What has been your mother’s greatest gift to you? This is a most difficult question, and after much thought, the answer must be her very presence in my life.

My mother’s name is Willene Wicker Shealy. This extraordinary woman will celebrate her 93rd birthday in September, and her “gift” has been the most influential factor in determining who my siblings and I have become.

She embodied for her young children all of the words commonly associated with the word mother: nurturer, doctor (all cuts and scratches painted red with merthiolate), cook (no better in the entire South —her turkey gumbo is the best!), seamstress (making almost all of our clothes, even reversible coats), chauffeur (countless Scout, church, after-school meetings, piano lessons), tutor, mediator, encourager, counselor (always ready with wise advice) and our own “Miss Manners” (teaching us to become socially acceptable people).

Just as important, she instilled in us a love of life and family, a strong work ethic, a passion for reading and history, a desire to learn and a wish to be as wise as she. She steered us through childhood, the terrible teens and young adulthood all the while preparing us to become good citizens and good people.

Yes, her gift of presence, then and now, is an inspiration to me and to others who have the privilege to know her. Her life provides for me a formidable challenge — one in which I aspire to become the kind of person she is.

Murrie Alice Johnson

Johns Island