Sharon Mangas column: Be like Lillie

One of my heroes, Lillie Mae Perkinson, died this month. It wasn’t unexpected. At 91, she had lived a good life and was ready to rejoin her beloved husband, Lester. They were married nearly 70 years before his passing in 2017.

I have other heroes: a handful of authors and some great leaders from history. But it’s everyday people like Lillie who’ve had the greatest influence on me.

I met Lillie’s son, Larry Perkinson, years before making Lillie’s acquaintance. Larry (a retired local educator) was one of my boys’ favorite middle-school teachers. Not only was Larry an engaging teacher, he’s also a super nice guy.

When I met Lillie at Sandcreek-Azalia Friends (Quaker) Meeting, it didn’t take long to realize that kindness is in the Perkinson DNA.

Lillie lived out her faith. Larry says his mother was the embodiment of the term “servant-leader,” though he adds, “She wouldn’t have called herself that.” Larry says the family was a unique combination of The Walton’s and The Little Rascals.

In my opinion, Lillie was a celestial envoy sent to earth to model unconditional love to ones like me, who are always struggling to master it. She reflected God’s love in everything she said or did.

Shortly after we met, Lillie’s angel status was confirmed when I heard this story from one of her church friends: a young woman in their congregation—without family in the area—gave birth to her second child, and the baby was born with unexpected health issues. Lillie straightened her halo, and without being asked, showed up at the hospital daily to rock the baby and offer support to the young mom.

Lillie and Lester raised five children, followed by a total of thirty-one grandchildren and great-grands. I was told Lillie called each grandchild “my precious angel.” Hmmm. Takes one to know one.

Most of us who raised even one or two kids had our parenting patience quota filled early on, but Lillie seemingly had infinite patience. She not only raised her own five but was a surrogate mom to any child who showed up at her door. If you were a neighborhood kid needing an oatmeal cookie, you got one, but if you needed a lifetime of support, Lillie offered that, too.

She was famous for hosting “Hamburger Fridays.” Anyone stopping by Lillie and Lester’s on Friday evenings was assured of a delicious meal. How did she know how many burgers to fry? I guess it was like Jesus feeding the multitudes with a few fish and a couple loaves of bread. Somehow there was enough. Lillie had that kind of faith.

Her kindness extended to strangers. One day she spied a tired-looking man leaning on a bicycle across the road from their house. She found out the man was riding his bike to Louisiana. She invited him in for supper, and later insisted he spend the night. Son Lester Junior recalled his dad likely slept in a chair with one eye open that night, but no one could keep Lillie from her life’s mission: showing love.

During her last years, when her daughter Linda cared for her, Larry stopped by often to say hello and listen to some Lillie stories. He says she always finished story-time reminiscing about Lester, the love of her life. A favorite romantic tale: one night in the early 1940’s, when Lester was walking 16-year-old Lillie home through the woods, he answered a hoot-owl’s insistent call. “Whoooo am I?,” replied Lester, “I’m the guy who’s going to marry Jim Petty’s daughter.” Rest in eternity, Lester and Lillie. You’re back home. Thanks for sharing your unconditional love.