Written By Tony Tata
My mother, Jerri Morris Tata, often said, “Whatever you do in life, make a difference.”
Born and raised in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia near Charlottesville, Mom lived this creed. She was a public school teacher and counselor for forty-one years, later serving as a Virginia Beach school board member for two terms. Throughout her public service career, her fundamental belief was that we made a difference one day and one person at a time.
She wasn’t some pie in the sky thinker, but, like most mothers, a very practical woman who wanted the best for her family and community. Raising three athletic kids, all playing three sports every year and being the wife of a high school football and baseball coach, my mother lived the life that she dreamed about as a child. Marriage, family, children, community. Her social networks were vast and built upon the twin pillars of kindness and acceptance.
Weekly, mom hosted friends each of us would bring over; cooking dinners or making snacks as we played whiffle ball in the backyard. She enjoyed prepping for dad’s legendary cigar and poker nights and her own bridge club days. Rarely missing a game or event my brother, sister, or I were involved in, my mother demonstrated selfless devotion to family every day. I have fond memories of her running up and down in the stands when I won a big wrestling match in the state tournament or her hugs when I would return from West Point or combat.
As we reflect on mothers this month and celebrate them on Mother’s Day, this will be the first year where my brother, sister and I have no mother to give flowers, hug, and thank for being such a wonderful person and role model. Likewise, since she passed on Thanksgiving weekend at the age of 90 last year, every day this year is a first “without mom” for my father as well. We focus on surrounding him with love and companionship that 62 years of marriage to our mother provided him.
Together, mom and dad made a powerful couple, two school teachers leading their community and raising their children. Dad was a 15-term member of the Virginia House of Delegates. Mom fully supported his grassroots political life by walking door to door and hosting constituents in our home routinely for those 30 years.
Wanting to come full circle with her life, mom decided to relocate to the family farm north of Charlottesville, Virginia, near her birthplace. She designed and had built a home where she and dad would spend her final days. Even as she transitioned from walking to walker to wheelchair, mom remained civically engaged. She supported the public school system in Greene County, where my sister serves as a teacher and coach. She hosted students on the farm and generously gave of her time to worthwhile causes in the region, including conservation of land.
Never one to be deterred, a couple of days before Thanksgiving 2017, mom was pushing up from her wheelchair to begin holiday preparations, as family was descending on the farm for our routine get together. This time, though, she slipped, fell, and never recovered. With her husband and three children surrounding her on Thanksgiving Day, she came back to us and had a full day of tearful interaction, every bit as lucid and connected as she ever was. Then, as the cold reality settled in and she digressed, we were able to move her back to the farm where she saw one final sunset over the Blue Ridge mountains and experienced one more sunrise over the South River. Surrounded by her children and husband, on Sunday morning mom slipped upward where she is now peering down on us with those beautiful blue eyes and knowing smile.
To the very end, my mother served her purpose, chiefly her family and community. And true to her words, she made a difference, just like millions of other moms do daily. And on this Mother’s Day, though we miss her dearly, our family will have a great memory to honor and flowers to deliver. Indeed, all moms are special people we should hold close every day, not just once a year.