Thursday, December 30, 2010

Today, I said goodbye to my mother

Joyce Helen French Robertson Moring
May 26, 1930 - December 29, 2010

She wasn't famous, but she did play the piano.  By ear.  And pretty good at that.  She also sang, with a clear, pleasant voice, on key, but in a baritone range.  She always said it was because of a tonsillectomy she had relatively late in life, but I suspect it really was the years of smoking.

My mother ended her battle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) yesterday.  The past year had been especially tough, as dementia took hold of her brain in late 2009, with a brief but not complete respite during the summer months of 2010.  Although her memory was not reliable, she never "forgot who we were" - well, she did call me by my late father's name once, but just once - and just this past Monday morning I took my laptop computer to the hospital to show her the video I had shot of our family Christmas Eve get-together.  She watched the video, pointing out her great-grandchildren and commenting on how pretty the decorations were.  She was unable to come home for Christmas, and my brother, his son's family, and I had worked until the morning of Christmas Eve to decorate the house for the gathering.

Mama loved Christmas.  She loved the music.  She loved the decorations.  Oh, how she loved the decorations.  Candles in the windows, wreaths on the shutters and on the big front door, at least two hand-painted ceramic manger scenes displayed throughout the house, all the knick-knacks packed up and replaced with special Christmas knick-knacks, and two Christmas trees.  One "real", and one aluminum tree.  When aluminum trees fell out of fashion, We just had a "real" one, which was eventually replaced with a tasteful artificial green tree.

Christmas 1962.  I'm the cute one..

The console stereo in the living room would be fitted with a stack of Christmas LPs: Floyd Cramer, the Lennon Sisters, Ferrante and Teicher, Andy Williams, Roger Williams, and the Organ and Chimes of Robert Rheims.  We wore out at least three copies of that organ and chimes record through the years.

I think my childhood love of music came from the Christmas season, from the lush harmonies and orchestrations of the records she played during that time of the year.  As I grew older, I found these lush sounds in the music of my piano lessons - Chopin, Debussy, Beethoven, Bartok.  Mama never really cared much for most of the classical music I played, but she supported me just the same.

After a few years of spiritual wandering, I returned to church music in August of 2006, taking a post as pianist in a small United Methodist Church in Franklin, Georgia.  My affiliation with this church went back a long way, as many of their members' children had studied with me.  I am still there and thankful for that congregation, and its pastor, Rev. Brett Mathews.

Anytime I played for family gatherings, Mama would say, "Now, play my piece".  In three recitals that I performed in churches, she asked me to play "her" piece as an encore, and I did.  When she became ill, I dropped it from my repertoire.  An incident happened at my church recently, and I felt led to play the piece as a special music offering, without having practiced or played it in over ten months.  After church, I made the video below.

Mama, can you hear me? 

(Andrae Crouch's My Tribute (To God Be the Glory) - modeled after Dino Kartsonakis' arrangement)

JULY 2011 UPDATE:  I wrote an arrangement of a song Mama made up as a young girl and often played for me.  That story, and a link to a video performance, may be found here.

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Joyce Helen French Robertson Moring

(ROANOKE, ALABAMA) The funeral for Joyce Helen French Robertson Moring, 80, of Roanoke was held at 1 p.m., Friday, Dec. 31, 2010, at First United Methodist Church with the Rev. Steve Baccus officiating.  Burial followed in Randolph Memory Gardens.  Mrs. Moring died Wednesday, Dec. 29, at Randolph Medical Center, after a long battle with chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder.

Mrs. Moring was born May 26, 1930, the daughter of James Monroe and Mary Ella Sikes French. She was a member of Roanoke First United Methodist Church, had been a homemaker, and managed a family business, Bob's Grocery.

Mrs. Moring is survived by one daughter, Deborah Ann (husband Paul) McMurray of Roanoke; two sons, H.G. "Robbie" Robertson and Richard Earl "Rick" Robertson of Roanoke; two sisters, LaVelle Langley of Roanoke and Frances Johnson of McDonough, Ga.; seven grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

Mrs. Moring was preceded in death by her husband of 24 years (1947-1971), Hansard "Bob" Robertson; her husband of 30 years (1977-2007), Douglas Grice Moring; her parents; and nine other brothers and sisters.

Pallbearers were Harry Botsford, Bobby Robertson, Steven Robertson, Gus McMurray, Will McMurray, Gilbert L. Huey Jr., David Cummings, and Steve Cummings.

Quattlebaum Funeral Home, Roanoke.

A picture from 1947, the year she married my father.  The picture is inscribed to him on the back.

September 19, 2009. The day Robbie and I brought Cookie home to her new Mama. In a month the decline began and Mama was in the hospital. But hey, you're looking at a 79-year-old woman in this picture, and that's her real hair color.  I still have Cookie, and she is a comfort to a lonely old piano teacher.


  1. I'm so sorry for your loss. The Robertson family will be in my thoughts. Y'all have unfortunately had losses of the far too young and the aged. Nothing magic to add but you know y/our community will rally around you all. John Gunn

  2. Rick you done an outstanding job. Your mom was proud of each and everyone of you. I no what your going through there is not a day that goes by that I don't think of my mother. We will see them again one day. I am praying for you to get thru these dark days.


  4. Thank you for honoring you mother and other mother-friends in this special way. I was glad to read about them and especially about your mother and her love of music. You expressed this tribute so beautifully.
    Know she was proud of you!!
    S. Dempsey

  5. Wow! I am proud to be the big sis of such an amazing musician! I love you.