Memphis Surprise

coffee34.jpgOn Sunday afternoon, I made a very quick trip to Memphis, Tennessee, to speak at the funeral of my second cousin.  Her name was Anna Maye Johnson.  She had lived in Memphis for many years.  She never married.  She was a librarian for thirty years for the City of Memphis Public Library System.   She also produced a children’s television show for a number of years that featured various puppets in action.  She was a pianist, a painter, and had a  Master’s degree in Library Science from George Peabody College, Nashville.

Something happened Monday at the funeral that I found interesting.

A few minutes before this funeral began (at Memphis Funeral Home), Dr. Jack Lewis walked in.  (Dr. Lewis is a longtime professor of Bible at Harding Graduate School of Religion, Memphis.  He has been retired for a number of years.)  I think he was there because he knows a cousin of mine who is a part of the same church as he.  Also, Anna Maye Johnson, the deceased, began attending this church about a year ago.

Just before the service began, Jack walked to the casket to view the body with some others who were standing around.  He realized that he knew her and that he shared an important time with her.  He then asked the family if he could tell a story about her during the service.

After the service began, Jack walked to the mic and spoke of his surprise.  He said that when he read the obituary in the newspaper and decided to come, he had no idea that he had once worked with her.  He said that in 1958, when Harding Graduate School began, he was asked by Dr. W. B. West (the dean of the new graduate school) to pull books from the Harding Library (Searcy, Arkansas) to be used at the graduate school.  He then met with “Miss Johnson,” the librarian for Harding Academy, to begin cataloging them and putting them on the shelves.  He said that when “Miss Johnson” looked at all those books she appeared to be overwhelmed.  He said that he would help her.  “I told her that I would put them on the shelves if she would show me where they needed to be placed.”  He went on to say that for some time she served as both the librarian for Harding Academy and Harding Graduate School.

He went on to say that he had never known her first name until he came to the funeral yesterday morning.   It was a nice moment.  I spoke with him afterward and he seemed both amazed and grateful that he had made the connection at the funeral.

I was also amazed.  I did not know any of this history until he told that story yesterday morning.   I was amazed that this quiet, simple woman was actually the first librarian at what is now one of the finest theological libraries in the mid-south.  Amazing!

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