, without a relationship with the Jesus that she had. For all of the complimentary remarks that have been and will be made about Fern Kelley aren’t a reflection of her, but of the Christ who lived in her.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for stirring up warm memories that tend to be set aside. Although we do remember and think about our passed loved ones often, it seems that as time goes by it gets harder to remember the details and other memorable times.
I will always remember those two famous sayings anytime we would sit down to eat, and the way she would make my grilled cheese sandwich and serve it on a foam meat tray that has been cut in half. Nanny was a one of kind, and we are so blessed that she was our grandmother.