Saying Goodbye to the Greatest Generation

In the all-too brief period from December 11, 2020, to January 2, 2021, my mother-in-law Mary Grey Randolph went from living at home with a full-time caregiver to the hospital for surgery back to home for recovery, and then back to the hospital briefly, before moving to hospice care for two days, before passing on 1/2/21.

We shared a birthdate, and she often joked and wondered if I would ever catch up with her – and oh, by the way, she was planning on living to be 100.

Though she didn’t quite make it to her 100th birthday, she was living in her 100th year, so she gets full credit for that!

Mimmie, as she was affectionally known to our family, was the last of her generation in our extended family. Her husband passed away in 2015.

They were the Greatest Generation.

Much more than the titles of the great books by Tom Brokaw, Doc and Mary Grey nevertheless were the Greatest Generation, the likes of one which we have not seen since, and are likely not to see again – at least for awhile.

Mary Grey’s long life was marked by devotion to her God and church; love and nourishing her family; and compassion for others.

Mary Grey and W.L. “Doc” Randolph were married in 1943, lived apart for most of the war years, and began their family life in Goodlettsville, TN following the end of WW II.

Her vocational career included office management and bookkeeping responsibilities in several companies for over five decades. After retirement, her full-time occupation was keeping Doc in line, and as beloved “Mimmie” to her grandchildren.

Mary Grey was a long-time member at her church, and was involved in many activities and responsibilities over the years.

She and Doc, along with four other couples, personified friendship, care, and affection through the Sunday Night Bunch, which gathered weekly for over six decades.

She was devoted to her large family, and always took joy in hosting family gatherings from a single grandchild to dozens of family members for all occasions.

To me, that’s a pretty good definition of “greatest.”

The G.I. Generation, born 1901-1924, developed a special and good-kid reputation as the beneficiaries of new playgrounds, scouting clubs, vitamins, and child-labor restrictions. They came of age with the sharpest rise in schooling ever recorded. As young adults, their uniformed corps patiently endured the depression and heroically conquered foreign enemies. In a mid-life subsidized by the G.I. Bill, the build gleaming suburbs, invented miracle vaccines, plugged missile gaps, and launched moon rockets. Their unprecedented grip on the presidency began with a New Frontier, a Great Society, and Model Cities, but wore down through Vietnam, Watergate, deficits, and problems with “the vision thing.” As senior citizens, they safeguarded their own “entitlements” but had little influence over culture and values. Representatives of this generation include John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Walt Disney, Judy Garland, John Wayne, and Walter Cronkite.

William Strauss and Neil Howe, Generations

The event that not only named my in-laws’ generation, but shaped their character as young adults, was World War II. As recounted by Tom Brokaw, “There may never be again be a time when all the layers of our complex society are so completely absorbed in a monumental challenge as they were during WW II.”

Everyone had a role; everyone understood that the successful outcome of the war was critical to the continuing evolution of political and personal freedom.

The nation was infused with a sense of purpose and patriotism. Political leaders, the popular culture, advertising, newspapers, and radio cheered on the war effort once the fighting began. For many young men and women, that call to duty and the constant reminders of its importance in their lives and to the whole country marked their lives during the war and long after.

As I have written about a great deal on this site, I believe that our generations revolve in cycles. Interestingly, the premier researchers in this field, William Strauss and Neil Howe, believed that the generation that will most closely mimic the Greatest Generation in life events and achievements, is the Millennial generation.

The Millennials, those born 1982-2004, are the new “Greatest Generation” – not in name but in deed?

We face a much different type of “battle” today; one not against a named nation or group of nations, but against ourselves.

This cartoon, taken from decades of display on Mimmie’s fridge door, reflects both her life and attitude.

When two different groups view our objectives with a short-sighted and selfish nature, no one will be happy and we will both become quickly frustrated. We will tug and strain, and ultimately fail.

But if we come together and reason, give of ourselves and give up our selfish motives, we will succeed beyond our wildest dreams.

May it be so with the Millennials (Mimmie’s grandchildren), as it was with her Greatest Generation.

Mary Grey Randolph, 1921-2021

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