By 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.
Obituary for 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.