Those of us who are pastors consider ourselves called into ministry, but sometimes you realize what a wonderful privilege it is to do it. You meet remarkable people, and I count Iva Jewel Tucker among them. Yesterday we had her funeral. I was her pastor for many years, and she was the light of Christ among us. Not in an ethereal, hyper spiritualized piety, but in an honest, human, incarnation of the gospel. Funny, always sharp in her observations and humor. And yet when she filled in with our office once as a temp while we were hiring, she came to work with a serious face on every day. I saw an entirely other side to her—no nonsense. That’s how she was with anything to do with words or faith.
Yet as a part of this church, she attracted everyone to her—children loved her, and she adored them. If you were privileged to be one of her 23,000 closest Facebook friends, she loved your pictures and talked about what was going on in your life. She was interested in everything.
Her obituary listed a life that tires the reader to think about. By the time she died at age 93, she listed the following activities (I’ve summarized):
She graduated from Howard College (now Samford University) where she studied journalism and spent much of her life as a writer, editor, and artist working for the Baptist Sunday School Board and on the staff of the national Woman’s Missionary Union, where she was editor of Girls’ Auxiliary (Girls in Action) magazines and materials. She was an editorial assistant and later Director of the Editorial Department for The Alabama Baptist, the state Baptist newspaper.
Through the years she also worked for the Birmingham News and in her church life taught in children’s classes for many years. She and her children spent summer vacations leading Vacation Bible Schools with Choctaw tribe in Mississippi. She volunteered for and led activities at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham, taught conversational English to international students and many other volunteer activities.
She counted among her special interests writing, editing, reading, traveling, watching classic movies, drawing, painting, making greeting cards, stamp collecting, coin collecting, and listening to great music.
Dr. Bill Bugg, a friend, told me after the service that Iva Jewel edited a novel he was working on. He had a romantic scene in it, and she wrote, “Need more detail. Reads like they’re washing the car.” One of her “Iva Jewelisms” was shared in the service of her description of a dull book: “It’s a book that, once you put it down you can’t pick it up again.”
She went off traipsing through Myanmar in her late 70s to accompany a writer who was working on a book about Baptist work there and I was fearful we’d lose her then, but no, came back with effusive reports of the good Christian folk there like she’d ridden down to Hoover and back.
As a church goes, how cool is it that your only biker babe who rode it to church was Iva Jewel? Even if her pretend Harley was a yellow scooter called, “Buttercup?” She would roll up every Sunday with her best friend of many years, Kaye Carlisle on two scooters, and Iva Jewel with a long, fake Willie Nelson braid hanging down her back. To people who worried about her safety she retorted, “I’m going to get a tattoo on my chest that says, DO NOT RESUSCITATE: DO NOT CALL MY SON RICHARD.
My wife said the other day, “She was always present.” With it, there, in the moment. She really listened. She engaged. She was alive, so alive on this earth.
As her pastor, I walked with her through that terrible journey of Guillain Barre. Months of being cut off from the world, cognizant but unable to speak, walking up to the gate of heaven a time or two. And when she came back, we talked a lot. And I learned how tough she was and how she got that way. Life was hard, so hard—in childhood with the loss of her father, in adult life, ending up a single mother with three children to raise, again and again, she persevered. And she never lost faith, not stopped loving life, never stopped loving others, never ceased thinking, trying, and enjoying.
What a privilege it is, an honor, to know people like that. Oh, I will miss you, Iva Jewel. Sunday will never be the same for me again. Even from a wheelchair you’d roll by, call out, “Hail, O mighty man of valor!” and I wanted to be that since you said it. And you asked about me, blessed me, didn’t say a word about your troubles. I’m so thankful for you.
When she came out of the coma from Guillain-Barre she told me that she’d died, or thought she did—maybe it was a vision. But she went to the gate of heaven and Betty Sue Shepherd, our former organist who had died and who was her friend of many years, came out to meet her and said, “It’s not your time yet, Iva Jewel. You need to go back.” And she did. This time they let her in, I’m sure. It was time.