To her family and her town, this grandma’s a hero

Earlier this year, I published a poem by one of this site’s regular readers, Francie Robertson of Cascade, Montana, about the intensity of her love for her 12 grandkids.

Afterwards, I heard from one of Francie’s daughters, Sarah Jane Robertson, a psychotherapist who lives with her husband and kids in upstate New York. Sarah wanted to tell me just how special her mother is, since she knew Francie would never tell me herself.

I found Sarah’s note so inspiring that I’ve decided to reprint it in full.

In general, people who make headlines are after power, money, and fame. We don’t often get to read about people like Francie, who build their lives around love and quiet service to others.

They should be recognized, too.

Though they may not care if the world knows how great they are, they can teach the rest of us a lot.

Here’s what Sarah wrote about Francie:

“I just wanted to thank you for publishing my mother’s poem on The Grandparent Effect. It has made her so happy, and she has so enjoyed this experience.

My mom isn’t one to sing her own praises, but she is truly a remarkable woman.

“She has no idea the impact she has had on the world.”

She and my Pop married young and raised five kids on Pop’s teacher’s salary. She did foster care for more than 40 babies, first for what was the ‘welfare’ agency and then for Lutheran Social Services. She volunteered for the crisis center taking phone calls and later worked in hospice.

When I was six, in 1975, our church sponsored a family from Vietnam and that refugee mother and her four children moved in with us. I don’t know how long they stayed with us, but that time made a huge impact on my first grade self. Eight kids, three adults, and two bathrooms! It was so awesome!

For years she ran ‘The Santa Express.’ We grew up in a very poor section of Great Falls, Montana. She worked with our school social worker to identify families who wouldn’t have Christmas and then got wish lists put together for those families. As teens, my siblings and I, along with our church and our friends, delivered wrapped new gifts to these families in the days before Christmas. We were told that if the families asked where the gifts came from, we should respond, ‘The North Pole, of course!’

She became a teacher’s aide when I went to college to earn extra money to help the three of us who were all in college at the same time and even worked at Hardee’s to help out.

She helped my older sister and younger brother open and run a restaurant for about 10 years, and the restaurant was a perfect fit for her people-person personality. She was loved by the regulars.

Because she had kids early, she didn’t finish her B.A. It was a big disappointment for her as she is a huge proponent of education and made sure we all finished college. To remedy this she secretly started classes, and several years ago, at the age of 66, she finished her B.A. in human services. She didn’t tell anyone until it was complete. She told me first, casually, in a phone conversation, and I just cried. I was so proud of her. She downplayed it, saying it wasn’t like our degrees from the university, but she was glad she had a degree too.

She’s been helping raise my older brother’s kids for the past 12 years and does childcare for my younger brother’s two boys. She is a volunteer grandparent at the school currently and helps out reading with the kids. Sometimes I worry that it’s a bit much, but she loves it and those kids are so lucky to have her.

She does all this and is the guardian for her cousin, who is two years older than she and has developmental disabilities. Mom drives her cousin to all her doctor’s appointments, grocery shops for her, and drives 90 miles weekly to take her to lunch and visit.

In January, she drove with my sister-in-law and two nephews to Helena for the Women’s March, while my sister was marching in Anchorage and my kids and I were marching on the Walkway Over the Hudson. She continues to fight for women, the LGBTQ community, people with special needs, and immigrants.

My family and I live in the Hudson Valley and don’t see my parents nearly as often as we’d like, but my nine-year-old twins know they are loved to pieces because Grammy is always sending notes and presents and making sure they don’t feel the distance.

All five of us kids love her and are pretty good about telling her so, but her accomplishments are largely unsung. She has no idea the impact she has had on the world.

So from a very grateful daughter, thank you for giving her such joy by publishing her poem. Thank you for giving voice to our nation’s unsung heroes, who give selflessly every day.”