A Woman Worth Knowing

The call from the staff came at 9:46 AM: Florence had lost her ability to swallow.  Things progressed quickly from there.

I’m glossing over the details now, the things that all families go through in the final days.  It’s too raw right now.  The main thing is that her husband and I sat with her and told her we loved her.  We sang to her, we read to her the passages she’d marked in her bible.  He told her she’d always be his girl, and it was okay if she died; I told her I’d take care of her beloved husband, always.

Five days later, with her husband at her side, she (to paraphrase the hospice nurse) got a better offer and she took it.

I delivered her eulogy this morning, and I share it here because like all people with dementia, she was far more than a diagnosis.  She was a woman worth knowing.


Fay Florence Lillegard Olson (August 15, 1928-July 9, 2014)

I am so afraid I am going to forget to say important things about Fay, something essential to her nature.  I remember the first time I met her, July 23, 2011.  I was talking to George, and Fay came in from getting her hair done.  She threw her arms around George’s neck and said, “I missed you so much!”  Fay and George just belonged together, and anyone who saw them together got that.

Fay was called Home to be with the Lord Wednesday, July 9, 2014, after an 11 year battle with Alzheimer’s disease.  She is survived by the husband she adored for nearly 59 years, George H. Olson of Salem, OR.

Fay was born in Stevenson, WA to Granville and Florence Lillegard, with whom she is now joyfully reunited.  She has also joined her brother Edward, and is survived by her brother Daniel and his wife Judy, of Stevenson, WA; her sister Lois Hunt of Summerland, BC, Canada; and several nephews and nieces.

Fay graduated Stevenson High School in 1946 and then Western Business College in Portland OR in 1950.  After working for a credit agency for a year, Fay took a clerk position at Bonneville Power Administration in 1951.  Fearing layoffs at BPA, Fay went to work at the Department of Agriculture in 1953.

However, she had noticed a fellow clerk at BPA and just couldn’t seem to get him off her mind.  Fay was a patient woman:  After waiting two years for him two notice her, she finally took matters into her own hands and arranged for a friend to set them up on a blind date.

So it was that in August 1955, Fay and George went to Washington Park for their date with destiny.  George realized immediately that Fay was the one for him.  They were engaged in October and married December 30, 1955.  As George tells it, “I’m sure the speed raised some eyebrows, but I thought I better hurry and seal the deal before she came to her senses!”

Fay was a talented seamstress and made her own wedding dress, although George says it wasn’t by choice.  She had picked out the dress of her dreams, but her mom told her the $50 price tag was outside the budget.

After marrying at Stevenson Methodist Church, George and Fay went to Vancouver, BC, for a weekend honeymoon.  This was the occasion of their first fight [George says it was the first of about three, ever] and also kicked off a lifetime of travel adventures, including their “real” honeymoon the following summer, in which they visited six western states in three weeks.

Fay and George enjoyed camping, riding bikes, taking long walks, entertaining and playing games with friends, and spoiling their dogs.  Fay was an accomplished career woman at BPA—which she returned to shortly after marrying George—and made those around her shine; her boss even went on to become Secretary of the Interior.

Fay was a brilliant investor and planner; talented and creative homemaker; excellent cook, quilter, and tole painter.  She really enjoyed gardening, which to her meant looking out the window and watching George tend the yard.

Fay loved bird watching, was a devoted Bible scholar with an extensive collection of Bibles, volunteered at church, and read virtually anything she could get her hands on.  Fay played the piano and dabbled at playing the organ.  She loved music and seemed to know every song of any genre, signing along and tapping her hands and feet.  Doris Day was her favorite.

But as much as Fay loved her family, friends, and leisure pursuits, her one true love was George Henry Olson.  Fay adored George, taking every opportunity to spoil him and use not only words but affectionate action to show how much he meant to her.

Alzheimer’s disease did not steal her essential nature, her sweetness.  She was a smart, funny, loving, kind, warm woman with a serious nature; George brought out the lighter side in her.

Fay will be sorely missed.


And it was my privilege to know her.


Christy Turner is the founder of DementiaSherpa.com and has enjoyed the privilege of working with 1,123 people living with dementia and their families. Follow on Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, and YouTube. Content varies across platforms.