Topic 1: Tributes

Paying tribute to another human being is a public speaking occasion that we're more likely to encounter but less likely to prepare for. As with other forms of public speaking, our contemporary ways of paying tribute have roots in the oratorical tradition of ancient Greece. This classical form, called the epideictic speech is described in Aristotle's Rhetoric. Many present day American orators, like members of the Disabled American Veterans, still regard this mode of public address as important, having adapted ancient Athenian techniques to New World sensibilities.

Two of the most famous tributes in Western history are the Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and Pericles funeral oration; one of the most memorable from recent history is Ronald Reagan's eulogy to the victims of the space Shuttle disaster. For more examples, see some of the tribute speeches on the web.

Perhaps the most common form of tribute is the eulogy. Here is an example delivered by my friend Patricia Pearce, the pastor at Tabernacle Church in University City, Philadelphia, PA.

Last week I was flying home after spending a few weeks in Colorado and New Mexico. As the plane began its descent into Kansas City, I looked down at the meandering rivers and green farmlands, and one of the people that came to my mind was Fern Pearson. And I think the reason I thought about Fern was that when you met Fern you felt like you had finally come home. I remember the first time Kip and I came to Butler when we were interviewing with the Pastoral Search Committee, which Fern was serving on. The first time we met her she gave us -- well, you can probably guess -- she gave us a batch of homemade peanut brittle. I wouldn't be exaggerating if I told you that Fern and her peanut brittle were one of the reasons Kip and I decided to come to Butler. It wasn't actually the peanut brittle per se that was so compelling, although it was certainly delicious. It was more what the peanut brittle represented. It was Fern's down home hospitality that was displayed in such tangible acts of kindness, that was so compelling.

Fern didn't talk hospitality and generosity. Fern lived it. And she lived it in concrete ways, like buying her little brother his first car, a model T, for the staggering 1930's price of $25, and laying out dolls on the beds when the granddaughters came to town, and sewing clothes for loved ones, and getting to Harry's Dari King at 5:00 in the morning to make and decorate the donuts so they would be just right for the customers, and making her own greeting cards with messages she had written, and taking ginger snaps around to everyone at Christmas time. An avid baker, Fern preferred giving away her goodies rather than keeping them for herself.

Having lived all her life in this area and with her many friendships Fern was a natural to write the Butler News column in the paper, keeping people up to date on the latest here in town so that even people who had moved far away could feel like they were back home again. Fern knew that a home is much more than four walls and a roof. A home is, as one poem in her Bible called it, a hallowed place, where people feel supported and genuinely cared for, where people are encouraged to be the best that they can be. And although Fern had a strong sense of home, she was by no means a home body. Always more than willing to pack her bags and take off, she was renowned for being constantly on the go. On her treks she would stop along the way to visit family and friends and check out every McDonald's from coast to coast.

But in some ways it was almost as if Fern never really left home; she just took it with her. On one trip out to California to visit her brother, she took along a basketful of Missouri tomatoes. When she got out there she found that the tomatoes in California were more than plentiful, and yet, the tomatoes she brought were somehow better because they came from home. And no matter where she was, she always had a warm greeting for everyone she saw. As her family will tell you, Grandma Fern never met a stranger. The name "Grandma Fern" has such a mild sound to it, which perhaps masks her more adventuresome side. In the scrapbook she made of her trip in 1992 to the west coast she included several photos and brochures of the Royal Gorge in Colorado and one photo of a group of people white-water rafting. Under the photo she wrote, at the age of 80, "I hope to ride the rapids someday."

It is impossible to do justice to a life in a few moment's worth of comments. Each of us has come here with our own unique recollections about Fern. And yet in this room, in each of our memories, much of Fern's life and personality lives on. So I would like us now to take some time in silence and in an attitude of thanksgiving, to savor our own memories of Fern and of the many ways that she touched us... One of the many lessons we can learn from Fern is how to reach out to others, not just with words, but also with tangible acts of giving. And it's not as hard as you might think. Here's how you do it.

Take: 1 cup raw peanuts, 1 teaspoon butter, 1 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1/2 cup white corn syrup, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Combine peanuts, sugar, syrup and salt in 1-1/2 quart-casserole. Microwave on Cook 7 to 8 minutes, stirring well after 4 minutes. Add butter and vanilla, blend well. Cook 1 minute. Add baking soda and gently stir until light and foamy. Pour mixture on to lightly greased cookie sheet; cool 1/2 hour. Break into pieces; store in airtight container. Note: Casserole dish is hot, handle carefully. Soak dish and spoons in warm water immediately.

Well, Fern is up to her old tricks. She's up and left again. But this time, she's the one who knows that she's finally come home.