Please consider donating to the Alzheimer’s Association in Taffy Wilber’s name:
Edna Mae “Taffy” Wilber 1925-2010
My mother passed away on August 2nd after an eight-year battle with Alzheimer’s. I saw her just a couple of weeks before she died, and at that visit the nurse prompted her to say hello to me by name. She responded with a “Hello, Rick,” and I’ll always have that, prompted though it was.
At the outset of her struggle, Taffy and her husband, Del, were living in St. Louis, their home for some fifty years. Dad had a medical crisis with prostate cancer that almost took his life, and Mom was trying to be there to help him, but she was forgetful and prone to a sudden loss of control of her arms and legs. It was a worrisome combination for her, but we all were more worried then about Dad and his cancer and so we mistakenly put Mom’s problems on the back burner.
Wisely or not, we brought them to St. Petersburg, Florida, and a very good assisted-living facility we found there. I lived just a couple of miles away and so I willingly took on the role of caregiver for them both: a role I thought would be minimal but quickly grew to be all-consuming and demanding as Dad’s emotional needs and Mom’s slide into dementia combined for a really challenging 15 months. I was with them both pretty much every day for that time and the work was so surprisingly tough that I wound up writing a book about it, focusing mostly on my unreadiness for the role and what I ultimately learned the hard way about being a caregiver.
After Dad’s death my sister stepped in and moved Taffy – who by this time had slid more deeply into the private world of the Alzheimer’s patient – into a facility that was closer to her and provided excellent care. It was at that facility that Mom died a few weeks ago; cared for, loved, visited often by some of her children and their children and their children. Taffy, over time, no longer knew us and certainly didn’t remember the visit past a minute or two, but we knew we were making the effort and the symbolic value was high. Each visit was a way to remember her in better times and so the visits served the same sort of function as a funeral service: they’re not for the departed, they’re for those left behind. The visits to a mother who can’t know you anymore is, still, a way to say thank you and pay your respects.
Taffy Wilber was a remarkable woman, opening doors for women in broadcasting, raising five children mostly on her own (with our father off playing baseball nearly year around), running her own public-relations firm. She was an avid reader, active in several important charities, and a woman of good humor and great sense. I'm attaching a picture of her during her radio career with KMOX in St. Louis, in this case doing an interview with Joe Namath.
My best memories of Taffy come from
childhood, when she handled the family while Dad was gone. My father was a baseball
coach, player and manager, and in some ways that made for a golden childhood
for his children, and for his sons especially. We were a ballplayer’s boys and
we knew it and reveled in it. Some of us revel in it still, though we are old
ourselves, these days. Sometimes this is a good thing. Sometimes not.
It was our mother who worked hard to keep it all together for us, though we couldn't appreciate that at the time. In addition to centering her family, she wanted her own career and she made that happen. She wanted to raise those five kids and she made that happen, too. She wanted to be a good baseball wife and that, too, she made happen. All of this, this incredible juggling act, she did while helping us with our homework, home schooling us while we went to spring training for five or six weeks every spring, attending our football games in high school and our youth orchestra performances in grade school and our school plays and so much more. She was, in her day, the glue that held us all together.
She loved to read, and for me that was important. My father viewed my heavy reading habit with a certain suspicion, but Mom defended me and so I was allowed to read constantly as a kid. In fact, I generally remember my childhood as one spent playing baseball with my friends and reading, always reading.
Taffy wasn’t perfect. She smoked incessantly, struggled now and again with alcohol, had problems at work and in life. She was such a poor cook that I learned the basics of cooking in a form of self-defense. But we all have those failings and she had no more than anyone else. She tried, I know, to be a good – even a great – mother and we loved her for that. I counted on her when I faced hard times in life and in love and she was always there for me during those crises, often with Dad right beside her. They came through for us all when times were tough for us.
I thought of that every time I visited her in the nursing home. I made it there every month or two, just to sit for a few minutes with her and hold her hand and maybe watch a little bit of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. She loved that film and I came to love it, too. It’s spring training in Sarasota in that film and we resonated to that, sitting there together, mother and son, in a Sarasota nursing home.
I hope it’s spring training in Sarasota now for Mom. I hope there’s another life and she has herself back and knows who she is and is happy and healthy and strong there. I hope she’s reading a good book and relaxing. I hope Dad is there with her and they’re happy together.
Thanks, Mom, for our happy childhood. It was really something and you made it that way.
The obituary, which appeared in various newspapers and websites, was as follows:
Edna Mae "Taffy" Wilber, wife of the late major league catcher Del Wilber and beloved mother to Del Jr., Rick, Cindy, Mary, and Bob passed away in Sarasota, Florida on August 2, 2010. Born Edna Mae Bennett on January 9th, 1925 to PA Bennet and Belva Brodnax Bennett in Del Rio, Texas and raised in San Antonio, she met Del Wilber while working at Lackland Air Force Base in 1944. After the war they moved to St. Louis, MO where Del was a returning catcher for the St. Louis Cardinals. While raising a family amid the challenges of a major league baseball lifestyle Taffy also forged a successful career of her own. Her contributions in the fields of public relations and communications were widely recognized as trailblazing efforts during a time when the concept of gender equality was still more dream than reality. A renowned radio personality on KMOX 1120-AM in St. Louis during the 1960s, Ms. Wilber went on to work for the St. Louis Cardinals baseball club as the team's point person for women's and children's activities, while also serving with other area Major League Baseball (MLB) wives as a founder of the "Pinch Hitters" charitable organization. Following her time with the Cardinals she created her own public relations and communications agency in St. Louis, Taffy Wilber and Associates, and worked closely with the city of St. Louis in its efforts to revitalize its core while also recognizing and addressing both its current problems and future potential. Her work with St. Louis-based Senior Circuit -both cable television and print media- created lasting change for the senior citizen community and provided a model for other communities.