Elizabeth “Libby” Schwartz: Passing Through

Elizabeth “Libby” Schwartz: September 13, 1912 –September 13, 2013.

 

Bruce’s mother, Libby, passed away quietly on her birthday in The Dalles, Oregon. She was one hundred and one years old.

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Elizabeth Reeder “Libby” Schwartz –Missouri Conservation Hall of Fame – 2013.

 

With her husband, Charles, built a reputation as two of the nation’s foremost experts on American wildlife. She gave up her position at the University of Missouri when they married, and together they began their careers with the Missouri Department of Conservation –Charles as a first-generation biologist and she as his assistant. For more than 30 years, they conducted landmark research on greater prairie chickens and box turtles, and they made award-winning films and documentaries. They also wrote and illustrated many books, including a series of children’s books. When her husband died in 1991, Libby continued working to complete their final collaborative project, About Mammals and How They Live, a companion book to their very successful The Wild Mammals of Missouri. Libby played an integral part in the Department’s history, and she inspired and paved the way for future generations of women to pursue careers as wildlife professionals. (Missouri Dept. of Conservation)

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Libby and her son Bruce.

 

Libby turns 100. Her three children: John, Barb, and Bruce.
Libby turns 100. Her three children: John, Barb, and Bruce.

 

Passing Through

 

Bruce and I just returned from Missouri where we gathered with Bruce’s brother and sister and their families to celebrate Libby’s long and well-lived life. During our five days in Missouri’s capitol of Jefferson City, we toured the capitol, and saw old friends from Bruce’s elementary school, college, and medical school. We visited the neighborhood where Bruce grew up and we passed by his high school.

Jefferson City, Missouri, Capitol of Missouri.
Jefferson City, Missouri, Capitol of Missouri.

 

Bruce with his childhood friends Walt and Dun Shull.
Bruce with his childhood friends Walt and Don Shull.

 

We attended the Missouri Department of Conservation’s induction of Libby Schwartz into the Missouri Conservation Hall of Fame (see text above), and twenty of us floated the Meramec River, a river beloved by Libby and Bruce’s father Charlie. There over its gently flowing waters, we released Libby’s ashes to symbolically join with Bruce’s father ashes, since they were spread in the river after Charlie Schwartz died in 1991.

 

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Mural designed and painted by Charles Schwartz.  Three great-grandsons (Braden, Kaeden, and Avery) surround an image of Libby working on her journal.
Mural designed and painted by Charles Schwartz. Three great-grandsons (Braden, Kaeden, and Avery) surround an image of Libby working on her journal.

 

The young man depicted holding up the rabbit in another of Charles Schwartz's murals is now all grown up with children of his own: Craig Miller--grandson.
The young man depicted holding up the rabbit in another of Charles Schwartz’s murals is now all grown up with children of his own: Craig Miller–grandson.

 

Throughout our trip, I captured pages of observations, interviews, and narratives, and I thought I would share with you a few quotes from family and friends about Libby.

Mom with camera copy

 

 

“She was just so sweet, so genuinely sweet; she was also educated. Camping, duck camp—-trips with her were like going to science camp.” (Granddaughter)

 

“She was quiet and studied everyone and everything.” (Granddaughter-in-law)

 

“She was always so good-natured—so content—rolled with it, happy to be with you doing whatever.” (Grandson)

 

“Turned every situation into a learning opportunity.” (Granddaughter)

 

“So scientific, but warm—sort of an introvert, and you kinda had to approach her, but once you did, it was so easy to talk with her.” (Granddaughter)

 

“Witty to the end.” (Colleague)

 

“There’s only one of her.” (Colleague)

 

When I think of Libby, the first word that comes to my mind is “composed.” She was reasonable, balanced, and poised in the greatest sense of the word.

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I see Libby sitting, the week before her death, at the piano in her assisted living facility as she gently taps out a song on the keys while other residents sit around listening from their wheelchairs. And, I recall the powerful image of Libby’s hands softly clasped — one hand cupped over the other– in a manner of repose the moment she took her last breath.

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Memories wash in and out as I think back over the twenty plus years I knew Libby. Before marrying Bruce, she and I talked. The topic of the difference between my age and Bruce’s age came up. He is 19 years older than me, and I wondered if I would be alone sooner rather than later? Her response surprised me. Libby said, “well, it would be better to have ten good years with him than to have none at all.” This “go for it” point of view seemed to encapsulate her approach to life. She encouraged all of us to follow our vision–whether in our personal life or career. She supported moving ahead, “and” she expected one to take the good and the bad our decisions might bring.

Sher and Bruce
Sher and Bruce

 

Floating the Meramec

Lathering up with sunscreen for the river trip.
Lathering up with sunscreen for the river trip.

 

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Twenty of us float the Meramec River on the last day of our Missouri visit. After swimming in its slow warm waters, and laughing, and watching for familiar birds and listening to their songs, and telling stories about Charlie and Libby, John spots a place to rest. One by one eight canoes arrive and land on the gravel bank. Teal, my stepdaughter, and Bruce set out twelve blue plastic cups and they make gin and tonics for all the adults. The great-grandchildren bob in the water. Charles, a grandson, plays meandering melodies as he sits in the sand plucking the gut strings of his classical guitar. The time is easy and relaxed, but expectant.

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Barb, Bruce’s sister says a few words; then John and Bruce speak. Afterward these three stride into the river—arm in arm, and as one throw Libby’s ashes toward the water. For a moment the chalky powder floats, then it disperses and vanishes downstream.

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Later on that Evening

 

Driving back to St. Louis later that evening we encounter a terrific thunderstorm with lightning and blinding rain. A flood warning is issued for the Meramec River. At times the rain is pounding so heavily, cars have to pull over on the side of the freeway. Bruce, Teal, and I explain this monumental storm as a sign that Charlie and Libby are now reunited on the river they love.

 

We guess tonight Charlie and Libby are camped; we envision them snug in their tent; the campfire emitting a faint glow soon to be doused; lightning is crackling the sky, . . . dancing, as it fills the gravel bar, the woods, and the canvas walls of their tent with bright light.

 

And, so

when everything is done with all due care, and all the items from the day have been put away, and the campsite has been well chosen to withstand storm and flood,

then . . .

it’s time

to rest.

Mm and Dad with dogs and canoe copy

 

Charlie and Libby  Schwartz

 

18 thoughts on “Elizabeth “Libby” Schwartz: Passing Through

  1. So very lovely my friend. We should all be so lucky to have a life so wonderful, filled with love and grace.

  2. OMG Sher, Bruce. I am so sorry for your loss, and so touched by this great story and tribute to Libby. What a wonderful life she had. Thank you

  3. Wow- that was a beautiful tribute, Sher. You’ve been so lucky to have such wonderful people to call your family. The lives of Libby and Charles sound just like the book I’d love to read. Write it.

  4. Although I didn’t know her, you can tell she was a star, in the truest sense of the word…fabulous photos! Great job bringing her big life to light.

  5. A lovely tribute, very well done. Libby and Charlie are back together in a “send off” so many of us would appreciate ourselves. Great people, and GREAT FAMILY. Proud to have known them all.

  6. Sher, thank you so much! Your story is beautiful and poignant, and it captures the mood of our farewell gathering. I am deeply moved by it. Barbara

  7. What an awesome legacy! and the photos capture the heart of her & her family so beautifully! Yes, thank you for sharing Sher!!! Blessing to Bruce, John, Barb, you and your families! Joanna K

  8. Thank you for that wonderful tribute…I feel like I know Bruce a lot better after reading that. He must be so proud of you…

    1. Thank you for that wonderful tribute…I feel like I know Bruce a lot better after reading that. He must be so proud of you…

      Thank you Elaine–I felt like I knew Bruce better after the trip too. It really helped me to know more about his background and influences–meeting other family members and also friends from his childhood days.

  9. What a Lady! She loved life and everyone and everything connected with it. We all should take note to celebrate life as Ms. Libby did. Thank you for sharing her wonderful exit!

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