I set out to write an obituary about my mother, who died Nov. 15, and was taken aback by how much she never accomplished in her 94 years.
At least that’s how it seemed when her life was viewed in contrast with that of my better-known dad, Allen Funt, who invented “Candid Camera” and whose numerous accomplishments have been well documented.
Evelyn Funt never graduated from college, because she couldn’t afford the tuition at Northwestern University and too often found herself falling asleep on the bus heading to and from evening classes after working all day to support her family in Chicago. Yet, her quest for knowledge was remarkable. At age six she showed up in an elementary school classroom despite having been told she was too young to attend — and somehow persuaded the teacher to let her stay.
Learning became a passion. She read more books and newspapers, completed more crossword puzzles, visited more museums and attended more scholarly lectures than anyone I know.
Her first significant job, at the Chicago American newspaper, was doomed from the start. She was hired during World War II with the understanding that whenever the man she had replaced returned from military service, she would step aside — no matter how accomplished her work — and give him his job back.
She was a skilled painter, who never took an art lesson. She was a talented writer, who was never published. She was a spiritual person with little interest in organized religion. She was a volunteer for numerous worthy causes, yet her name never appeared on lists of philanthropists.
Mom was a progressive thinker and gave her time to campaign for local politicians, but she was willing to lick envelopes and knock on doors. She didn’t give speeches.
During 18 years of marriage she lived in the shadow of my famous father. She put personal aspirations aside to raise three kids and support whatever dad was doing.
It is fashionable nowadays to define successful women by relatively new standards involving achievements in business, politics, sports and things often lumped together as feminism. My mother was measured by the metrics of a different era.
Mom wasn’t a lot of things, but she was this: the nicest person I’ve ever met. I don’t recall her doing a single mean-spirited thing in her life. Ever.
She was fond of a passage attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson (although the credit is not entirely clear) called “Success.” It says, in part: “To laugh often and love much; to win the respect of intelligent persons…to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others.” And, most of all: “…to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition.”
Perhaps in those words you see some of your mother. And, like me as I consider the life of Evelyn Funt, you conclude:
Oh, my. My mom accomplished so much!
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker. His book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com.©2014 Peter Funt. Columns distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons, Inc., newspaper syndicate.