Adi’s grandmother passed away peacefully on Thursday evening. Doris Lee Cannon Carter took her last deep breath and ascended into higher consciousness leaving a void that will be difficult to fill. She was, without question, one of a kind. She was the rock of the family, the drill instructor, “The Boss” and the single most generous person that I have ever met. She was nothing less than a lioness—that rare breed that could command a room saying whatever needed to be said and sometimes that which shouldn’t have. If ever there was a role model of what it looks like to be a modern woman, Mrs. Carter
blazed the trail long before most of today’s women were even born—they called her Nonnie Bear. She had a steely determination to do the impossible and never took “no” for an answer, all the while possessing a heart of gold and would literally give the shirt off of her back to anyone in need. Upon news of her death, scores of stories began pouring in with tales of her generosity from people many in this family might not even know or remember. She was, without question, one of kind.
She started her own daycare for underprivileged and low-income families in 1969, pre-dating the whole concept of daycare for children. She poured every ounce of her time and money into making sure that every child who needed a place to learn had a place to grow and play while their parents worked to make ends meet. For 12½ hours every day for 50 years she worked teaching, driving the daycare bus on runs to pick up and drop off kids, mentoring and loving every child who walked through her doors regardless of race, color, creed, rich or poor—all were welcome, and Mrs. Carter ran the ship with a stern and guiding hand.
I became an unlikely friend and ally to Nonnie Bear. Although Adi and I have been together for more than six years, I really didn’t get to know her well until the last 18 months. While the world shut down and many people retreated to their own quarters of the world staying far distant from each other, Adi and I did just the opposite with her grandparents. We began spending more time with them. We drove to the “Lake House” as often as possible to visit with Frankie and Doris Carter to hear the many stories of their 66 years of marriage—some of it happy, some of it, at best—challenging and temperamental. While many people around the world began fearing being near one another Nonnie Bear told all that would listen, “I would rather die than not get to spend time with my family. Come and visit,” she would say, “family is all that we have.” It was her strength and love for family that encouraged Adi and I to visit as often as possible; I will be forever thankful for that; I’ll have a friend to remember for life because of these last 18 months.
Each time I walked through the door of the Lake House in Whitney, Texas, Nonnie Bear would be sitting in her recliner staring straight ahead at the front door.
“David,” she would say, “sit down. We have things to talk about.”
What would unfold would undoubtably be both educational and entertaining. Nonnie Bear would regal me with stories of living in Germany while her husband, Frankie, was deployed overseas post-World War II; she would offer insight in how she wanted the family to function once she was no longer able to command the ship; she would offer me advice on how to advance my career as a speaker and a writer. In one wonderful moment, she encouraged me to go down to the Convention Center in Galveston, Texas to tell them that I was available to host corporate functions, ignoring the fact that almost the entire world was shut down for business because of health concerns.
“It doesn’t hurt to try,” she would tell me. “You go talk to the person running that Convention Center and let them know you are available.”
This was Doris Carter in a nutshell—don’t tell me what we can’t do; let’s talk about what we can do.
When we were together, I would mostly listen. Nonnie Bear was the same age as my parents, so I felt a very special kinship with her. I would walk into her house, put some water in a pan to heat, and then make myself a cup of tea for our talk which would last sometimes a couple of hours. I drank tea while we talked; Nonnie Bear drank Coke. She would ask about my father who had passed away years earlier and she would share stories of her own father, Simon, who had purchased a couple of hundred acres of farmland in Mansfield, Texas. Simon sold much of the land near the end of his life that eventually became a golf course lined with million-dollar homes
“My father was one hell of a horse trader,” Nonnie Bear told me on several occasions.
When she talked about her father, her face would light up like a little girl. I could see the
pride in her eyes as she remembered the man that had the greatest influence on her life. On the remaining five acres of family land where Adi and I currently reside, Simon’s presence can still be felt. I would say as often as possible during our talks, “Simon is still on the land watching over everyone and I know he is so proud of the work that you have done in this lifetime.” Nonnie Bear would smile and ignore the compliment and say one of her signature lines: “I don’t know about all that.” We would laugh and I could see from the twinkle in her eye that she knew that Simon was forever watching over all of us.
I feel, in a way, that I lost an unlikely friend. Nonnie Bear wasn’t in the best of health in these final days, but there was no indication how dire her health concerns had become. As little as a month ago, she thought that she had some stomach ulcers so she went in to see her doctor who assured her that there was nothing ailing her that couldn’t be healed with time. Three weeks ago, we discovered that the cancer that she had beaten three times had returned and this time had completely ravaged her body. True to form, Nonnie Bear set the agenda moving forward; at 86 she decided that she had written the final chapter of her life on earth—she was going home to God.
There is and will be a huge void in the family moving forward. Imagine a load-bearing pillar that keeps a large structure standing and you will get some idea of the impact of this special, powerful woman. She made me proud to know her. She illustrated to me that there is no challenge that can’t be overcome and there is nothing worth having that can’t be given away to someone less fortunate than ourselves. Every person that came in contact with Nonnie Bear walked away with some sort of a gift. Even if someone tried to refuse, she wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.
For almost six years, I refused all gifts. I would say to her, “Doris, you don’t have to give me anything. Our conversations are the gift I receive from you.” I would instead try to give her gifts by bringing her food or a treat here or there and this eventually led to a stand-off. That is until, roughly five weeks before she passed, on one of the last visits Adi and I took to the Lake House, Nonnie Bear said to me, “David, I got you a gift.”
“Doris, you didn’t have to do that,” I responded.
“I know I didn’t. I did it anyway,” she said smiling.
She presented me with a teapot; the old-school kind that whistles when the water is hot.
“I got you a teapot. I see you always fill up one of my pans to make hot water for your tea. I had Frances (this was Nonnie’s dear friend who helped her with little chores that she couldn’t do on her own. Nonnie lost her eyesight near the end of her life and Frances became a gift from God who watched out over her) pick you one up from Walmart. This
will make it easier for you to make your tea.
This was the essence of Doris Lee Cannon Carter—always looking to give a gift to brighten the day of the person receiving it. In one of my final visit with her she asked me to write her story.
“Let the world know I did my best,” she said to me. “I tried to make the world a better place.”
That you have, my beloved, unlikely 86-year-old friend. I know that you are in heaven now. I am quite sure that when she arrived, she didn’t knock on the Gates of Heaven to be let in—she kicked down the door, announced her arrival and may have even found a way to make things operate a little more efficiently up there. The world is without her physical presence now, but her impact will be felt through every parent and child that was fortunate enough to call her Teacher.
Nonnie Bear, you are loved and will be missed. I love you, you old stubborn Lionness.