Eulogy of Rosemary Phelps

Eulogy Rosemary Phelps

First, I want to express thanks to Pastor Glen Swanson and the Bayside family for allowing me the opportunity to speak. This church is a special place for me as it was the home for me growing up as a child, learning about Jesus to follow Him in faith, and to embrace His call into vocational ministry. Further, the Bayside family included so many special people who invested in my life, and one who stands near the top of that list is Rosemary Phelps.

At this moment, I’m also intimidated because Mrs. Phelps was my High School English and Community College Speech teacher, and I can just imagine her in heaven with a notebook and pen making a list of mistakes or proposals for what I could do better. Further, I’m aware that countless others have been part of or friend of the Phelps family that could stand in my place. So, I stand here today as a voice of many giving thanks for the fact that Rosemary Phelps was a role model for her life accomplishments, her faith affections, and her family identity.

In her life, she was a proud citizen of Tennessee. Rosemary loved the beauty of the Smokey Mountains, and the victories of the Tennessee Volunteer athletics. Further, she was a graduate of Carson Newman College just outside of Knoxville. This is not only the place where she graduated with an English and teaching degree, but it is also the place where she met her husband Tom. I’m wearing orange today in honor of her beloved Tennessee and her influence upon me to attend CN.

Eventually, she and Tom returned to Maryland to raise their family in Maryland at Northern High School for multiple decades. There are hundreds of students that she (and Tom) has influenced both academically, emotionally, and spiritually. In Rosemary’s honor, please raise your hand if you were one of her students. Amen.

Someone has said, “If you want to see what the future holds, ask a teacher.” Another wise person said, “If your vision is for a year, plant pumpkins. If your vision is for decades, plant trees. If your vision is for a lifetime, educate people.” Teaching is the one profession that establishes all other professions. What made Rosemary such a great teacher was not necessarily her classroom curriculum but that she cared for all her students. As any teacher, there were students whom she had more challenges with than others, or who she was not their favorite. But there was not a single student that she did not want to advance and succeed in whatever was their dream.

Rosemary had many life accomplishments, but none more than the investments she made in the lives of others. In this, she sought to reflect the Scriptures that say, “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourself” (Philippians 2:3), and following the command to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).  

This leads to a second way Rosemary was a role model, in that of her Christian faith. Rosemary was an unashamed follower of Jesus and a vibrant witness for her Christian faith. She attended church as a child and trusted in the Lord Jesus at a young age. She was a member at Emmanuel Baptist in Huntingtown, and later assisted in the chartering of a church plan from EBC with Bayside Baptist Church. Rosemary loved and served God with her church family through using her musical abilities to play the piano for most every Sunday. She participated in youth and children’s ministries, traveled on multiple mission trips both internationally and nationally. She taught youth (myself included) & adult Sunday School classes and was a faithful and loyal member of her church family. Even more, she was a friend and supporter of pastors. She and Tom would frequently go out of their way to be generous in their words of encouragement, generous with gifts of appreciation, and loyal in their participation and promotion of their pastor’s leadership.

Beyond her church involvement, Rosemary sought to be a light for her Lord and Savior even in the public school system. She did not proselytize students in the classroom, but she found ways to bring up the value of having faith in God amid life’s highs and lows, celebrations, and struggles. She would be the first to admit she was not perfect but was a testimony to the grace and strength of God in her life. In the public school she was a homeroom supporter for Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA), where students could attend to find the introduction and support of Christian friends. She sponsored students with FCA/YFC conferences in Ocean City (me included), promoted local Fields of Faith outreaches, and the annual SYATP prayer event. She worked with the principal for the annual HS graduation ceremonial prayer (me included). These are just a handful of ways that Rosemary’s faith was public.

Yet, Rosemary’s personal faith was most important. She regularly read the Bible to listen to God and learn about Him, and what He wanted for her life. She prayed persistently for herself and others. In these last couple years of struggling with long-covid and back pain, she frequently asked God, “Why?” While she did not always get a clear answer, she knew that she was being introduced to numerous nurses, diverse doctors, and countless others who she had opportunity to share about the sustaining grace and enduring faithfulness of the Lord.

A verse she repeated and lived many times: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Rosemary was a role model for her life accomplishments and faith affections, but most importantly for her family identity. When we think about Rosemary, we cannot also but think about her partner in adventure and spouse in love, Tom. They were married for 53 years and did everything together. Whether it was being home with family to cook meals, opening the pool for summer and hosting parties, to breeding their puppies, serving church ministries, road trips with the RV, beach trips to Ocean City, watching grandchildren, or any number of other activities, Tom and Rosemary were always together. When it came to Tom, Rosemary frequently had an eye-twinkle and bright smile, commonly a laugh or chuckle at Tom’s antics, and on occasion an eye-roll. Overall, their love for one another overflowed in the lives of their three accomplished children.

Again, you couldn’t have a conversation with Rosemary without her glowing mention of one of her children or grandchildren. She radiated joy about the military education, service, and work of Ben (w/ Mary). She beamed with pride about T’s (w/Karen) police work and promotions. And she glowed with fulfillment seeing her daughter Mary Susan (with/Chris) follow her footsteps into teaching and investing in students. Again, Mrs. Rosemary never claimed to be a perfect parent. There were perhaps times she may have been over-critical or under-appreciative, but she wouldn’t have been a “Southern Lady” without having high expectations! And each of you have not only met those expectations but made your mother’s dreams come true – not because of your profession but because of who you are as people. Your mother’s legacy continues in you with your faith, your hope, and your love.

Further, your families with your spouse and children have been a source of deep delight. I think it’s possible that Rosemary has enjoyed the title “Grandma” as much as, if not more than “Mom,” because of the multiplication of joy and blessing. Grandchildren: Clara, Andrew, Jacob, Hannah, Lily, and Thomas, know that your Grandmother loved you beyond imagination. She relished and raved about your school and sport accomplishments. She faithfully prayed for you when you experienced hardships. And you can trust that she’s no longer suffering but smiling bright because of Jesus.

Beyond children and grandchildren, there was brother Burl, in-laws Dotty & Darryl, Judith & Ben, cousins, many nephews, and nieces, and those who just felt like they were part of the family with countless precious friends near and far. Know that each of you were a cherished gift in Rosemary’s life. Two Proverbs from Scripture exemplify friendship with Rosemary: 27:9 “Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from their earnest counsel,” and 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one sharpens another.” Each of us have been sweetened, strengthened, and sharpened through our friendship with Rosemary.

About a few months ago, I was driving through Calvert County and stopped by the Phelps home to see Rosemary and Tom. I missed them, as they were at doctor appointments. Thankfully, a couple weeks ago, I had another opportunity to stop by the house. While driving, I almost didn’t stop. I was uncertain if I wanted to take the time. Also, I didn’t want to be a bother. But the Holy Spirit spoke to me saying, “If you don’t stop and this was your last time you were able to see her, would you regret it?” When Tom arrived at the door, I asked if they had about 15 minutes or so, and almost two hours later I had one of the most meaningful conversations I’ve had with the Phelps. The lesson for each of us to learn is to listen to Jesus.

Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and feast with them.” (Revelation 3:20)

May Mrs. Phelps’ life and death help you take the next step of opening the door, opening your ears, and following Jesus. His way is true, His heart is kind, and His grace is sufficient.  

In His grace,

A three times student (SS, HS 1995, CCCC 2000), brother in Christ, and adopted in love son,

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