Charlotte Jane Fuqua
Memorial Service on January 18, 2015
Norm has asked me to say a few words about his late wife, Charlotte, Charlotte Jane Fuqua. Charlotte was born Charlotte Jane Smith in Oakland, Kentucky, on June 15, 1929. As a child, she had some significant health problems including acute rheumatic fever, which damaged her heart valves. She then suffered a kidney infection.
This and the lingering effects of the rheumatic fever led to her contracting the disease called St. Vitus Dance (now called Sydenham’s chorea). It’s a very unpleasant disease, which is characterized by rapid, uncoordinated jerking movements which often affect the hands and feet. The illness caused her to miss a year of school.
Charlotte grew up on a farm in Oakland, Kentucky, a farm which kept dairy cows among other animals. Charlotte came into Norm’s life as a result of baseball, if you can imagine that. And perhaps we should stop calling her “Charlotte” when we speak of her as a child and as a young person. In those days, she was known by her middle name to friends, family and schoolmates– just plain “Jane Smith.”
Jane’s dad, Edd Smith, was a good friend of Norm’s dad, Richard. One was a pitcher, the other a catcher. It’s a combination that’s often called the “battery”, and apparently they provided each other quite a charge because they were good enough to be recruited to play for various teams around the region of Fordsville, Kentucky, where Jane’s family lived.
Richard told Norm, a young man of 22 at the time, that his friend Edd had a good-looking daughter. That was enough for Norm to decide to see for himself that this was true. He took the trip to the farm and apparently liked what he saw, as they started dated almost right away and only a year passed before there were wedding bells.
Norm had graduated high school and had already served a two-year stint in the Army Air Force, which he served in Denver, Colorado. Charlotte was still an 18-year-old high-school senior. It was a marriage that lasted 66 years. Jane graduated high school on May 7, 1948– a Friday. Two days later, on a Sunday, Mother’s Day, Norm and Jane were married.
Five years later, Jane gave birth to their first child, a son named Stephen; eight years after that, their second and last child, Edward, was born. Norm supported the family by his work as a development engineer for 22 years, first for Westinghouse, then for Whirlpool.
While they were dating, Norm drove his 1937 Lincoln Zephyr from South Bend, Indiana to Bowling Green, Kentucky, a distance of 600 miles made interesting by the fact that the Lincoln did not have operating headlights. Charlotte worked for RCA for a time, building television sets. Now, Charlotte grew up on a dairy farm, as I said, but still I was surprised when Norm told me that when they married, her family sold 15 cows so that the young couple could buy a new car. I told Norm that I thought the days of those kinds of dowries were long past, even at that time.
When Charlotte was 35, she suffered a heart attack. The corrective surgery split a mitral valve. At the time (1967), such surgery was considered quite dangerous. Her survival was probably due as much to her determined attitude as to anything else. Three years later, she started college, in 1970. She began college at the age of 42, enrolled at Southside Community College in Virginia at the same time as her son Stephen.
They took several courses together, and Norm speculates that Stephen’s tutorial help might have been the thing that got her through at least one of them. Norm was teaching at the school, and Charlotte (once she was in college, she started using the name Charlotte) took one course with him. She was an excellent student, Norm says. Her only grade lower than a “B” came from a course taught by her husband.
This course in developmental mathematics was meant to be taken pass/fail, but a year or so later, the college changed the rules. Developmental courses had to assign grades. So, Charlotte’s “P” was changed to a “C,” a change that the university considered inconsequential. Charlotte certainly did not think it inconsequential, Norm says. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Virginia State College.
Charlotte went on to continue her studies at the graduate level, obtaining a Master of Arts in Elementary Education. This enabled her to teach for 15 years in the school systems of Brunswick County, Virginia, starting in 1976. It was a good choice, as she loved children. She also loved flowers and birds and travel. It was good that she enjoyed travel because Norm’s various jobs took him from state to state. They lived at various times in Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia, Michigan, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and California.
Norm and Charlotte first started attending Unitarian Universalist churches soon after the two denominations merged in 1962. In 1965, they joined the UU fellowship in Wilbraham, Massachusetts. Church became important in their lives, and when they moved to Minnesota, Norm helped build the church they attended in Friendly, just north of Minneapolis. One of their jobs there was to help maintain the historic cemetery attached to the grounds.
When Norm retired in 1992, it was Charlotte’s idea that they move back to Bowling Green so that they could be near her family. Some people thought her “standoffish,” Norm says, but it was really shyness that kept her at the periphery while at social gatherings. In 1996, she had surgery to replace a valve in her heart; around 2002, a pacemaker was installed.
Charlotte Jane Smith Fuqua was intelligent and determined to succeed despite the many obstacles that her health concerns posed. Her proudest accomplishment was in successfully graduating from college as a 46-year-old student, amidst so many students a generation younger than herself. I can’t help thinking as I see her children here and her granddaughter, that she had other accomplishments to be proud of, too.
Charlotte’s favorite song comes from the Unitarian Universalist hymnal “Singing the Living Tradition.” It’s called Come, Sing a Song with Me. Norm would be honored if those who know the song would now stand and sing.