Evelyn Riggs Westover, Aunt Evie to the entire world it seems, passed over to the other side today, Monday, May 23, 2022.
In the coming days there will be no shortage of tributes, memories and histories shared of this wonderful lady.
As cousin Lynn Quilter expressed this morning, “Well, that ends an era in the family”.
He’s right. Aunt Evie was the youngest in her family and the last of our “greatest generation” to leave us. What a grand legacy she built with Uncle Darrell and what an imprint she has left on us all.
There are not many people, not even my children, who can fully appreciate how much Aunt Evie has impacted my life.
Even as I still mourn the recent loss of my father I’m almost speechless in trying to express how significant Aunt Evie has been to so many of us. Her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren have long cherished her.
On both sides of the veil today there are hearts rejoicing. Her long illness and physical challenges, which could never define her, have released her and she is free to return home to so many others who also adore her.
As a little boy, I struggled to understand our connection.
I was told she was my Aunt Evie, yet I had another aunt who was so much younger. More confusing to me was that my father called her Aunt Evie, too. So did my uncles – and my aunt. I just couldn’t comprehend that.
Aunt Evie, most of the time when I saw her, was in the company of my grandparents.
In fact, my Grandma, who I adored, seemed to be a little different whenever she was around Aunt Evie.
This family famous photo of the Riggs girls – all expecting, powering the post-war baby boom all by themselves.
You see, they laughed a lot.
Aunt Evie could make my Grandma laugh out loud and with great enthusiasm. This was, at least at that time, a little out of character for Grandma, to me.
My Grandma was a little serious, you see. Not in a stern way, but in a reverent way. Grandma was bright and positive and loving and so very, very kind. But it sure seemed that when Aunt Evie was around my Grandma sure laughed a lot more.
Once, at a family event at my Grandma’s house when Evie was there, I asked her about this whole Aunt Evie thing. I was maybe five or six.
I just did not understand how my Daddy’s Aunt Evie could be my Aunt Evie too. So, I asked her about it.
In fact, I told her I would much prefer to call her Grandma – because she looked a little like my Grandma. Aunt Evie just giggled.
Taking me in her lap, she hugged me, kissed me and told me that she loved me. She was always doing that to me.
She said, “Now, Jeff, I know it’s confusing. But your Grandma is your Grandma and nobody else can be your Grandma. She’s special.”
I said, “I know. She’s my Grandma but you can be my Grandma too”.
She laughed again.
“I love you like any Grandma would, that’s for sure!” Evie said, with a finger pointing in the air. “But I’m your Aunt Evie and happy to be so!”
That sounded a lot like something my Grandma would say. She did her best to explain.
“Your Grandma and I are sisters,” Evie said. “I’m her little sister so that makes me your Aunt Evie.”
I clearly did not understand.
But I was taken with the idea that both Grandma and Aunt Evie were once little girls. Sisters, you see, were little – like me. I had sisters, I understood that. But how could she still be Aunt Evie to me and to my Dad?
Aunt Evie very wisely pointed around the room when I told her of my confusion. “Do you see all these people?” she asked me.
“We are all family. Every one of us. And that is all you need to understand.”
Aunt Evie was always that kind of voice of comfort and love to me. And fun, too. She could laugh with the best of them.
When I was a teenager we moved in across the street from Uncle Darrell and Aunt Evie. Years had passed but Evie hadn’t changed at all. She made a special effort to make me feel welcome living just across the street.
Of course, Uncle Darrell built our house but it was Aunt Evie who made the efforts to make us feel welcome.
On one of my first weekends there she invited me to go to the store with her. On the way, she chatted me up, asking about school and the things I liked. As we walked the store she explained what she was looking for and that she loved feeding everyone.
There was a long line at the check out and while we waited our turn she just kept talking. But suddenly she stopped and started giggling. Behind me was the rack of magazines and a tabloid headline had caught Evie’s eye.
Man Marries a Head of Lettuce, the headline read. Aunt Evie started giggling at that headline and just could not stop.
She was laughing so hard tears were starting to come out of her eyes and she started apologizing. But she kept right on giggling and asked me to help fill out her check because she couldn’t see well enough to do it herself.
I understood rather quickly that this was just life with Evie. She saw humor in things most of us might never notice. She was infinitely upbeat. She took great joy, it seemed, in just about everything.
She had her serious moments, too, of course. At Church one Sunday, after I had given a talk, she came up to me and grabbed my face, giving me a big kiss in the process. “You did far better than I could do. I’m proud of you.”
There was no giggling with that, just love. That was Evie’s gift.
Over the years I would have opportunities to have many conversations with her. Some about me and what I was doing but almost always it was about other people in the family. My parents, my cousins, my grandparents, her parents and all those who came before.
My adventures in family history I’ve noted many times came about thanks to Uncle Darrell. But in a more quiet, consistent way Evie was at the center of many of those conversations, too.
She always read what I would post on this website. She asked me questions. She encouraged me. She was always interested.
I’m not sure how much Aunt Evie knew how much that motivated me. I’ve always had kind of an Aunt Evie filter in place when I write things – because I knew she was going to read it.
Still, we teased her a lot when I was younger.
I can never forget those early morning drives to Seminary. It was always early and we were always grumpy and Evie never was. Never.
Being teenagers we would sometimes do things just to get her reaction. On a cold day when the windshield on their big Chevy Impala iced up we all sat in the car while Evie tried to clear the windshield.
Evie was a little lady. That Impala was huge. She had bummed my pocket comb off me so she could scrape the window.
We were content to sit in the car with the defroster blowing watching her jump up at the windshield in an attempt to get her little arms to cover some distance on that huge window. The higher she jumped and reached to scrape the ice the more we laughed.
Looking back now, it seems kind of a mean thing to do.
But when she, out of breath, got back into the car and saw us laughing she started laughing too. “I must have looked pretty silly!” she laughed. But that was Aunt Evie – always bright, always positive, always laughing at herself and never at others.
To me, she was always sensitive about my Mom.
She always asked how Mother was doing. She always asked, if we were discussing something important, if I had talked to my Mom about it.
She always complimented my Mom to me, too – how pretty she was, what neat things she did with our yard, how talented she was in so many creative ways.
Once, when I was maybe 15 or 16, Evie could see I was struggling with girls. I thought she and my Mother talked about it because I had just recently had a talk where my Mom encouraged me to not be so shy – to let my light shine.
Aunt Evie, knowing it was a difficult topic for me but not knowing my Mother had already talked to me, asked me if “the girls” were treating me okay. I told her that was an interesting question, then I told her about the conversation Mom and I had about it.
Aunt Evie hugged me and then kissed me and then told me she loved me. She said my Mom was one smart lady and that I should do as my mother advised. In later years I wanted to ask Evie about that moment but I never did. I should have.
My Mom sometimes had problems accepting love. This was likely due to her upbringing. She just didn’t always know how to respond when someone expressed love.
I know Evie tried and tried and tried with all of us, including my Mother. She never stopped trying.
I say this only because when I think of all the big moments in my life Aunt Evie was there.
She was there when I went to school, when I graduated, when I went to the Temple, and when I went and returned home from a mission. She was there when I got married.
She made sure to speak for those I loved who I had lost.
When my Mom died, she expressed love and told me how much my Mother must love the man I had become. Even recently when my Dad died she told me how grateful he was for me, that he loves me and that she agreed with him.
Evie’s love extended beyond herself and I always felt okay with that. After all, who else would know?
She was especially sensitive to me about my Grandma and Grandpa. After my grandparents passed away Aunt Evie always invoked their name at these big moments she participated in. Grandparenting is a proxy work, if you ask Aunt Evie.
She knew how invested I was in my grandparents and how they were invested in me.
This was a significant photo for my Dad, show him being held by his mother next to Evie in Topaz, 1943.
She did the same thing with my father.
In fact, one of the last conversations I had with my father before he passed was about Aunt Evie.
She was always his 2nd Mom after Grandma and I never knew a time when Dad and Evie were not close.
In his final years they would call each other frequently, comparing notes on their health issues and cheering each other on.
During the course of these conversations, which always ended in a mutual expression of love, Evie would remind Dad that she was supposed to go first.
In my conversation with my Dad that night he passed away he said, “If I go first, Evie will never forgive me.” I understood fully what he was saying. He just didn’t want to let her down.
When I saw Evie a week or two after my father’s funeral, she hugged me, as always, and whispered in my ear, “I’m sorry about your Dad. I sure loved him.” But without saying a word to her about it, she just kept talking. “He wasn’t supposed to go first. The little stinker!”
This too was one of things I love about Aunt Evie.
Everything is eternal in her eyes. My Dad was not “gone”. He is still here, still the same. So too, I would tell you, is Aunt Evie.
She spoke of Uncle Darrell, too, in present tense. Grandma and Grandpa have been gone for over 30 years but not in Evie’s eyes. The same was true of her parents and her siblings. She spoke of them all in the here and the now. Always.
That’s because one of Evie’s great gifts was to see the greatness in others. That was never something in the past, it was always something in the now.
Like all truth, the greatness in people is eternal. Evie was always so bright and hopeful and loving in expressing this about others.
That’s why her passing at age 96 is not a thing to be sad about.
The reunion taking place right now is filled with the laughter – and the giggles – of Evie and her sisters. I know it.
How proud her Mom and Dad must be. How thrilled Uncle Darrell must be to have her back. What a great time it is for my grandparents, and my parents, and all who know and love Evie.
I cannot think of Evie and not smile. It just isn’t possible. Even in death, there is joy.
How I miss her already. How deserving all those dear family members on the other side are of her presence there with them today. Like a new baby coming into this world, I know the passage of Aunt Evie in that “new birth” is one of great rejoicing. It can simply be no other way.
I would be remiss without acknowledging all of Aunt Evie’s children, who have been so loyal and loving to her these many years. Barta has been there for Darrell and Evie these many years with such devotion. How I admire her tenacious care, especially during these difficult times. What great acts of service and example we have still among us.
There is much more to tell of the life of Aunt Evie. There’s a great love story. And another story of raising a dynamic family. Another other of church service. Another of service to family, past and presence. I just can’t do justice to it all.
The responsibility is now ours to document the wonderful life of Evelyn Riggs Westover.
I know among her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren there are many memories and lessons. I hope you will share them in abundance here, so that the record we leave behind is complete.