One of the most difficult aspects of my role with IPM is to share the sad news of those members of the IPM Family who pass away during my tenure. I have done this all too often but rarely with the sense of deep personal loss as this time.
As many of you know by now—through personal relationship with the Mayer Family, my related email of last Sunday, and the moving tribute from IPM’s Latin America & Caribbean Office—IPM Foundress Sammy Mayer passed away peacefully with her family beside her, Sunday morning October 6 at the age of 94. Sammy is survived by her 8 children, their families, and a host of loved ones she called her family. She certainly was family to me.
Anyone who was in Sammy’s presence was unable not to be touched by her. I have had the privilege to know thousands of activists, faith leaders, and social change agents during my lifetime and few could rival her commitment, courage, and passion. She was a mentor, friend, and my “Saint Louis Mother.” We spent countless late nights together discussing IPM’s direction and praying for guidance together as IPM sought to deepen and expand the vital mission Sammy helped birth alongside her beloved Jim after years spent together in service among the people of India.
Sammy was a forceful woman of unmistakable talent who was in some ways born too soon. She was brilliant, fearless, radical in the best sense, and honest to the core. I often joked with her that had she been born closer to my time, she would have been the perfect leader for IPM, if not a much-needed prophetic Bishop in her beloved ELCA denomination!
Born when she was, she found the perfect partner for her passions in Jim and helped set IPM’s vision and direction in the more than three decades since his tragic death. She served the IPM International Executive Board faithfully as a Director and Trustee Emeritus, was a driving force behind IPM’s Saint Louis Advisory Council, travelled to El Salvador with IPM and her son Jim in 2006, was a founding member of my “kitchen cabinet”, and, welcomed countless IPM Project Partners and International Staff Members to her Saint Louis home.
Her death on Sunday the 6th took me and many by surprise. Frankly, I am still coming to terms with what her passing means for me and the IPM Family. We have lost a remarkable woman who was a source of deep and consistent inspiration. Every time she began to speak at an IPM gathering the room went quiet. It was as if the world stood still and God’s Divine Spirit was there among us, speaking through Sammy, with a vision for the way the world ought to be.
I learned of her death while celebrating worship among my Faith Community. While Sammy “had my back” as IPM transitioned from an Ecumenical to Multi-Faith organization during my tenure. We shared a deep sense of how those who claim to follow Jesus of Nazareth are called to live. Literally at the moment the text came telling me of her passing we were singing the song “Who Is My Mother?”
The words we shared together that morning—”Who is my mother, who is my brother…Spirit blown people…differently abled, differently labeled…crutches and stigmas, culture’s enigmas…Love will relate us—color or status, can’t segregate us…family failings, human derailings… all are accepted…bound by one vision, met for one mission…we claim each other…here is my mother, here is my brother, kindred in Spirit, through Jesus Christ”—are the perfect description of the type of justice, righteousness, & shalom Jesus taught and to which Sammy dedicated her life.
Some people are simply irreplaceable. Sammy was certainly one of those unique souls. I will miss her as long as I live. From this day forward, I will recall that beautiful twinkle in her eye, feel the transcendent compassion of her heartfelt greetings, and hear her purposeful voice leading me on, as together we imagine IPM’s continued, vital, role in the world.
May the peace that passes all understanding be with all of you as you join me in mourning the death of this remarkable woman and may we continue to hold firm to the truth that Sammy remains with us in all we do and whenever we utter her beloved name.
In faith and love, Joe
Please note: visitation will be held Tuesday, October 22, from 4pm to 8pm at Kutis Funeral Home,10151 Gravois Rd, St. Louis, MO 63123. There will be a private family burial the following morning with a Memorial Service on December 28, details to come.
kutisfuneralhomes.com. The family requests that memorial donations in Sammy’s honor be sent to IPM or Bread for the World.