2005 February 11


Riverside, California


O say, can you see by the dawn's early light what so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro' the perilous fight o'er the ramparts we watch'd, were so gallantly streaming,
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air, gave proof thro' the night that our flag was still there?
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave o'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

            “The Star-Spangled Banner”
            (Francis Scott Key, Traditional)


Heavenly Father, we are gathered here today, to give thanks for the life of a star-spangled banner; Bette Pinkerton; to commend her soul to Thee, and to seek Thy comfort. Again, we particularly pray for Thy restoring peace, and loving presence, to be with her husband, Dale, her children, Jennifer, and Michael, and all her family.

In her life, we recognize Bette’s professional and personal focus on Character Education; how she took budding individuals, regardless of age, and taught them to know they are worthwhile. In her death, we recognize that she has earned, and commands, the sympathy and respect of a number of people far greater than that represented by our diverse congregation today.

Heavenly Father, whatever our individual beliefs and religious faiths, please help us to recall, with thanksgiving, Bette’s life, and her enjoyment of it. Please help us to appreciate the actual quality of education that Bette championed. And help us commit ourselves anew to caring for others, as we are reminded of our own mortality and vulnerability.

Also, Heavenly Father, please help us to remember Bette’s beloved Golden Rule, which is Thy Golden rule. Help us to remember Bette’s compassion for, and commitment to, others; and inspire us to serve as she served.

And, Heavenly Father, we also ask Thee for fortitude, for in this hour, there is need.


If I should die and leave you here awhile, 1 | 2 | 3
             Be not like others, sore and undone,
            Who keep long vigils by the silent dust, and weep.  
            For my sake—turn again to life and smile;

Nerving thy heart and trembling hand
            To do something to comfort other hearts than thine.
             Complete those dear unfinished tasks of mine 1 | 2
            And I, perchance, may therein comfort you.

“Turn Again to Life”
             (A. Price Hughes, Mary Lee Hall)

"The color of the shirt she thought would 
'go beautifully' with my black suit." --Geoff


I stand before you today as a member of a family in grief, in a neighborhood in mourning, in a community in shock. We are all united, not in our desire to pay our respects to Bette, but in our need to do so. Her nature was so extraordinary, that such a number of people should feel that they lost someone of importance on the afternoon of February third. In fact, the [hundreds] of people gathered here today is more remarkable a tribute to Bette, than any I could ever hope to offer her.

Bette exemplified the essence of compassion, obligation, technique, and beauty. From Riverside to Tokyo, Bette was a symbol of honesty and selfless humanity; a standard-barer for the rights of the softhearted; very much a Salt Lake City girl who rose above geography; and who [again] proved in this last year like her sister, Nita, that she needed no classroom to implement an object lesson regarding the nature of true love.

Reunited after ten years, sisters Nita Prosenik and Bette Pinkerton flank nephew Geoff Gray-Lee at The Lighting Ceremony of the Mission Inn Festival of Lights, Riverside, 2004

Aunt Bette, today is our chance to say thank you for the way you have illuminated our lives. We may feel it unfair, [and unnecessary,] to have lost you just as you achieved full bloom, and yet we feel so very lucky, and are so very grateful, that we even grew in the same garden. Only now that you are gone do we truly appreciate what we do not have, and we want you to know that life without you, and with the responsibilities you used to bare, is very difficult—very difficult indeed. We have felt such despair at our loss this past week—and only the strength of the lessons that you have taught throughout your years of giving, has afforded us the strength to go on.

There is a temptation to think too well of your memory. But there is also no need to do so. You stand tall enough as a realistic [conscientious and reasonable] human being—which is, in fact, the essence of your existence: your continually fresh sense of humor; your laugh that made us feel like we were amusing; your faith in life that shone, and sparkled, whenever you smiled; your endlessly renewing enthusiasm; and your canine and feline companions—Tory, Sunshine, Tiger, Sushi, Marmo, Wiley, and Chewy—who almost always graced your floor, your couch, your lap. [And about whom you repeatedly said, "Love me, love my dog."] But your greatest quality was your spot-on-target sensitivity to the human condition, and it was a gift that you used most gently.

We recognize that this is the foundation for all of your other talents: your instinctive feel for what is really important in all our lives. And without that natural awareness, we would, today, be all the more ignorant of the stymied lower conscience, the incomplete self-esteem, the lacking identity; in short, the wanting self-image.

The last time I saw Aunt Bette was on Boxing Day, the evening of the day after Christmas, standing on her driveway holding her dog, Chewy. I turned and left for San Francisco—I did not ask what was on her mind; in what, at the time, felt like a profoundly pivotal moment. Rather, she was nurturing me. After hours and hours of shopping (at her continued and ultimately, I confess to you as I did to her, highly irritating insistence [perhaps it was the grande mocha]) to find a shirt that she thought would go beautifully with my black suit, she still looked fresh and bright. However, the memory I hold closest, actually second closest, is the night before Christmas Eve, the second time I came to Riverside to visit since returning to America from Australia.

I am proud of the fact that we recognized each others’ level of understanding. As we sat at the kitchen table, drank some cheer, and wrapped her Christmas presents, we shamelessly discussed character development, relationship policy, and character education: in the global community, in the White House and the nation, and in our shared nuclear society; in both the present and the past—extending back to my earliest memories, and then extending back to hers.

The simplest example of our “reason and accountability” comparisons: she reasserted that her parents had allowed her brother, my father, Gary, to select her given name; which, in full, is Bette Jo. Then I reasserted that I had named my first Teddy bear: B. Jo. From there, we did not investigate motivation or judgment skill; we just sat there, in a truly magical moment, admiring each others’ smiles. It was as if we had been moved to another realm of existence, where we both truly lived in our hearts. We were family in the truest sense of the word. I think we said “good night” just before three a.m. This is a time I will always treasure.

But really, she was just as she had always been. And it is a tribute to both her sensibility and fortitude, despite the highly unfortunate turn of events that occurred in nineteen ninety-six while she was completing a lifetime of dedication to Character Education, that this individual kept her wits. And almost nine years later, she was still planning: for the yard outside that had just been reseeded; for the new bedspread that would dictate the new colors for the master bedroom; for the book that she would compile from her years of professional experience and boxes full of papers; but, mostly, for Uncle Dale’s future, for Michael and Tomoko’s future, for Jennifer and Don’s future, and for the future of her grandchildren; Tiffany, Brandon, and Dylan. A woman of love, surrounded by love, planning for love.

To all of you who I just named, we, the congregation, are overcome by sadness from the loss of a woman who was not our spouse, our mother, our Nanny. Or; to Aunt Nita and Dad; our sister. How great is your suffering? We cannot imagine.

I would like to end by thanking, what the Declaration of Independence refers to as, Nature’s God for some small mercies that exist in this dreadful moment; that Aunt Bette was taken at her time of full and radiant beauty, in a time of budding spring, that she was experiencing the joy of recognizing the futures of those she loved the most. But above all, I give thanks for the life of this woman. I called her aunt, in my heart I thought of her as sister and colleague. Bette was unique. May her physical, emotional, and intellectual beauty never be extinguished from our minds.


Gentle Annie
(Stephen Foster, 1856)

Thou wilt come no more, gentle Annie,
Like a flow'r thy spirit did depart;
Thou art gone, alas! like the many
That have bloomed in the summer of my heart.

     Shall we never more behold thee;
     Never hear thy winning voice again
     When the Springtime comes gentle Annie,
     When the wild flow'rs are scattered o'er the plain?

We have roamed and loved mid the bowers,
When thy downy cheeks were in their bloom;
Now I stand alone mid the flowers
While they mingle their perfumes o'er thy tomb.

     Shall we never more behold thee;
     Never hear thy winning voice again
     When the Springtime comes gentle Annie,
     When the wild flow'rs are scattered o'er the plain?

Ah! the hours grow sad while I ponder
Near the silent spot where thou art laid,
And my heart bows down when I wander
By the streams and the meadows where we stray'd.

     Shall we never more behold thee;
     Never hear thy winning voice again
     When the Springtime comes gentle Annie,
     When the wild flow'rs are scattered o'er the plain?
"Gentle Annie",
Swanee: The Music of Stephen Foster, Joe Weed and Friends, Gourde Music, 2001