Honouring Pat Adams

At the upcoming Spring General Meeting, members of the Saskatoon Unitarians will be voting on a motion to honour Pat Adams by naming the lounge the “Pat Adams Welcoming Lounge”.

Read on for more about the amazing Pat Adams!

Pat Adams memorial service, 28 September 2002

Ann Coxworth’s comments

As many of you know, Pat was a Unitarian. What I’d like to try to do today is to give you a bit of a picture of what this meant in Pat’s life, and what she meant in ours.

We often open our Unitarian Sunday services with the words, “Welcome to the Unitarian Congregation of Saskatoon, an inclusive community where we are covenanted together to respect the worth and dignity of every person, and to serve the inter-dependent web of existence, of which we are all a part”. This is the non-creedal faith community to which Pat has devoted much of her past 40 years.

Unitarians are a diverse bunch, and we are encouraged to explore and develop our own theological perspectives in an environment of mutual respect and support. Sometimes in our gatherings we have occasion to share our individual religious interpretations and understandings with the rest of the group. I’ve been asking people during the past day or two, what do you know about Pat’s religious orientation? After all the years we’ve known her, do we really know what she believed in a spiritual sense? The response I’ve been getting is that theology really wasn’t an issue for Pat. For Pat, religion related to how people treat each other. How we act responsibly in the world, as part of a community. The Unitarian congregation was for her, I believe, a community within which and through which her intense sense of commitment to the building of a kinder, more humane world could be channelled.

Pat has filled almost every conceivable leadership role in the Congregation. I was looking back through a history of the congregation which was prepared in 1981 for the 25th anniversary of its founding. It includes lists of office-holders for each year.

The first appearance of Pat’s name is in 1964, when she was Chair of the Publicity Committee. 1968 sees her moving into the role of Co-coordinator of Religious Education. That means she ran the Sunday School program. She became vice-president in 1970, and president the following year. In 1973 she became chair of the Membership committee, and in 1976 took on the major role of Lay Chaplain, a position in which she served for many years. And in 1979 she added the task of auditing the financial records. In between and at the same time, she was serving as a member of various committees, the details of which do not appear in the history book.

The history book, incidentally, was authored by ” Pat Adams, Gail McConnell and others”.

It’s probably through Pat’s role as Lay Chaplain that she was best known and most influential. This is the position which Tony Allen is now filling. Our Chaplains are elected lay members who are licensed to conduct weddings. They are also trained to lead other rites of passage, including naming services for children, and funerals and memorial services. Pat, during her term as Chaplain conducted many events such as the one we are participating in today. She had natural pastoral skills which made her an ideal person to work with the bereaved. She officiated at more weddings and services of union than I can count, and those which I attended were beautiful and deeply meaningful. We have several couples in our congregation who are there because they found Pat when they were looking for an appropriate person to perform their wedding. Their experience with her in the preparation for and the conduct of their ceremony led them to realize that Pat’s religious community would probably be a good place for them to put down roots. Many of the children in our group were welcomed to the congregation as babies when Pat conducted their naming services.

More recently, since giving up the role of Chaplain, Pat continued to be deeply involved in the life of the congregation. Everyone knew her as the outgoing, welcoming person who made everyone else feel valued and cared for. The adjectives which I keep hearing over and over again as I ask people to talk about Pat are words such as caring, nurturing, generous, hospitable, gracious. Several people have said to me, “Pat is the reason that I’m a Unitarian. She made me feel so welcome when I first came “. “Pat was the person who encouraged me to believe that I could be a leader. She was my mentor”, said one on whom we now heavily depend.

Many years ago Pat attended a leadership school on the west coast along with a few other members of the Congregation. Part of the program there involved a simulated survival exercise, in which group decision-making was important. Pat’s skills in this area were rated very highly. She was especially identified as a nurturing leader, one who made sure that everyone in the group was heard and involved in decisions. Her colleagues in that exercise also noted that, not only was she a great nurturer, but she was also surprisingly well-informed and practical in her knowledge of wilderness survival. If you were ever going to be in a tough situation, Pat would have been a great person to have along for company.

Another adjective I’ve heard used about Pat a good deal is “elegant”. Never in a way which intimidated us perhaps less elegant women, Pat was always stunning in style and manner. As one of our friends said, “I used to say that one day I’m going to figure out how to be as elegant as Pat Adams is. But I never managed it.” Pat, I think, didn’t have to work at it. It was a natural elegance which remained with her until the very end of her life.

Pat’s hospitality was legendary, and I recall how she used to invite foreign students from the old Co-op College to share meals with her family and give them a wonderful experience of welcome and caring. She always seemed delighted to see people when they turned up on her doorstep, invited or not. She was the one who would look after everyone else’s practical needs, and would then also lay on a generous helping of comfort and friendship.

Behind the scenes in the congregation, one of Pat’s major recent roles was as a member of a small group of women called “the building design and improvement committee”. Within this group Pat took leadership on such practical tasks as redesigning the church kitchen, organising garage sales to raise money to pay for this project, and scouring the city looking for salvageable materials with which to accomplish the design plans. Her colleagues in the garage sale team tell tales of how Pat would retrieve items which others had consigned to the garbage as unsaleable. She would scrub them clean, fix them up, and manage to sell them for perhaps 5 cents. Her intense practicality and thriftiness really came to the fore in this work. Pat volunteered to help wherever she saw the need. I’m told that 2 days before her death, she was offering to help with the book-keeping after she got better. Service to the community, was, I think, one of the major things that gave her life meaning.

People have talked to me about her “stick-to-it-iveness”, her readiness to continue working on what she had undertaken to do, even when the going got tough. Debby Lake recounts how back in the early 1980’s, she (that is Debby) was chairperson of the Sunday Services Committee. Pat had been a member of this committee for some time, and on one occasion she casually remarked to Debby that she was finding the work quite a load. Debby interpreted this as a signal that Pat wanted to be relieved of her responsibility on the committee, and so she didn’t notify her of the next meeting date. When Pat discovered that she had apparently been dropped from the committee, she was highly indignant For her, the fact that a task had become burdensome was no reason to drop it, and she had every intention of continuing to carry out the responsibilities which she had undertaken. She was quickly re-installed.

Pat was kind and thoughtful, caring and nurturing, but she was no patsy. Along with her gentle qualities she was intensely thorough and a fierce advocate of right as she saw it. A previous president of the congregation talks of an annual meeting he chaired where some bylaw changes were on the agenda. Pat was one of the few present who had actually read and considered every word — and cared enough to call attention to some less-than-clear phrasing. She insisted that it be amended before she would vote in favour of passing the whole package. On another occasion, the Minister at the time objected to an action, in the planning of which Pat was closely involved. The Minister was so rash as to say that she had “vetoed” the plan in question. She soon received the sharp edge of Pat’s tongue for claiming what, in Pat’s view of proper relations between Congregation and Minister, was an outrageous usurping of powers. The Minister apologised, soon, and profusely.

So sweet, caring, generous, tough, persistent – but let’s not forget a last, crucial factor that helped make Pat such an joy to be around – her sense of humour. So let me end with the story of the prune garlic crunch.

This story begins with Carl von Baeyer, a previous president of the congregation. Way back in the early 1980’s Carl found himself eating lunch in a small cafe in the southern US. On the chalkboard menu he saw offered, “Prune garlic crunch”. Curious about this delicacy, he ordered some at the end of his meal. However the crunch never arrived, nor did it appear on the bill. He asked the waiter about it, and was told that actually, prune garlic crunch doesn’t exist – it had been written on the menu board by some joker, nobody had erased it, and nobody had ever ordered it before. Memory of this episode remained in Carl’s mind when he was typing up the list of items for sale in the congregation’s annual fiind-raising Auction. He needed one more item to bring the list of offerings to a nice round number. On the spur of the moment, he typed in “Recipe for Prune Garlic Crunch”. To his great surprise, when the auction took place, Pat Adams bid on this recipe, which she purchased for $10. Carl then had to hastily create the recipe, which he did by taking a recipe for peanut brittle, and replacing the peanuts with prunes and garlic cloves. He wrote it out on a pretty card which was duly delivered to Pat. Carl, incidentally, had never tried making the recipe, and never thought that anyone would. Pat, however, was up to the challenge. Next year at the Auction, lo and behold, item #44 “one box of Prune Garlic Crunch”, made from Carl’s recipe. Carl felt obliged to bid on it. He paid $10 for the treat, which he took home, nibbled a piece of, and declared it disgusting. However, rather than discarding it, he put it away in the freezer, and the following year brought it back to sell again at the auction. This time Pat bought it for a further $10, and put it in her freezer for a further year. This inedible delicacy changed hands annually for years, each time raising $10 for the church. Its final destiny is unknown. It may even still be in the freezer at 401 108th Street.

Just as Pat’s family will be trying to imagine life without her presence, we in the Unitarian Congregation are feeling the enormous emptiness created by her loss. For decades she has been so much the core of our lives together. But if Pat has been the flame around which we have been gathering, she was careful during her lifetime to spread her warmth and light and to ignite many other flames which will carry her spirit on. The courage, the generosity, the humour and commitment which she left with us will be picked up and nurtured, and she will be remembered well.

With love and gratitude,

Ann