Remembering "Liz-buth"
By Jim Turner

Posted on January 1, 0001 12:00 AM

     When the burro brayed, the crowd chuckled. And it came at the close of a funeral.
     Nothing could have been more fitting than an animal getting in the last word at the celebration of the life of attorney Elizabeth Wilson, a life which ended suddenly last week. 
Elizabeth’s last Facebook entry before her death was about her beloved dog Easter and his brain tumor. "Please pray for both of us," she asked.
     Pastor John Weber opened and closed the memorial service under a tent in Elizabeth’s front yard Sunday afternoon. Very little of the service was religious. Most of it was an out-pouring of love for and memories of Elizabeth Wilson. At the end, however, John was leading a prayer. Just as he got to Amen, the donkey let loose 
with a rousing "Hee Haw!" right on cue. Somehow, Liz had orchestrated this party, too.
     The yard was filled to overflowing. The tent wasn’t large enough to hold her friends. Most of those who spoke talked about how big Elizabeth's heart was, that it overflowed with love and support of her friends. It’s ironic that it was her physical heart that no longer worked, leading to her death at age 51.
     Talk about a mixed bag of mourners and celebrators! Lawyers and law enforcement officers were everywhere. At least three judges were in the crowd; one of them, Circuit Judge Tyler Gill, was master of ceremonies. Yet some of those present had run afoul of the law from time to time and had met police officers on a different basis. They, too, were grateful that Elizabeth Wilson had come into their lives, often to counsel and protect them.
     During the hour and a half of the gathering, we laughed, we cried, we sang. The music certainly didn’t consist of funeral dirges. Elizabeth’s man friend, John Upton, sang and played the keyboard, enlisting us to join in for thela, la, lahs of Van Morrison's "Brown-Eyed Girl," which he said she loved.
     Some wore party hats and similar costumes. They felt Elizabeth would want it that way. Gill was wearing a pink shirt, which is not his normal style. The driveway was lined with pink flamingoes.
     Many of the speakers were her oldest friends, those who went to high school with her. Renee Fuqua Kilgore talked about how they would sneak out of the driveway in Elizabeth’s mother’s car, even though they weren’t driving age. "Elizabeth had the idea that if the mileage ended in the last two numbers as it was when it had last been driven, Martha wouldn’t remember what the hundred was on. So we had to drive around Russellville exactly 100 miles. If it was 101, then we had to drive another 99 miles."
     The former Nancy McEndre called her childhood friend "an entertainer" wherever she was.
     Elizabeth’s diving instructor told several funny stories, but he showed his affection for her by driving in from Michigan for the service:. "She taught me to Laugh More, Love More, Live More. She was the queen of my heart."
     Teri Hatchet Hogan flew in from Califonia to be here for the special event. "She’s at a place now where there is no cancer and no hangovers. I can just hear her telling whoever is in charge, ‘This place is wonderful, but it would be even better with a cigarette and a martini.
     Cathy Wheeler Jones had come in from the East Coast. It was difficult for her to talk because of the depth of her grieving.
     Just as those to had traveled from opposite ends of the country, Russellvillian Diane Gilliam Walker said, "She was our center. Whenever we needed to get together, it was always at Elizabeth’s. This weekend we haven't know where to gather, but it seemed that we should be here."
     Cousins came from Alabama and Mississippi to talk about what Elizabeth had meant in their lives. "When it was her birthday she gave presents to us," one said. Another recalled Elizabeth's penchant for shopping. Having visited a shoe store, she attended a family funeral with see-through heels that had little Santa Clauses in them.
     Her expensive tastes were part of the humor. Judge Gill said he won a trip out West, which he and his wife took. Elizabeth had a place in that city and invited them to stay there. "We had free transportation and lodging, and it was the most expensive vacation we ever took," he laughed. "We thought we should buy their meals, but Elizabeth ordered a lobster with one claw bigger than most men."
     Yet with all of the humor, many people talked about what she had done for them.
     Mrs. Ronnie Soyars called her late husband’s friend and attorney the "greatest person I have ever known."
     Annette Todd said the African American community had lost a lawyer friend who would make sure they were treated fairly.
     "She gave of herself for people in need," said classmate and fellow attorney Jay Joines.
     Kay Barclay Chapman talked about Elizabeth’s love for giraffes. "I know why," she said. "The average giraffe has a heart that weighs 22 pounds. So did Elizabeth."
     Parts of Liz’s obituary attest to her caring nature. She served as chief Lobbyist for the Humane Society of the United States in Washington D.C. She had served on the boards of Habitat for Humanity and the Logan County Humane Society. She was recipient of the Kentucky Bar Association Pro Bono Award. Joines talked about her service as an advocate for those who couldn’t afford a lawyer.
                                                                               The Lo Jo

     Elizabeth Wilson had been a big part of my life for nearly 40 years. When she walked into Russellville High School as a freshman in the fall of 1972, my experiences were about to change.
     We had built the speech program for four years, but it took off when "Liz-buth" came on the scene. Doris White (Moody), Harris Dockins and Joe Gran Clark had built the foundation, but Elizabeth took us to a higher level.
     Using what she had learned at the University of Kentucky Debate Camp, she became a top level extemporaneous speaker. She was joined by Catherine Hancock (McCarty) and Beverly Williamson (Holder) as the state's best threesome in any event in the Kentucky High School Forensic League and the National Forensic League. We dominated extemp throughout Kentucky!
     Elizabeth was our first state champion. I accompanied her to national tournaments in Dallas, Colorado Springs and Detroit. Those were experiences, too.
     The first thing I learned was that Holiday Inns were not considered fine lodging, even though they were the cream of motel franchises at the time. Instead we stayed at the historic, rustic landmark The Antlers in Colorado Springs. Her mother, Martha, and step-dad, Dr. Carlisle Dodson, were with us, and Elizabeth said it would be an affront to Carlisle to ask him to stay in a Holiday Inn.
     When the national tournament in Detroit was the weekend of Russellville’s Senior Dance (now the prom), Elizabeth got Dr. Dodson and other fathers to charter airplanes to fly them to the Motor City after the dance.
     She wasn’t always self-assured when it came to speech competition, however. Dave Dockins remembers that I had to accept her first state championship award because she was convinced she had blown it and had left.
     I never knew what hyperventilation was until I met young Ms. Wilson. I had to keep a brown paper bag around for her to breathe in between rounds.
     With her as president in 1975-76, we were one of the best speech teams in the state, finishing as state runner-up.. In addition to the extempers, she led a team that included state poetry champion Diane Gilliam, state prose third-place finisher Archie Beck, steady contributors among her classmates Marianne Rhea, Rhonda Simmons, Debbie Williams and Joines, and super young talents like Belinda Morris (Ray), Shannon Kirkpatrick (Reade), Sonya Violette, Vincent Weatherford (who also died recently) and Sherry Gilliam to tournament championships everywhere.
     The male speakers such as Duane Spurlock. Terry McKenzie, Dave Dockins, Tom Williams, Don Menser, Jack Palmer, Jeff Klein and Clark Rhea were expected to carry the extemp file boxes for Elizabeth, Catherine and Beverly into whatever motel or school we were headed at the time. And they did.
     Diane also recalled Elizabeth as an actress. We did the play The Women, which was made into a movie not long ago. Elizabeth played the part of the woman who had stolen Diane's husband. There were 43 girls in that play. The script called for a bathtub scene. We borrowed (or maybe Dr. Dodson bought, I don't recall) an antique tub with legs. We filled it with white packing peanuts, Liz donned a bikini, buried herself in the tub, and took a bath on stage. "Only Elizabeth could have pulled that off," Diane laughed.
     That was also the play where one of the female characters had to weigh herself. As she climbed onto the scales, Elizabeth came running out in dress rehearsal carrying binoculars, ostensibly checking on poundage.
     After we did a morning performance on the deGraffenried Auditorium stage, many of the cast and crew decided to leave school to have lunch at Hillcrest. Principal Don Turner thought that was a bad idea and gave the culprits a choice of suspension or a paddling. He ended up applying the paddle to some 30 female posteriors.
     Elizabeth, who was one of the recipients of the administrative whipping, gave me a plaque which read, "From the Cast of The Women: Bottoms Up!" Typically Elizabeth.
     One of our experiments that didn't work out was trying to teach Elizabeth to play tennis. She was not exactly a health and fitness follower at the time, her brain was much more coordinated than her body, and we spent some of the lesson time working on keeping her tennis shoes tied. But she handled it good naturedly.
     At times Elizabeth and I didn't agree on things and were sometimes at each other's throats. I told people Sunday that one of the reasons the hair I have left is white is my association with Elizabeth Wilson and John Upton. Yet we all grew up and developed mutal respect.
     Elizabeth is the attorney I asked to handle Mother's will, her giving me Power of Attorney, and her estate. She came to the house, bringing some of her staff with her to talk with Mother, who was her biology teacher.
     In the 38 years I have been in journalism, I have steadfastly refused to put political signs in our yard, even though I have had countless friends and former students running. The one exception was last year when Elizabeth ran for commonwealth attorney. Our family openly supported Elizabeth, even though her opponent, Gail Guiling, is also one of my former students and also my friend. I knew Gail would be an excellent commonwealth attorney, which she has, but my loyalty to Liz-buth superceded everything else.
     That same spring, Elizabeth took time out from campaigning and her law practice to come to WKU to help me out by judging the state speech tournament. Sally Ray, associate dean of the Potter College, told me this week she remembers Elizabeth saying, "I'd do anything for Turner."
     She would have. She did.

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