Dorothy McElhaney’s self-written obituary shares 104 years of mischief, life, love – UPDATE

Dorothy McElhaneyBy Lynn R. Mitchell

[UPDATE: By Tuesday evening the story had come unraveled as the news came out that, sadly, the obituary for Dorothy McElhaney was plagiarized from an obituary from earlier this year for a lady named Emily Phillips who passed away in Jacksonville, Florida (see I was born; I blinked, and it was over; Orange Park woman writes in own obituary). After this post was tweeted out, Mrs. Phillips’ daughter tweeted to me that it was her mom’s obituary and included the link. When I tweeted my apologies for pushing out the story and condolences for her mother’s passing, she graciously tweeted back: “It’s ok. My mom would love that her words made an impact on complete strangers. I’m just trying to protect her memory a bit.”]

The obituary of 104-year-old Dorothy McElhaney in Tuesday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch reads like a short story. Or a love letter. Or a Little House on the Prairie book. Through this auto-obituary — is there such a word? — we catch a glimpse into the life and personality of someone we never knew, never talked with, and never met, but oh how her love of life shines through in her words where we can tell that she was a bit mischievous, an historian, a wife, mom, grandmom, and great-grandmom … well, I’ll let you read it for yourselves in her own words. The kicker is she grew up and lived most of her life in Missouri before moving to Colonial Heights, Virginia, and she will be buried on Thursday in the same cemetery in Chester, outside of Richmond, where my dad is buried. Here’s the story of Dorothy McElhaney.

November 15, 1910 – August 2015

It pains me to admit it, but apparently, I have passed away. Everyone told me it would happen one day but that’s simply not something I wanted to hear, much less experience. But you don’t always get what you want in life.

On the subject of my life, my mother, Lucy Mae Stewart, was 104 years ahead of her time by negotiating for a new farmhouse in exchange for having a second child, Dorothy Stewart, me. Hence, I was born on November 15, 1910, and she got her new farmhouse in Brookline, Missouri. Consequently, my older brother Hubert Stewart very much enjoyed our new farm home; the first to have hand-pumped, gravity-fed running water, albeit cold. A few years later, we quarreled about my being permitted to ride home from church in lieu of his girlfriend in the new-fangled rubber tired buggy — the latest in comfort at the time before cars appeared in our community.

As a child, I walked to a one-room schoolhouse, Capurnium, where I completed my formal education. But it was at home where I learned the lessons from my mother and father that gave me the greatest joys in life. Mom was an openhearted soul who gave to others freely. She served as a midwife back when babies were born at home. And it was many a ‘railway hobo’ that would stop at our door asking for food. I’m told they wrote our family name on the cattle guards of the train tracks for those seeking a respite from the lonely road.

So many things in my life seemed of little significance at the time; they happened, but then took on a greater importance as I got older. The memories I’m taking with me now are so precious and have more value than all the gold and silver in my jewelry box.

Memories, where do I begin? Well, I remember attending pie suppers; Mother wearing an apron; I remember attending square dances; I remember Daddy on horseback with the hands ‘driving’ cattle to market with my favorite dog, Pook; raising chickens and selling the eggs for spending money; I remember going to town and picking out my favorite feed sacks with the prettiest calico prints so they could be sewn in to dresses, so little was wasted back then; I remember going with mother to send the local boys off by train to fight in WWI and learning that Hubert would be in the next round if the war didn’t end soon; I remember savoring wild persimmons; making gooseberry jelly and playing cards with Daddy.

I remember the smell of freshly harvested fields. It could have been no other way. I married the man of my dreams (tall, with wavy hair and handsome) on September 7, 1937, on a jaunt to Tucumcari, New Mexico, and from that day on I was proud to be Mrs. Glenn McElhaney, Grand Diva of All Things Domestic. Sewing, needlework, weaving baskets, making potpourri, attending quilting bees, painting with oil on canvas, painting and firing china plates and teacups, canning jellies, jam, tomatoes and pickles — these were some of the outlets for my creativity that let my spirit sing. Soon we were blessed with our only child, Glenna Sue. Seeing her grow into who she was supposed to be brought a wonderful sense of meaning to our lives.

This might be a good time to mend fences. I apologize for making Glenna play piano on television for Future Homemakers of America, and for sending her to a fancy private prep school when she wanted to stay at the public schoolhouse. Apparently, each of these things was humiliating to her but she was able to rise above her shame and become a very successful adult.

She grew up in Brookline, Missouri in the Ray House, my great-grandfather’s home. He wrote a first person account of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War west of the Mississippi that took place across from his homestead in his cornfield. The house still stands as part of the Wilson Creek National Battlefield Park. General Nathaniel Lyon’s body was taken there to wait while the battle subsided and was then taken by train to Springfield.

I loved our home in Missouri. The road running just out front was the Old Wire Road- it had the first telegraph lines along it. And before that, it was the Trail of Tears, the route for American Indians forced to flee their native lands for newly created Reservations in the West. Just when I thought I was too old to fall in love again, I became a grandmother, and my two grand-angels stole not only my heart, but also spent most of my money. It was with a heavy heart we moved from our beloved Missouri Ozarks to a new life with our grandchildren in Colonial Heights, Virginia.

Stuart Ashley Kramer and Whitney Paige Kramer have enriched my life more than words can say. I loved making exquisite dresses with petticoats for Whitney and jackets and vests for Stuart; cooking the family’s meals and baking sweets for after school treats like chocolate chip ice cream sandwiches; letting them lick the bowl and the mixing beaters and giving out extra icing…Yes, these are a few of my favorite things. They’re treasures that are irreplaceable and will go with me wherever my journey takes me.

I’ve always maintained that my greatest treasures call me Nana. That’s not exactly true. You see, the youngest of my grand-angels, Ella Ashley Kramer and Finley Christian Kramer call me “Grand Nana” (Thank you Jennifer Mele Kramer and Stuart for having such spunky children). Speaking of titles, I’ve held a few in my day. After a lifetime entering baking and sewing competitions in Ozark County Fairs, I won my last blue ribbons for my famous sugar cookies at the age of 99, taking Best in Show for Chesterfield Country and First Place in the State Fair. And I’ve been a devoted daughter, an energetic teenager, a loving wife, a comforting mother, a true and loyal friend, and a spoiling Nana and Grand Nana. And if you don’t believe it, just ask me. Oh wait, I’m afraid it’s too late for questions. Sorry.

So, I was born; I blinked; and it was over. No buildings named after me; no monuments erected in my honor.

But, I DID have the chance to know and love each and every friend as well as all my family members. How much more blessed can a person be?

So in the end, remember, do your best, follow your arrow and make something amazing out of your life. Oh, and never stop smiling.

If you want to, you can look for me in the evening sunset or with the earliest spring daffodils or amongst the flitting and fluttering butterflies. You know I’ll be there in one form or another. Of course, that will probably comfort some while antagonizing others, but you know me … it’s what I do.

I’ll leave you with this, please don’t cry because I’m gone; instead be happy that I was here (or maybe you can cry a little bit. After all, I have passed away).

Today I am happy and I am dancing.

I leave behind my cherished family, my daughter, Glenna McElhaney Kramer; my grandson, Stuart Ashley Kramer and his wife, Jenny Mele Kramer; two beautiful great-grandchildren, Ella Ashley Kramer and Finley Christian Kramer; a lovely granddaughter, Whitney Paige Kramer and her husband, Mark Wesley Crossley; nephew, James E. Stewart; and niece, Edwina Stewart Vaughan and her husband, retired Lt. Col. Arthur Russell Vaughan.

You’re invited to walk behind me as I take my final carriage ride. I was born at a time when everybody rode in a horse and buggy and I will travel to my final resting place in a horse drawn carriage. Join me at 4 p.m. Thursday, August 13, 2015, at J.T. Morriss Funeral Home, 3050 W. Hundred Rd., Chester, Va., for a visitation followed by interment in Sunset Memorial Park.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to World Pediatric Project, 7201 Glen Forest Dr. #304, Richmond, Va. 23226, (804) 282-8830. Condolences may be registered at

Love you forever. Dorothy

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