(What started out as a simple blog entry concerning the passing of Marjorie Chase turned into a eulogy a few minutes before the memorial service began. I was honored to be asked to speak. I thought you'd like to learn more about a remarkable woman.)
There's only one person I've ever called "Mom" over the years, not counting my real mother. That would be Marge Chase. Over the last couple of decades, when I'd call her up at home for one reason for another, I'd always say "Hi, Mom" when she answered, and she'd always reply, "How are you doing, Sonny boy?"
Ma Chase and I went way back. She remembered the start better than I did. Ma said to son Kevin at a Clarence basketball game one night in 1973, "Who is the guy walking around with a tape recorder?" That would be me, practicing for some sort of career in journalism. I believe Kevin was ordered to make an introduction that night.
I probably made my first visit to Clarence Center shortly after that. I always felt comfortable whenever I dropped by. Husband John, by acclimation the nicest guy on earth, and Marge always seemed to welcome the company. They were genuinely interested in what Kevin's friends were doing, as opposed to merely tolerating the kids like most of the other parents did.
Ma Chase worked on the schools' board of education for many years, rising to president at one point. While she didn't personally hand me my diploma, I remember the way she asked me a string of questions about my educational experience after I had graduated. I think I was the only graduate that year to receive an exit interview. It was nice to have my opinion taken so seriously at the age of 17.
Once Kevin went off to college, the number of visits to the Long St. address started to drop off. First they were limited to holidays and summer vacations. Then as Kevin settled down in Connecticut, I'd only see him on Long St. once or twice a year ... but I stopped by every so often anyway, just to get a friendly greeting from the Chases and perhaps consume one of Ma Chase's famous Mexican sundaes.
One visit in particular stands out. Two friends and I dropped by to say hello, and Mr. and Mrs. Chase were entertaining the Burkes. Mr. Burke had just been named the President of American Steamship, I believe. Some would have politely chased us away. Some would have had us stay a while. Only Ma Chase would order us into the den and have us write a musical tribute to Mr. Burke's promotion. I believe the first two lines were, "God bless our President, he's king of steam." We all were given a couple of beers for our efforts, which probably was more than the song and our singing deserved.
John passed away about 11 years ago, but there was no worry that Marge would be lonely from that point. She had a huge network of friends in Clarence. Indeed, she often told you what they were doing ... if you knew them or not. Ma certainly had a more active social life than almost anyone I knew. We'd exchange post cards from our trips, and I think she sent more than she received.
In the past eight years, my most important role in her life was that of providing free technical support for computer problems. Kevin gave her a desktop around 2001, and she took to it quite well. It was another way to keep up with everyone from friends around town to grandchildren. When something went wrong, I got a frantic call from her, saying she had been on the phone for an hour with someone from Dell and couldn't solve the problem. Usually the problem was a simple one, making me look smart when I fixed it in 10 minutes. Based on her experience, she thought that if this journalism gig didn't work out for me, there would always be a job waiting in the computer service business.
My favorite story about Ma Chase came fairly recently. I was working at the newspaper earlier this year when I heard about a plane crash in Clarence Center. I called her at about 11:30 at night and she answered the phone -- that old rotary phone in the kitchen was still working -- and said she was all right. I asked her if she had called Kevin in Connecticut to tell him she was fine. She said no, it was kind of late and he'd be sleeping. After I hung up, I asked myself, "How close does a plane have to crash before she would call Kevin to let him know she was O.K.?" When I asked Kevin that question the next morning, he said he wasn't sure where the line was -- whether it was Erie County, or Clarence, or Clarence Center -- but he was pretty sure Long Street was within that radius.
Ma had a massive stroke on Wednesday morning, and she was taken off life support and died on Wednesday night. It was a peaceful, quick ending; we all should be so lucky. I have no doubt that she would have been the most miserable physical therapy patient around. As another of Kevin's close friends, Glenn Locke, said, when you've lived independently until the age of 90, you don't go asking for a do-over. And when Kevin and I drove past the cemetery in Clarence Center where John is buried late Wednesday night, I said, "John, don't expect to do any talking until about, oh, May. Marge has a lot to tell you about."
It's difficult to sum up Ma Chase in a word or two. Energetic? Dynamo? Force of nature? The best way might be to do it this way: Most of your friends' parents over the years are merely your friends' parents. Ma Chase became a friend, period. We celebrate a life well spent.
Marjorie Chase's obituary can be read here.