Tribute to Pamela Corpron Parker
In Loving Memory and Honor of Pamela Corpron Parker, '81, Professor of English
By Jerry Sittser, Professor of Theology and Senior Fellow, Office of Church Engagement
Aug. 25, 2016, Memorial Service at Seeley Mudd Chapel
All of us feel a deep sense of absence and sadness in Pam's death. She developed friendships with so many people, such a wide variety of people. Yet, however sad, most of us are one or two steps removed from the epicenter of this loss. Not so for Rob, Danny, Luke and Amanda, or Doug and Betty, as well as the siblings and siblings-in-law, their spouses, and the nieces and nephews present here today. We wish you comfort, hope and faith as you bear the weight of this loss. We pledge our prayers and support. You feel the gravity and immensity of this in ways that we can't comprehend. Pam's death was untimely. In the natural order of things spouses should grow old together, children should die after their parents do, and parents should live to be old enough to see children married, if they so choose, and to welcome grandchildren into the world. We are so very sorry.
As we all know, Pam left an indelible imprint wherever she went. The word "imprint" is not quite right. It conjures up images of children pressing their hands in wet cement. That image does not work in this case because it is too uniform and uncreative. Pam was more like an artist leaving an imprint. She shaped things; she shaped many of us.
There was her garden, of course, which she shared so generously with us, thus tempting us with the sin of envy. There was her love for literature, especially but not exclusively Victorian literature, which she treated as only slightly lower in value than divine revelation. There was her enthusiastic leadership in the guild, in her department, and across the larger campus, often serving as a mentor. There was her love for family, friendship, conversation and debate.
Pam had opinions, as we all know, about pretty much everything, and she did not hesitate to share them. There was her capacity for wonder, her wicked sense of humor, and that sassy sparkle in her eye. There was her appreciation for food and her commitment to hospitality. How many of us here today sat around her dining room table, eating delicious Thai food, visiting with people whom we would have otherwise avoided. Pam was one interesting, complicated, lively, lovely human being.
I asked several people to write some reflections about Pam. Casey Andrews [English faculty member] noted her attentiveness to colleagues' spouses and families. She welcomed them into her life and home, and often inquired about them. She was incredibly hospitable. "For Pam, the personal was never excluded from the professional."
Jenny Brown [English faculty member] mentioned Pam's keen sensibilities, which made her alive to life and deeply aware of death, and of her readiness to take on the challenge of both, rooted as she was in Christian faith. Jenny wrote, "Pam trusted utterly in the love of God; in the water of baptism; in the bread and wine of communion, broken for all of us. She, a gardener, saw the earth ready to take her body. She, a lover of literature, saw the complex web of human love and relationship and motivation that she'd lived in all her life and was ready (and unready, too) to leave. She, a faithful Christian, saw the love that created her, ready to bear her soul like a tiny child to the love that awaits it now."
Carol Simon [provost & executive vice president] recounted the vivid revelation Pam had of the meaning of her life, which occurred just before she died. Not surprisingly, it had to do with relationships. She beheld concentric circles of close community: the inner circle of her nuclear family and extended family, of her friends and colleagues, of her students. "It was so beautiful it hurt my heart," Pam whispered. Carol sent this poem to Pam a day later, just shortly before Pam's death. It was written by the German mystic Mechtild of Magdeburg:
Of all that God has shown me,
I can speak just the smallest word,
No more than a honey bee
Takes on his foot
From an over-spilling jar.
Speaking as a close friend, as many of you were, I will add only this word. Pam had convictions, and she was not afraid to share them. But she held to them without sacrificing relationships. She was no ideologue. Conflict did not exact the cost of community. Pam built bridges, not walls. I was always impressed by the people I know who called her friend, though they would not choose to be friends with each other. This commitment, this habit really, reflected her belief in the gospel. As Paul wrote, "For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received our reconciliation." We plunge here to the very heart of Pam's life and faith. It was about the reconciling love of God, which turns enemies into friends: God with us, and then we with each other.
God comfort us with these words.
Our God and Father, we behold mystery today, the mystery of life and beauty and love, the mystery of death, with all its forsakenness and bewilderment, the mystery of the promised resurrection from the dead. In this mystery we turn to you, whom we know in the face of Jesus Christ.
We are grateful today, too. We thank you for Pam, the very human, gloriously human Pam – who she was as daughter and sister, wife and mother, friend and colleague, teacher and scholar. Thank you for her life and legacy. Thank you for the imprint she left on our lives. Thank you for her faith and witness, her many loves, especially for people. Thank you for her belief in the gospel, which promises us a life that cannot be defeated by sin, sickness, suffering and death. We celebrate Pam today. She was a gift to us.
But there is more than a feeling of mystery and gratitude in us today. There is also deep sadness, longing and emptiness. We will miss her, Lord. You see that in us even more than we do, for you know us better than we know ourselves. We pray comfort, hope and steadiness into Pam's family, into Doug and his wife, Betty, into Rob, Luke, Danny, Amanda and Alma, into brothers and sisters, in-laws, their children. They absorb this loss the most directly, the most profoundly. They need you. Be strength and wisdom and safety to them in their struggle of soul and sorrow. Be home and belonging to them. Be hope and love for them. Draw them to yourself through Christ.
At such times as this we all need comfort, Lord. We all need hope. We all need the gospel. Cultivate these gifts in us as the master gardener that you are. Make us your garden. Make us beautiful and fruitful, as only you can do, as you have done now so perfectly in Pam.
We pray this prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.