Rarely do guests at funerals “buy” officiants’ claims that we “gather together to celebrate the life of (blank).” You fill in the blank. We’ve all “been there, heard that.”
Most are prone to think of funerals as marking ends rather than beginnings. Usually, grief engulfs us, dragging us far below the state of joy we’d prefer. Our spirits don’t seem to be on wings of eagles, soaring across sun-splashed skies.
To attend two funerals a couple of days apart for giants who’ve completed long lives of meritorious service, one is fortunate indeed. Both had nothing left to prove professionally. C. A. Roberson, 88, served Tarrant County College for 30 years, the last seven as chancellor, and Dorothy Estes, 90, toiled for 27 years as student publications director at the University of Texas at Arlington.
There were countless reasons to celebrate both lives. Their combined years in education exceeded 100. At UTA, the feisty Estes won tons of awards, and so did her students who turned out the student newspaper, The Shorthorn. (More than 600 of her journalism graduates are in the communications field.)
A few miles away at TCC, Roberson was the longest-serving senior administrator in the college’s history, on hand when the institution’s South Campus opened to 4,272 students, then overseer of construction of four additional campuses before retiring in 1996. (Today, TCC enrolls some 100,000 students annually in credit and non-credit courses.) He was a “go-to” man for college presidents, trustees, faculty, students and even the Texas Legislature. In the 1960s, he developed the funding formula that’s still largely in place to determine allocations for the state’s public two-year institutions.
He started early. Roberson was business manager of San Angelo College at age 20, and was dean of students at Sul Ross State College at 23. (Now, Angelo State and Sul Ross State Universities.)
They both loved humor, albeit in different ways. Dorothy laughed with total abandon. Roberson, more subdued, restricted “rollicking” largely to his innards.
At each service, I was “on the lookout” for amusing scenes or situations, and I lucked out.
At Dorothy’s funeral, much was “Episcopalian boilerplate.” The priest read from his own material in “The Collect,” during which he prayed on behalf of “thy servant Dorothy.” The rest of us read silently from the program; however, it listed “Eleanor” instead of “Dorothy.” I thought of her endless “hammering” for students to “get names right,” since many people make the newspaper just twice—at birth and death. What irony. It turned out that Eleanor’s funeral had occurred a few days earlier, but the program names weren’t changed. Dorothy would have laughed herself into a smothering spell.
For a smile at Roberson’s service, the “yolk” was on me. He would have “thigh-slapped” at my misadventure. Upon reaching the church parking lot, I noticed five identically-marked spaces near the main entrance.
Upon first reading, I thought the spaces to be reserved for “DR BETTER.” Hmmmm, could the minister’s name be “Better?” But, why would he need five parking spaces? Closer inspection revealed a more likely message: “70 OR BETTER.” I was egg-faced.
Okay. Show me a man with his head held high, and I’ll show you one unaccustomed to his bi-focals.
Speaking of bi-focals, here’s a story from a car rental place, where Roberson and his predecessor, Dr. Joe B. Rushing, were flummoxed, unable to extinguish a dash light.
They summoned the rental car guy; he quickly assessed the situation.
“That light means ‘high beam’,” he said.
I learned much from Estes and Roberson, admiring greatly her master teaching and his administrative expertise.
Another with keen memories is Bill Moyers, public television personality and President Lyndon B. Johnson’s press secretary. In Marshall, Junior High, he sat in Dorothy’s first class. She probably helped him with his eventual journalistic credo: “When at all possible, tell the truth. But, never lie.”