George and Betsy, Sixty Years Later

Published November 11, 2009

George and Betsy Weigel would have marked their diamond wedding anniversary on November 12 — “would have,” because my father died on October 19, 2004, and my mother died, at age 95 1/2, this past October 25. I've no idea about the arrangements for anniversary parties around the Throne of Grace. But if what we're promised there is the perfection of earthly goods, then a more-than-decent vintage (a 1997 Barolo, perhaps) will likely be uncorked. In this vale of tears, perhaps the best I can do for my late parents as I remember their diamond jubilee is to offer a wider readership a glimpse into their lives through fragments of the tributes I offered at their funeral Masses:

At the funeral Mass for George Shillow Weigel, October 23, 2004:

“For the seven years I served as president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, I was privileged to have Admiral Bud Zumwalt, the former Chief of Naval Operations, as my board chairman. Dad and Bud were contemporaries, one a reserve naval officer who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, the other an Annapolis graduate, both of whom served America and the cause of freedom in the Pacific. On one occasion I told Bud that Dad, who like others of his generation spoke very little about his service, had once made a mildly ironic comment about the wisdom of the United States Navy, turning an economics major into a landing craft commander rather than using him in supply or management or something for which his education had prepared him. Bud laughed and said, 'I bet your father never told you that they screened those reserve officers for qualities of leadership — and then assigned the leaders to command those landing craft.'

“Of course, Dad hadn't told me that. His leadership was of a piece with his other qualities: understated (which, given the personalities of his sons, suggests that understatement is not genetically transmitted in the male line down the generations)…His volunteer work, teaching reading to adult illiterates, or doing “Meals on Wheels,” was understated; but he kept feeding the hungry until he was unable to do so any longer… His successful professional life was understated; yet one of his colleagues told me that Dad, in addition to being a skilled manager, was a terrific salesman. I expect he was that because people knew they could trust him.”

At the funeral Mass for Betsy Schmitz Weigel, October 28, 2009:

“Five months after Mom was born, European civilization imploded in the First World War and the 20th century began in earnest. Mom lived through that entire epoch — from the guns of August 1914 through the collapse of Soviet communism in 1991 — and then lived for another decade and a half in the 21st century, which as an epoch began in 1991, as the 20th century as an epoch really began in 1914. Her life spanned nine pontificates and sixteen presidencies, three world wars (counting the Cold War), an ecumenical council, the civil rights revolution, the contemporary women's movement, the Sixties, the pro-life movement, the Revolution of 1989 [and] 9/11…At her death, America had traveled as far, in time, from her birth as the country had traveled from the first administration of President James Monroe to the day Betsy Hebner Schmitz entered the world…

“Mom was [my brother] John's and my first evangelist: she taught us our prayers, helped us learn the Baltimore Catechism, later helped us memorize the Latin responses that enabled us to become altar boys, [and]….drove us to serve the 6:45 a.m. Mass with jelly sandwiches in our bookbags for breakfast afterwards. Her example of prayer, and Dad's, which was both profound and unobtrusive, left its mark; so did their patience with occasionally rambunctious sons, who later experienced the joys of raising teenagers themselves; and so did the noble Baltimore German habit of offering sauerkraut with the Thanksgiving turkey, a tradition which continues to the third and fourth generation…”

George and Betsy, Dad and Mom: requiescant in pace.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

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