For 50 years, our sister-in-law, Kaye Terry Hanson, was at the top of Joyce’s and my best-friend-list, and for the last nearly a year, the three of us had daily morning scripture reading via telephone. Admittedly, our morning get-together was often mostly conversation mingled with scripture.
Joyce’s oldest sister, Shirley, had been terminally ill a long time, and Thursday, September 22, 2016, she passed away in American Fork, Utah. The next morning, when Kaye called for our daily session, Joyce was on her cellphone with her surviving sisters planning Shirley’s funeral, so Kaye and I just talked. My feelings were tender as I talked about Shirley and the extraordinary blessing Joyce’s never-married sister had been to our family. Then I told Kaye, a divorced single mother, how much I loved her and how grateful I was for the uncounted gifts of time and counsel and just plain love she had so consistently and graciously given me. A tearful conversation.
That evening, Kaye sat in her chair reading a book, The Chosen by Shlomo Kalo, when her mortal stay abruptly and unexpectedly ended. She closed her eyes and peacefully slipped away.
We attended two funerals in Utah that next week. Shirley’s was on Monday and was befitting a woman whose life had been filled with service and whose focus was on her family. Her cousin, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, spoke, and another cousin, Linda Margetts, organist for the Tabernacle Choir, provided the music. A mini-general conference.
Kaye’s funeral was on Friday. The stake center was filled almost to the stage when Virginia (Ginny) Pearce, daughter of President Hinkley, gave the eulogy. She spoke about Kaye’s chronic bout with rheumatic fever as a child, her mother dying from a freak accident when Kaye was on her mission, and Kaye’s divorce and raising her two children as a single mother. She reminded the congregation of Kaye’s struggle with breast cancer and double mastectomy, and of her latest health challenges with neuropathy, blood clots, and heart irregularities. Then she told us just a few things that Kaye had done—all since her divorce. She was a professor at BYU, her PhD in Theater History. She taught religion classes and communications in the MBA department and was associate director of that world-renowned program. She served as associate director of the BYU Jerusalem Center and was on the Young Women’s General Board for the LDS Church. She traveled all over the world giving seminars on communications to leaders of businesses and organizations and spoke at BYU’s Education Week and at a BYU Devotional. She led tours to Israel and served as a full time senior missionary in Europe where she worked with young adults throughout the continent and the British Isles. She was an author, a Relief Society president, a Sunday School teacher. And most important, she was an exceptional mother and grandmother and friend.
As Ginny reviewed the accomplishments and challenges of this singular woman, my thoughts went back to a day Ginny didn’t know about. One morning, some 40 years ago, Kaye came to our house in southern California. The day before, we had been to her home for Thanksgiving dinner. What she told us was life-shattering. After everyone had gone Thanksgiving evening, her husband gathered together some of his clothes, told her he no longer loved her, and left.
Joyce and I sat stunned. “What am I going to do?” Kaye cried, thinking about her two little children and her own just thrown-under-a-bus circumstance. “I can’t even get a job at McDonald’s!”
There was nothing in my limited understanding I could draw on to even begin to console her, but the Spirit put words into my mouth: “I don’t know how, but I promise you if you keep your covenants and focus on the Savior, this will redound to your blessing.”
The impossible promise happened.
At the funeral, after Ginny spoke, Kaye’s grandchildren paid tributes to their grandmother and her two children spoke eloquently and powerfully. Then we all had one of the experiences of a lifetime. Nine of the great women of the LDS Church, all who had served with Kaye when she was on the Young Women’s general board, stood in a line across the stand, and one-by-one came to the microphone and told how Kaye had blessed her life. That group included former General Young Women Presidents, Margaret Nadauld and Elaine Dalton; former General Relief Society President, Julie Beck; and, former temple matrons, and counselors in general auxiliary presidencies. Their presence and what they said was electrifying.
I spoke, and I asked all in the congregation who had been taught or tutored or mentored by Kaye to stand. Nearly all 700+ who were there rose to their feet. An overwhelming witness of the influence this woman had on the lives of countless.
A few nights before the funeral, Joyce and I went to dinner with Julie Beck and her husband Ramon. The conversation centered around Kaye. With great emotion, and in detail, Julie told us how Kaye had taught and trained her. Then she said, “If it hadn’t been for Kaye Hanson, I would never have been qualified to serve as General President of the Relief Society.”
All this from a woman who couldn’t get a job at McDonald’s and would never have occurred but for a crushing Thanksgiving event nearly 40 years ago.