James B. Earley
Mary Azevedo 13 March 1947 - 2 June 2005...Memorial Tribute - Poem by James B. Earley
11 August 2005
Robert Mondavi Winery
Good afternoon. Varied folks have spoken fondly of Mary, and over and over, and over again, I've heard the word compassion. I have my own little story to tell.
I've known Mary many years, first as a Winery employee, and later more specifically as Robert Mondavi's Administrative Assistant. In that capacity, I reported directly to Mary. During a late Saturday afternoon incident, May 2001 I found myself at the mercy of a work-related mental lapse, so radically uncharacteristic, so emotionally disturbing, that its happening caused me to seriously re-examine my ability to continue functioning at the heightened level of excellence I'd decreed myself early on. That evening...and all of Sunday I pondered the tragedy that might have occurred. I thought of the enormous responsibility I held in my position of trust...the lives of all those folks whose ultimate safety the Company faithfully placed in my hands. Amid hours of internal questioning and self-doubt speculation, and later discussing the matter with my family, I concluded that I should resign forthwith my position with Robert Mondavi Winery.
Meeting with Mary early the following Monday morning, I presented the letter of resignation, hand-written on an 8 1/2 x 11 inch sheet of paper, full-page text. She read the letter through, pausing to ask questions, counseling as she went. Setting the letter aside, she said 'I don't want you to do this. Take a week off, two weeks, whatever time you think you need, but don't do this.' I've always held the utmost respect and admiration for Mary, but I walked away that morning with a new-found appreciation of her that had absolutely nothing to do with anything she had said during the course of our conference. But, I grasped its relevance dramatically etched in the poignant observation I'd made during the interval. For as she read the letter, she began to cry, and the tears continued flowing throughout the duration of our meeting. She took my pain, that Monday morning, and made it.......her very own.
During July 4th weekend 1995, I attended my family's reunion at Pontiac, just outside Detroit, Michigan. At the conclusion of the event, I shared an airport ride with my cousin Alyce. Along the way she reminisced about her late father, saying 'I miss him so much. I think about him every day, and I feel his presence near me...every single day. As I ride along in this car, I feel him seated...right here...beside me.' Turning toward me, smiling, with tears flowing down her face, she asked 'Would you write a poem about that? '
Aboard the aircraft, later that evening, I thought of an urgent matter I needed to discuss with Mary. As I thought of her, a startling recollection came to mind. Saint Patrick's Day, just past, I'd encountered Mary strolling the Winery grounds, stunningly attired in an elegant pale green dress. I commented, 'What a beautiful dress.' A broad smile came over her face, and through streaming tears she said, 'This was my mother's dress. My mother went to bed one evening in good health, as far as I knew, but she did not awaken the following morning. She passed away during her slumber.'
I sat there on the plane pondering Mary and her story, her smile and her tears, and was instantly reminded of my cousin's presence during our airport ride hours earlier. I thought of the two women, totally unacquainted, yet together bound....in spiritual poignancy, that identical melding of 'joy and sorrow...an infinite longing. And at that moment......the image of my maternal grandfather came vividly to mind......and somewhere over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, I was moved to write; immediately composing the poem:
IS NOT PERCEPTION.....REALITY
Reality says they've passed away
......Is not perception...reality
For I feel a living presence, as though
They stand right next to me
Those guiding hands of long ago
So firm against my brow
As strong and gentle as yesterday
Is the warmth which I know now
That legacy of the distant past
Still......a mighty roar
Memories sustain my soul
And on whose wings I soar
Reality says they've passed away
Silenced in death, and then
Perception says they're just as close
And real as way back when
I was born and reared on a small farm in Southern Illinois, nine miles north of the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, and moved away the morning following my High School graduation. Fond are the memories of my childhood. I remember standing out in the yard, gazing down the hill, and across the flat-lands. Looming in the distance, I could easily see the highway bridge spanning the Mississippi River. I spent countless hours imagining all sorts of happenings on and about that bridge. I recall the sight and sounds of the approaching rain, long before the showers arrived at my vantage point, there on the old porch swing. In the backyard I see the five fruit trees I planted. Out front, just beyond the driveway, is my little red wagon. And down the lane, across the graveled road, sits the old two-room grammar schoolhouse. I was barely seventeen years old when I last laid eyes on any of this. One of the many appreciations I have of Mary is the fact that she never lost sight of her roots. Though she went away for a while, she answered the love of the land, and found her way back to the ranch. And I imagine...the joy she found in the simple act of stepping outside her door to some magical interaction with those magnificent days of her childhood. She might have sensed it in the screech of a passing car on State Route 12, or she may have seen it somewhere within the shadows of the humongous hills rising only feet from where she stood, or it could have been a random sparkle lurking in the stream that flowed by the house, or she might have heard it in the approaching sound of a distant train, or it could have been a rock, or perhaps a tree. But, clearly I see the woman, and I see the little girl. I see them holding hands, walking and talking, and savoring the moment, and I see this jewel of a person I'm am so blessed to have known as, 'The treasure of Jamieson Canyon.'....There's an old road, winding...Along the stream, meandering....Romance of a train...From God knows where...Echoed sounds rumbling....Walking the hills thinking....Of the joy those sounds are bringing....Memories welcome the child again.....She's the treasure of Jamieson....Canyon.
Thank you, and good evening.
~JAMES B. EARLEY
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