Wednesday, October 05, 2005


“Dark rooms. There are some very dark rooms.” Shirley Dowdy Plunket, eyes closed, uttered these words under the influence of medications given after a surgeon amputated both of her legs last week.

What she saw in that altered state of consciousness reflected the reality of her journey over the last two years.

Many of you know Shirley Dowdy Plunket, the mother of my husband Ken, Jim Dowdy Jr., and Dorlea Dowdy Rikard. Through her marriage in her seventies to the late Lamar Plunket, she is the proud stepmother of Trudie Plunkett, Bonnie Plunket Barnett, Rodney Plunket, and Joe Plunket.

Reaching the status of octogenarian on September 23, friends and family members alike will quickly agree with Rodney’s wife, Margaret, that in spite of the fact that she is eighty; Shirley is simply not OLD. Her grandchildren, the Dowdy’s, the Rikards, the Plunkets, and Barnets, don’t think of her as old. Her grandchildren call her on their cell phones. The grandkids call, not under duress, but because they genuinely like talking to her.

Young people have always loved to talk to Shirley.

She’s not old, but in her eighty years the collection of folks for whom she has been a nurturer, a listening ear, a hostess, a bearer of gifts, an encourager, and a comforter may be akin to the descendants of Abraham—as hard to count as the stars in the sky.

After coming of age in the mountains around Denver, marrying her World War II GI sweetheart Jim Dowdy, and settling in Huntsville, Alabama, Shirley walked through life remembering what it meant to be a stranger. She turned that reality into a home renowned for hospitality. Scented by her cooking and baking and infused with her love for special occasions, every room in the Dowdy home sparkled with holiday décor and glowed with the warmth of her welcome.

The Christmas before Ken and I married she welcomed not only me to her home, but my mother and sister from Michigan, and my sister, her husband, and infant son from Atlanta.

Photos displayed in the hallway of her home included young men who had lived with them at various times mixed right in with the photos of Jim Jr., Ken, and Dorlea.

If there were pictures of all the weddings, showers, teas, and parties hosted by Shirley, the hall could not hold them all.

As bright as the rooms in the family’s home in Huntsville were, they could not keep Shirley from walking through the valley of the shadow of death. After over forty years of marriage, she lost Jim to cancer. Within a few years of that loss, she walked to the gravesides of both of her two surviving brothers.

Shirley turned that path into a ministry of grief recovery blessing scores of others surviving the loss of loved ones.

The brightly painted rooms in the home she eventually built in Florence, Alabama provide a light backdrop to picturesque displays celebrating her various affections—children and grandchildren, the Southwest, crystal, cookbooks, a plethora of cool gadgety items, and her years with Lamar.

Taken from her active church and social life, the joy of travel, and her usual paths of service by a devastating staph infection, for the last two years Shirley brightened rooms of hospitals and nursing homes by her spiritual response to the intense suffering she endured. Last Thursday she submitted to a double amputation of her legs due to the unrelenting infection in her knees.

Resolute and understandably a bit fearful, Shirley helped me and others around her cope with her condition. As time for surgery approached, it was gut wrenching to me to think of her losing her pedicured feet. I cried when I saw her closet and remembered how much she always loved shoes.

But as family members sat nearby and listened to her positive assessment of the situation and her faith in the Lord, I thought of the passage in Romans extolling the beautiful feet of those who carry the good news.

When she muttered about the dark rooms, I thought--Shirley Dowdy Plunkett, you have passed through some dark rooms, but no infection, no surgery, no power on this earth, can take away your beautiful feet.

She would love to hear from you.
Shirley Dowdy Plunkett
Mitchell-Hollingsworth Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
805 Flagg Circle
Florence, AL 35631

photo by Julia Elliot
Pictured standing on left-Rachel Formby Dowdy, Kiley Rikard
Seated-Shirley Dowdy Plunket, Dorlea Dowdy Rikard, Beverly Choate Dowdy
Standing right-Meagan Rikard Haney


Anonymous said...

Very touching. I'll pray for her!

Anonymous said...

Sweet word pictures, Bev. Thanks for helping us to visualize the essence of Shirley!