As a devoted wife, dedicated mother of five and career elementary school teacher, Mary Churchwell gave meaning daily to one of her favorite gospels: “My Living Shall Not Be in Vain.”
A devout member of Seay-Hubbard United Methodist Church since her marriage at the church in 1951 to Robert Churchwell, she is said to have helped somebody in someway at nearly every stop in her life’s road. She was part of a model couple that tackled life’s array of challenges with persistence and humility over the years. They became admiringly referred to by their children as “the architect and engineer.”
“Before Wonder Woman, there was Mary Churchwell,’ said Robert Churchwell Jr., the retired Metro School System principal who is the first and oldest of the five Churchwell children. There are now 10 grandchildren and one great grandchild. Of the five, two became public school educators, three became physicians. Robert Jr.’s sentiments were echoed by others who encountered her around the city.
From teaming with husband Bob, a journalist, to carefully map a strategy a for raising children to, later in life, finding no chance to help too small, Mrs. Churchwell was on the case.
“She was a genuine person with all the important parts,” said Ann Black, a retired Metro Nashville Public Schools teacher peer. Black too cited Mrs. Churchwell’s “humility.”
“She was tall and strong, reflecting her faith and love for her family and love for others,” said the Rev. Theodore Cody Collier, assistant to the Bishop of the United Methodist Church of Missouri. Collier, a native of Nashville who served as Mrs. Churchwell’s pastor at Seay- Hubbard early in his career in the 1980’s, credits her as an inspiration “who was one of those key people who really helped. She was a person people would look to.”
Ola G. Hudson, who taught with Mrs. Churchwell during their Metro Schools career, said Mary Churchwell made efforts in her later years to be helpful and constructive. Volunteering with the Middle Tennessee Council on Aging, she made it her job to help with the Council’s annual Sage Awards, pinning corsages on recipients at the recipients. Mrs. Churchwell made sure she was at the welcome table, as she remembered everyone’s name, Ms. Hudson said, adding Mrs. Churchwell was “a very dedicated person.”
With their children grown and having successfully planted the good habits she and her husband, Bob, had taught them, Mary Buckingham Churchwell, passed last Sunday at age 89, succumbing at St. Thomas Mid-Town Hospital (Baptist)in downtown Nashville. Her doctors and family say she suffered congestive heart failure.
A native of Bell Buckle in rural West Tennessee, Churchwell came to Nashville as a youth with her mom. She graduated from Nashville’s Pearl High School. She earned two college degrees — a bachelor’s and Master’s — from Tennessee State University. Early in her college days, while working at a soda fountain, she met a young World War II veteran, Robert Churchwell. They became married and over the next decade—along the way, she took time out from school and the soda bar, as needed, to give birth to and help raise her children.
The child responsibilities required Mrs. Churchwell to stretch her college studies into her 30’s.
It worked, as part of their parent’s plan as it boosted her earnings income along the way to help the two achieve their goals of securing solid educations for their expanding family. Those achievements early in their marriage really became helpful when she gave her final birth—of twin boys Keith and Kevin.
The legend of stories of her child raising would make a good book, several noted, as having a family on a reporter’s and teacher’s income is a real challenge.
Robert Jr., who shared anecdotes, summed the litany up, saying his “mom could make a penny holler and a quarter sigh.”
Funeral services for Mrs. Churchwell are set for 11 a.m. Saturday at Seay-Hubbard, followed by burial at Oakwood Cemetery with her teen-age sweetheart and husband for life Robert.
The family has asked, at her request, that any donations acknowledging her be given as donations to the Robert Sr. and Mary Churchwell Scholarship at the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.