The following is an excerpt from the eulogy delivered by her son, Sydnor Thompson III.
The world knew her as Harriette, that amazing 94-year-old who runs marathons and performs concerts, but for us she was Mother, Mutti, Grams, Mimi. In recent years, it seemed the whole world fell in love with Harriette, even TV newscasters. And that was fine; our family was happy to share her!
Mother woke up each day choosing joy. It’s not that she never faced adversity, of course. She fought mouth cancer for years. She was under hospice care when I deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 and I thought I’d never see her again – but she was still around when I got back a year later, stronger than ever.
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For two years she struggled with a wound in her leg, the result of radiation burns incurred while treating squamous cell carcinoma. And last year, she had titanium plates screwed on to her cheek bones that replaced her upper jaw and held her mouth obturator in place.
But she faced the challenges life threw at her with the same strength and resolve with which she approached performing a concert or running a marathon.
Where did this tiny woman get such strength? A college friend once told her how much prettier she looked when she smiled. She said, “of course I wanted to look pretty, so I started smiling more, like the proverbial Cheshire cat!” And she noticed people were smiling back. Now they looked pretty!
She believed the byproduct of all that smiling was the development of a strong, positive attitude. And her smiling often led to laughter; mother had a wonderful sense of humor and laughed easily, especially at her own expense.
She blessed the lives of people all over the world. Our family has received so many beautiful tributes. Greg Anderson, Chaplain Emeritus for the Aspen Chapel wrote, “Harriette is the most remarkable person I have ever known. She had boundless energy coupled with grace, humility and extreme kindness… We are a better chapel because of Harriette and I am a better person because of Harriette.”
Mother also made a significant mark in Charlotte. She spent a lifetime cultivating the arts and was especially dedicated to the Community School of the Arts, serving as a lifetime member of its board, raising funds, and of course, teaching piano to students, many of whom would otherwise never have had that opportunity.
My mother was a woman of strong faith. She loved her church, choir and Sunday School class – but her faith took her far beyond these walls. She was a fixture at the Assistance League Thrift Shop, and every Thursday morning in recent years, she would go to feed the homeless downtown.
Some years ago, I remember running a 5K race with mother and my family at McAlpine Park. I’m probably the only person on earth who has had the experience of having his 90-year-old mother pass him in a 5K race! But she did it with grace, patting me on the back as she ran by. That’s what happened when she died. Harriette patted us on the back as she ran on ahead to the finish line, where one day we will join her.
Near the end, my brother made a typo in sending a family email, typing “subs” when he meant “sibs.” But maybe “subs” was right. We’re the substitutes who have been called into the game. It’s now up to us to take up the torch and finish the race.
The night before mom’s death, my sister Harriet leaned over and asked her, “Do you need anything?” Mother responded with her last words, “Everything’s fine.” Could anything be more beautiful or consoling for us now?
Let’s remember that going forward. Let’s place our trust in the God in whom my mother placed her trust. Let’s face the adversities of life with her confidence and her sense of optimism. Let’s love one another, even as we have been loved by Harriette Line Thompson and by our Lord Jesus Christ. And may we leave this place smiling, celebrating Harriette’s magnificent life, and trusting that indeed, “everything’s fine.”