Saturday, June 14, 2008

Remembering Edith Derby Williams on Flag Day

Today is June 14, Flag Day, 2008. On this beautiful Saturday morning, my family is travelling from Bozeman, Montana, to Yellowstone National Park in Northwestern Wyoming. Along for the ride are my wife of nearly 21 years, Jenny, and my daughter, Sam, just turned 10. The golden retriever, Faith, is part of the family, too.

June 14 has always been a big day in my family. My brother, Joshua, was born on this day in 1975. Two years later, little sister, Joy was born on the same day. Mom and Dad planned the home delivery in Hollywood, California, but they hadn’t planned on the doctor and the midwife being stuck in L.A. traffic. When Pops caught Joy it must have been a sign that she would be a handful. Josh thought it was a real swell birthday present. Flag Day was also my Grandpa and Grandma Prager’s wedding anniversary, the same for their son, George & Vicki Prager, married that same day, and the birth date in 1975 of their daughter, cousin Heidi, forever young as she died of Long QT in 1989.

Today, the nation remembers a patriot. Edith Derby Williams was born in 1917, the daughter of surgeon Richard Derby and Ethel Roosevelt Derby, daughter of President Theodore Roosevelt. Mrs. Williams passed away on Sunday, nearly a week before her ninety-first birthday. Her life will be celebrated at her funeral today, on her beloved Vashon Island in the state of Washington.
Edith, named for her grandmother, Edith Carow Roosevelt, was the second of four children born to the Derbys, though her older brother, Richard, Jr., died in 1922 at the age of eight of septicemia. While Mrs. Williams was too young to remember her grandfather, who passed away on January 6, 1919, before she was two years old, she is the subject of a photograph which I believe is one of the tenderest of T.R., the grandfather. The photo shows T.R. holding Edith, his eyes closed, his cheek lovingly embracing the baby’s.

In her long life, Mrs. Williams did much to serve her greater community, often standing up and giving leadership to the conservation movement her grandfather championed a century before. At the 1960 Republican National Convention, she gave a rousing seconding speech for the nomination of Richard Nixon. In 2000, she was still publishing op eds calling for greater safeguards of America’s unspoiled national forests.

We offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the life and the legacy of Edith Derby Williams, granddaughter to a president, wife, mother and grandmother to a family that still lives up to the call of Theodore Roosevelt:

“The true Christian is the true citizen, lofty of purpose, resolute of endeavor, ready for a hero’s deeds, but never looking down on his task because it is cast in the day of small things; scornful of baseness, awake to his own duties as well as to his rights, following the higher law with reverence, and in this world doing all that in him lies, so that when death comes he may feel that mankind is in some degree better because he has lived.” - to the Young Men’s Christian Association of New York City, March 1901.

Arriving at Roosevelt Arch, Yellowstone National Park, we celebrate Flag Day and remember the life of Edith Derby Williams. We give thanks for this daughter of Christian duty. Today, the flag flies a little higher, and, yes, mankind is in some degree better, for the life she lived.

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