Our friend Jeff and his family say good bye to his mom, Rita this afternoon. I haven’t seen her for many years but I still feel her influence in my life today.

Roy and I were newly married, he was finishing his Bachelor’s and I was teaching at the college. Rita was a rare commodity in the environment we lived in – she laughed loudly, wasn’t afraid to speak her mind and saw through anyone trying to pull one over on her. I loved her because she made me see not all pastor’s wives have to be quiet and demure. We can speak our minds, own our mistakes, and give grace the way we want to receive it. She took the time to invest in me and her husband was a mentor to my husband Roy.

She and Dr. Fortna adored each other. Their marriage was a picture of perfect balance – he was soft-spoken and gentle, she was a firecracker – just like me and Roy.

For me, the best way to describe her was that she was “authentic” before authentic became a buzzword. Unlike so many other wives – especially pastor’s wives – I was around at that time, she never pretended to be anyone other than herself. She was direct without being harsh, honest without being cutting, and gracious even if she had to tell you something you didn’t want to hear – all the things I aspired to do in my own life and ministry.

I am forever grateful for her influence and investment into our lives. I can only hope that 25 years down the road someone will remember me as fondly and with a smile for the love I showed and the influence I’ve had in their life, just as she did for me.

What a legacy. She will be missed.

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