The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Eulogy for a Great Southern Lady

Posted on | July 4, 2022 | 1 Comment

With my Aunt Pat Huber, May 2019

(My cousin Trish asked me to give a eulogy for my Aunt Pat Huber at the memorial service July 2 in Mableton, Georgia.)

The Roman poet Ovid said, “If you want to be loved, be lovable.” And I think everyone who knew Pat Huber would agree that she was a very lovable person. She was kind, she was generous and courteous, she was cheerful and optimistic. A smile was her natural expression, and she was capable of laughing even amid sorrow and hardship.
When I spoke to Trish about what I should say today, I mentioned that Aunt Pat reminded me of Melanie Wilkes in Gone With the Wind, the epitome of a gracious old-fashioned Southern lady. Like Miss Melanie, Aunt Pat never had a bad word for anyone and lived up to that ancient maxim of good manners, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing all.”
Trish laughed when she said her mother tried to raise her and Deborah to be nice Southern ladies, but perhaps not with as much success as she’d hoped. For me as a boy, a visit to Aunt Pat’s was always a pleasure, going over to play with my cousin Mark, and begging to spend the night. I was a rambunctious chatterbox of a boy, and I got on people’s nerves, but Aunt Pat was always so sweet to me. Then one Saturday morning after I’d spent the night, Mark and I were playing when he was supposed to be doing his chores. She chewed him out real good, and I was shocked: I had never in my whole life seen Aunt Pat angry.
Aunt Pat was the last living member of my parent’s generation. She was born on a farm in Randolph County, Alabama, in 1933, the second of three sisters born to Hermit and Eucal Kirby. My mother Frances McCain was the oldest of the Kirby girls and Aunt Barbara Ellis was the youngest. A sociologist might observe that there was a tendency toward matrilineal affiliation in this family. For example, we always attended the Fincher Clan reunion at Big Springs, an association owed to the fact that Grandma Kirby’s mother was a Fincher. And at holidays in my youth, the gathering was always of the three Kirby sisters and their children.
A mother is the heart of a home, and because my own mother died when I was 16, I have a deep appreciation for the maternal qualities in which Aunt Pat excelled. I was always welcome at her home, and any time I’d visit, she’d insist I stay for dinner. When I had first started dating Lou Ann, I took her down to meet my Dad and brothers, and then I took her to meet Aunt Pat. Lou Ann said it was after meeting Aunt Pat that she decided to marry me, so certainly I owe her that debt of gratitude.
Aunt Pat’s two-storey home on Pleasant Drive was the closest thing to a mansion in our family, and a symbol of how far hard work can take you in life. That a girl who grew up in rural Alabama during the Depression could live in such a fine home is truly the American Dream. And I think some of Aunt Pat’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren have no idea what her life was like growing up. Trish and Deborah and the rest of us in our generation grew up hearing stories of what life was like back then in those days of dirt roads and Franklin Roosevelt. “Y’all kids don’t know how good you’ve got it,” our parents would say. “When I was a kid …” And then we’d hear a tale of shocking hardship. Our parents had to walk five miles to school – uphill both ways! Barefoot! In the snow! Or so we were expected to believe. We can laugh about it now, but the hardship of life back then was very real. Poverty was so widespread in rural Alabama in the 1930s that it was more or less universal. Aunt Pat would say, “We didn’t know we were poor – everybody was poor!”
The Kirby family actually wasn’t as poor as some of their neighbors. Grandpa Kirby was a very hard-working man, and when World War II came along, he got a job working in the shipyards in Brunswick, Georgia. Grandma Kirby joined him there, working in the canteen that served meals to the shipyard workers. They left their daughters in the care of Grandma Kirby’s parents on the farm in Alabama, so that Aunt Pat was largely raised by her grandparents, Elisha and Maude Moses. Aunt Pat and her sisters knew the value of hard work, and they knew the importance of family. We take care of our own.
As a teenager, slender young blonde Pat Kirby caught the eye of a dark-haired fellow from LaGrange named Ervin Huber. He was a cotton mill worker, three years older than Aunt Pat, and rode a motorcycle. Try to picture 20-year-old Ervin Huber roaring around on a motorcycle in 1950, and then imagine what a reaction that caused for the parents of a nice Baptist girl from Randolph County girl. Love conquers all, however, and Grandma Kirby gave her consent to the marriage on one condition, that Pat graduate from Randolph County High School before the wedding.
Ervin and Pat Huber were married for 42 years until his death in 1992. I’ve often thought of how remarkable Uncle Ervin’s career was. After they moved to Atlanta, while Ervin was working in the mill there, he took a home-study course in electronics, and got hired by Rich’s. For most of my childhood, he worked at Rich’s repairing household appliances. For the benefit of you younger folks, I have to explain that Rich’s was THE department store chain in Atlanta for decades, and the big Rich’s store downtown was THE place to shop. So when Deborah, Trish and Mark were growing up, they were always fashionably attired, because of Uncle Ervin’s employee discount at Rich’s. I also have to explain to young people that, once upon a time, when you bought an appliance or any kind of what we’d nowadays call “consumer electronics,” the store that sold it to you would repair it if it wasn’t working. Something folks used to call “customer service.” Anyway, as I say, for many years, that was Ervin’s main job, repairing radios and toasters and whatever other kind of electrical things anybody bought from Rich’s. Over the years, however, his job description changed. In the 1970s, Rich’s became part of the nationwide Federated department Store chain. Computerized cash registers and automated inventory became standard retail practice, and Ervin’s skills made him the natural choice to take over this work, so that eventually he became basically the IT chief of the whole Federated chain – very impressive for a small-town boy with a high school diploma.
Meanwhile, Aunt Pat – the girl who grew up on a farm in Randolph County – gave birth to her first two children before she was 21. She took a home-study course and taught herself shorthand, and eventually went to work in the aerospace industry. Now, when I say she worked in the aerospace industry, she was an executive secretary at the Lockheed plant in Marietta. It takes a lot of people doing a lot of different jobs to run a major company like that, so when I say Aunt Pat was part of the aerospace industry, by God, it’s the truth. She spent about 30 years at Lockheed, which is now Lockheed-Martin. My Dad worked there for 37 years, and whenever you see a C-130 cargo plane, that’s something we can be proud of – Lockheed made the greatest cargo plane the world has ever known. Folks talk about the “military-industrial complex” like it’s some kind of awful thing and I tell ‘em, buddy, the military-industrial complex put food on my table when I was a kid. Those jobs are good jobs, and Aunt Pat had every reason to take pride in working for Lockheed.
All of her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren ought to be proud to be part of Pat Huber’s legacy, just as I know she was always so proud of y’all. You are the descendants of a wonderful Southern lady, who was also a very devout and prayerful Christian. Her grandson Chris is an ordained minister, and I checked with Trish to make sure I wouldn’t be stealing from his sermon when I close this tribute by quoting from a famous passage of Proverbs 31:
“Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. … Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come. She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness. She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness. Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.”
Those of us who were blessed to know Pat Huber have reason to thank God for that blessing. We should cherish her memory forever, and each of us should strive to emulate her example.



One Response to “Eulogy for a Great Southern Lady”

  1. Our Patriotic Duty : The Other McCain
    July 7th, 2022 @ 9:55 am

    […] finale. We planned the show on very short notice — driving back from Georgia after attending my Aunt Pat’s memorial service Saturday — and were adding to the show as late as six o’clock Monday afternoon, when […]