Alicia Polk Withers Memorial

Filed under: Family Events,Obituary — Chamberlain @ 10:40 am
No. 167

An elegant memorial service for Alicia Polk Withers was held on the 28th May. Anne Dollimore, Sarah Hollo and Eleanor Withers, together with their spouses and families, did a superb celebration of the life of their mother. Here is a short video of the highlights of the event for those that were not able to attend.

As evident, a remarkable number of friends and relatives attended the ceremony at St Joseph’s Church in Clayton Missouri. Following the ceremony a beautiful reception was hosted at the home of Eleanor and Ralph. A complete transcript of Ralph’s moving eulogy has been posted in the Eulogy section of our Library, accessible here.


Filed under: Obituary — Chamberlain @ 8:22 pm

Our thanks to Anne Dollimore who has put together these evocative recollections of her mother.

Our Mother, Alicia Chambers Polk Withers

One of the most painful times in our mother’s life was the death of her first child, Ernest Lee Withers III. At ten days, he was very ill. Our father rushed him to the hospital– without Mom, because in those days women stayed in bed for a least two weeks after giving birth. The baby died in our father’s arms on the steps approaching the hospital. Mom never saw her baby again.

Our mother was nothing, if not brave. Even though it certainly took courage to sign up for overseas duty as a Red Cross Volunteer during WWII, we think that even more daunting was the journey Mom made with the three of us (school girls) and two dachshunds to live in Toulouse, in the south of France. Our 14 months in Europe were filled with adventure and misadventure.

In the confusion of arriving at the Gare du Nord in Paris our biggest suitcase was stolen. Mom replaced some of the clothes for our stay at the beach with Bermuda shorts and shirts she made BY HAND.

Eleanor had an appendectomy shortly after our arrival in Toulouse, while we were still staying in a pension. Our bedrooms there were on the first floor. One evening while Eleanor was recovering Mom staged a performance by the casement window. Bent over a little table while pretending to be sewing, she crooned Au Clair de la Lune in a high, trembling voice, hoping to surprise and, with luck, shock any hapless passer-by. We laughed until our sides ached.

Soon after, Mom who spoke barely a word of Spanish, decided that a trip to Spain would be nice. Stowing the beasties with a nice older couple, we took off in our Peugeot 403. On the way we spent one blissful night at Lourdes, another at an enchanting village in the lush French Pyrenees, then across the border and into an arid, Moorish-ruin studded landscape where filling stations were suspense-fully rare.

To Zaragoza and beyond we travelled, sampling nougat wherever it could be found. Once in Madrid, our destination, we visited the Prado, sampled our first gazpacho, and window shopped. Another day Mom drove us northwest from the city, through miles of olive groves to visit El Escorial.

We got around with Mom– Dachau, the caves of Lascaux, Orleans, Gettysburg, Mount Vernon, Andersonville—these are only a few of the historical sites that Mom brought to life for us, thanks to her unending fascination with history. Even very late in her life, when Molly and Gareth were posted to Yerevan, Mom read every book she could find about Armenia, surely becoming knowledgeable enough to give lectures.

In Toulouse our apartment on the Rue des Gestes was in a 400 year old building. Heated only by a pot- bellied stove, Mom arose every morning well before dawn to stoke the fire wearing a plastic mop cap decked with purple violets to protect her hair from coal dust. She bought all our fruits and vegetables at the out door market in the Place du Capitol. She scavenged x-ray paper from a near-by hospital’s trash cans to make our Christmas ornaments. She staged a surprise reveillon (midnight Christmas supper) for us and Mary, our Irish house guest.

Lucky for us that Mom was so good at making friends. For example, she took advantage of Sarah Fehlig’s letter of introduction to meet “la famille Metge.” Zou Zou and Marie Paul Metge were at school with us at the Sacre Coeur de Rangueil in Toulouse. We spent almost every weekend with the Metges—magical times in the tiny village of Siran and the surrounding countryside.

Mom loved hand work; it was one of her favorite ways to say she loved you—knitted socks, sweaters, scarves, skirts, necklaces, slippers, and all sorts of goodies for Christmas. There are probably more than a few mortals still craving her fudge cake and candied grapefruit peel. Mom also loved animals. Her cat, Sugar, rarely left her side. He lives with Anne now.

Mom always put us first. Because it was Valentine’s Day, just hours after her stroke she said “promise me you’ll take cash out of my wallet and buy yourself (Anne) an ice-cream cone.” One evening about a week before she died she said when I (Anne) was leaving: “drive safely.”

Mom was very proud of and always au courant about her grandchildren and great grandchildren, who called her Bobby (a name devised by Charlie, which Mom appreciated because it sounded youthful ). Three days before her death, weak as a new-born, she insisted on getting dressed in deep blue sweater and slacks so that she could receive a visit, looking her best, from Cate and Charlotte during the Easter weekend.

Mom gave up cigarettes and alcohol a long time ago; chocolate and salt periodically, even at the end of her life. She made these sacrifices whenever a special loved one was in peril.

For a long time Mom was a daily communicant. Just months before her 91st birthday she drove to Saturday afternoon mass at St. Roch’s. She took us to many churches in Europe. Upon our first visit we always made a wish. She kept, tucked under the glass top of her little dining table at the carriage house, this prayer:

Patient Trust

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything, to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—
And that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature and grow gradually—
Let them grow, let them shape themselves without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace, and circumstance acting on your own good will)
will make of tomorrow.
Only God could say
what this new spirit
gradually forming within will be.

Give our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of
feeling yourself
in suspense
and incomplete.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin S.J.

After Mom’s stroke Roxanne, one of her care-givers, told us that she had been seriously thinking of getting out of home care because she could no longer feel anything for her patients …until Mom.

Anne Dollimore

The obituary for Aunt Alicia has been posted and can be found here:

Alicia Chambers Polk Withers

Filed under: Obituary — Chamberlain @ 10:20 pm

Monday, the 25th of April, we lost our Aunt Alicia – Alicia Chambers Polk Withers. Here is a video collage spanning her 91 years. Despite its brevity, one thing is apparent – her lifelong elegance.

Anne Dollimore is putting together for us a more fitting recollection and tribute which we will share shortly. We extend our symapthy to Anne, Sarah and Eleanor, and to all Aunt Alicia’s grand and great grandchildren. We will miss her.

William John Cahir

Filed under: Obituary — Chamberlain @ 1:42 pm

We have just learned that Hugh Law has recently lost a relative, a 40 year old soon-to-be father who was killed in Afghanistan where he was deployed in the Marine Corps. The marine was Bill Cahir (pronounced ‘care’), a Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient, whose story is inspirational.

In 2001 Bill was working in Washington D.C. as a correspondent for Newhouse News. After 9/11, at age 34, he told his father that he wanted to do something meaningful and he joined the Marine Corps. Because of his age he had to request an exception to the age restriction for enlistees. This was granted and Bill subsequently served two tours of duty in Iraq, first in Ramadi 2004-2005, then in Fallujah 2006-2007. During these deployments he received three military awards, a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, and two Combat Action Ribbons.

In 2006, Bill married Hugh Law’s cousin, Rene Brown. Hugh and Katherine attended their wedding, a photo from which is included below.

On August 13, 2009 Bill was shot while in an offensive operation in a town called Dananeh, in Helmand Province. Bill’s job had been described as “a community organizer while carrying a pack and a rifle.” The marines were securing the town to allow voting in the Afgan presidential election. Tragically, Rene had just learned that she was pregnant with twin girls.

Hugh has provided this link to a slideshow of Bill’s Arlington funeral and adds this commentary:

Rene’s escort is Bill’s captain, Jason Bresler, his commanding officer in Iraq and Afghanistan and one of the ushers at their wedding. An FDNY fireman in civilian life, he [Jason] was supported by five of his colleagues who came down in their dress blues from his firehouse in the Bronx to support him in getting through the funeral ceremonies and his eulogy afterwards at the Ft. Meyer officers’ club. He speaks briefly in the previous video I sent.

… Rene … was graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Duke, served as an editor on the Georgetown Law Journal, was a clerk to a federal judge on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, and is now a business litigator at Hogan & Hartson, on extended maternity leave. But these credentials are overshadowed by her personal qualities: first-class temperament and character, as well as intellect. She has a calm that borders on serenity and allows her to entertain family and take care of her babies with an awareness of everything that is going on. Her answer to Ann Curry’s question whether she regretted her husband’s enlisting, even now, sticks with me: “No. The character that motivated Bill was such an integral part of his being. His moral compass always pointed true North. That was why I loved him.” May we all be regretted in that fashion by those near to us when we are gone.



Here are some photos of Bill, his family, his wife Rene, and his Arlington funeral. Our hearts go out to Rene, Bill’s parents and siblings, and to Hugh and Katherine.

Bill with his parents after
basic training at Paris Island.

Rene and Bill’s Engagement picture

The 2006 wedding at a colonial church in Alexandria
Katherine and Hugh were there. Dress blues and a Vera Wang gown!

In Afghanistan, deployed with his reservist Civic Affairs Group
in support of combat operations in Helmand province.

At Arlington National Cemetery last September
Rene, Bill’s parents, sisters and brother.

Hugh’s reflections apply: “Who was it who said: ‘We cry when we enter the world. We should live our lives so that the world cries when we leave it”?

Bill Cahir’s Wikipedia bio is available here. A memorial fund has been established – the Bill Cahir Memorial Fund, Box 268, Alexandria, Va. 22313, as well as a web site for donations to the family.

For Jack

Filed under: Family Updates,Obituary — Chamberlain @ 1:49 pm

The Cromie family is planning a memorial service for Jack at St Vincents Church in Albany New York on Saturday Nov 28th at 10am. The Cromie children will do readings at Mass, and the Pie Jesu will be performed by Dan Cromie as well. Family and friends are welcome.

At Moone Athy, Charlie Judy is organizing a Jack Cromie Trailblazing Day. This will be held on Sunday November 15th, at 10:00AM. Charlie has posted an evite to the family for this event. We are looking forward to this day in the woods in memory of Jack.

Finally, at the suggestion of Helene Tatum, we have included William Cromie’s beautiful memorial for Jack in our Library’s Encomia section (‘My Brother Jack’, in sidebar, on right). You can read it here.

Onboard The France, June 1974. Jack, Clare, Cynthia and Dan
Jack already a source of wonderment for his sister Clare

A Triolet from Jack

Filed under: Obituary,Poems — Chamberlain @ 3:15 pm

“Trivial” was not part of Jack Cromie’s vocabulary. Nothing he did could be described as such. Among many other pursuits he read and wrote poetry with passion. Here is an exquisite triolet*, an example of Jack’s poetry that Bill and Cynthia printed out for his memorial gathering:

cycles spinning, starry-eyed – a triolet

Only you remain constant, true
beneath the lowering sky
a spreading Red Maple of refuge
only you still remain constant, true
vital anchor in whirling seasons
broad steady and all encompassing
only you remain constant, true
beneath the lowering sky

We will reminisce about him for awhile. Add recollections and photos if you’d like. Here’s a photo from years ago….

* From Wikipedia: A triolet is a one stanza poem of eight lines. Its rhyme scheme is ABaAabAB and often all lines are in iambic tetrameter: the first, fourth and seventh lines are identical, as are the second and final lines, thereby making the initial and final couplets identical as well.

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