News, Connections and Photos from the life of the faith community at CAPC Oakland
A TRIBUTE TO THE LIFE AND WITNESS OF VERNA MURRAY
1917 – 2016
Offered on the Occasion of Her Memorial Service,
Sunday, June 5th, 2016, Celebrated at her home church,
College Avenue Presbyterian Church of Oakland, CA
By her pastor for
34yrs, Rev. Bill Beatty
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”
I first met Verna Murray while beginning my pastorate at College Avenue Presbyterian Church in June of 1973. My first recollection was seeing Verna in the Chancel Choir behind me on the Pulpit, a quiet women with a gentle laugh. I believe she was an Alto. As I became better acquainted with the congregation, and that included Verna, I realized that behind that kind and cheerful demeanor was a single woman in her mid 50’s, taking care of a bedridden mother at home, as well as a mobile functioning stroke-brother, Bruce, whom she drove around to accommodate his every need. In addition, I mustn’t forget the attention and care that she was also offering her orange fluffy cat, Goldie. All of this 24/7 support was ongoing while working as the Executive Secretary for the Assistant Superintendent of Schools in Oakland, who would later act as Interim Superintendent of OUSD following the tragic death of Superintendent Dr. Foster. At this juncture Verna was now propelled into the position of acting Executive Secretary for the Interim Su-perintendent of the Oakland Public School system. So typical of Verna, to see her at church or elsewhere you’d never guess the complexity of both her public and private worlds, given her calm and supportive ap-pearance. In all of these and still later challenges you’d always see her faithful presence at Choir Rehear-sal, Worship, or serving as a Deacon with that kind and empathetic cheerful spirit!
There was an occasion, several years into my pastorate, that Verna and I went driving through Berkeley while she pointed out where she had lived, offering me glimpses of her childhood and youth. It was through that little tour I learned that both she and Harry Hussian, Sr. (Al’s father) had graduated from Berkeley High in the same year (1935 ?)
Verna proved most competent with transitioning. Following her retirement from the Oakland Public School system she would buy a new home on Chabolyn St., just a few bocks from the church, two doors apart from one of CAPC’s most memorable senior couples—Bob & Estella Shertzer, 1915 and 1917 graduates of Cal, Berkeley. Gregarious Bob had been a founding member of the Senior Activity Center at CAPC in the early 70’s, who liked to brag that “his weekly congregation” was bigger than “mine,” which unfortunately was true. Her new home, a split level craftsman, proved such a joy for Verna. During this period of her life Verna made herself even more available in serving others, as in hauling people to their doctor’s appointments, visiting the elderly and shut-in, transporting people to church, or in participating in the Women’s Sewing Circle which was engaged in making laptop quilts and favors for the institutionally handicapped at Napa State Hospital (Imola, CA).
While living alone in retirement, Verna had thought it best to appear to have another passenger in her car while driving alone. So, in a spirit of both humor and anxiety, she made up a large dummy dressed up as a man, placed in the back seat of her car, much like a scare crow, to ward off any who might determine to make her their prey. Interesting that the dummy would be dressed as a man! Any innuendo here? And, of course, she had to name her compliant yet masculine dummy, “Mike.” On one occasion I took Verna’s car to the carwash with Mike in the back seat. You should have seen the faces on those attending her car. You’d think they had seen a corpse passing through. It proved a bit awkward for me to explain afterwards, though they were all attempting to laugh.
Verna with her acumen for transitioning, even anticipating that day when she would need outside help in case of an emergency, had left her house key with neighbors should the need arise. And then the day did arise for outside help. She had somehow fallen in her dinning room unable to get up to reach the phone. In that state she decided to crawl on the floor to the nearest heat duct at the baseboard, to keep warm until the neighbors with the key noticed her absence, and upon opening her door (two days later) were able to call the ambulance. Because of Verna’s practical nature and calm spirit she was able to surmount this unforeseen incident, while seeing it as a sign that she would need to make a move to a more supportive and transparent setting. That she did by moving to the Claremont House, across from the Rockridge Shopping Center. There she could stay close to the familiar, and be accessible for getting to church, etc. Her challenge would be in keeping her cat in her room, as well as it’s maintenance. In the end, Goldie had to be taken from her, and that proved heartbreaking for Verna. That began the substitute approach to having her cat: being given an orange fluffy toy cat. Perhaps in the spirit of dummy, “Mike,” “dummy cat” might just do the trick.
Over time Verna would need to transition again, this time to the convalescent facility on Willow Street in Alameda. Verna is now in her late 80’s. Those of us picking her up for church (and that included Cathey Bayless) on Sundays were always impressed with her spirit of adaptability, even manifesting a cheerful attitude in her new home. She never complained or acted depressed or angry. On Sundays she just wanted to get home in time from church to not miss her lunch, which would be waiting for her. When we’d drive over to pick her up she’d always be ready in her wheel chair—usually with her stuffed animal cat on her lap, alongside the several other wheel bound residents gathered around the community TV. It always felt good to keep Verna connecting with the outside world, where she could be reminded , as Mother Teresa often reiterated, “You matter to God, and you matter to us.”
After coming back to College Ave. Pres., following 5 years of absence after retiring as pastor in 2007, it was such a profound joy to see Verna still making it to church on Sundays, via Para Transit. For us that spoke well, not only of her attitude, but of a church family which had not abandoned her in her declining years. It is also a testimony to the spiritual truth of becoming a “praise to His glory” (Eph. 1:10, 12,14) even in weakness, when we can no longer be the one providing the help and strength to others that we once did. We are reminded, particularly through weakness, that our meaning and value are not defined by our health, giftedness, smarts or accomplishments but upon a Heavenly Father to Whom Jesus prayed,
“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe
in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in
me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe
that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them,
so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they
may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent
me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” [John 17:20-23]
Yes, Verna not only embodied her love for Christ throughout her life, in all of its twists and turns, but, equally, we had evidenced Christ, Himself, living His life through her. Truly, she was a “praise to His glory.” A life well lived!
– Rev. Bill Beatty, HR