At Jane Yelliott's funeral, they told stories, the kind that mix together like a perfect watercolor: part laughter, part tears.
How Jane wore a tight-fitting cashmere sweater and snuck out of high school to see Frank Sinatra sing. How Jane and her husband Finch used to sing old folk songs while they washed and dried the evening dishes. How she brought a bag of cherries with her on a road trip to Charlotte with a friend; they ate cherries and spit pits and laughed all the way to North Carolina and back.
How, even on her deathbed, she was thinking about ways to help other people.
"Jane knew the secret to happiness," one woman said. "She got her ego out of the way and thought of others instead of herself."
Yelliott, 87, died on Dec. 29, 2013, in that little span between Christmas Day and New Year's, which is appropriate. Jane lived in the gaps, in that special place between heaven and earth. You know the type: people who seem to laugh in big-hearted ways, always looking at the world with something kind and special in their eyes.
"A twinkle," her friend said.
The oldest member of the In-Town Art Gallery, Yelliott was an artist's artist, working with pastels, watercolors, oils and ceramic tiles. Know the shallow pool on the inside of the Tennessee Aquarium? Yelliott designed and created the "Parade of Turtles" tilework at the bottom of it.
The red brick bench outside the aquarium, the one with the ceramic cats and fish? She made that, too. Years ago, the Smithsonian commissioned her to paint a life-size cow for the National Zoo. Perhaps sweetest were all the pieces she made for family and friends near and far.
"She was the personification of art," one friend said.
"She always stopped to smell the flowers," said another.
I first met Jane last year, and got hooked on her pretty fast. It was the way she complimented other people, the way she was so present, but also so selfless. Most of all, it was her laugh. She'd look at you with that gleam and glimmer, as if she had the inside news on all these good things coming your way. Like she was Mrs. Claus.
She lived life so, so gracefully well.
The same was true for Dr. Hiram Adoniram Laws III.
Laws died on Christmas Eve. He was 100, and practiced dentistry in Chattanooga for 61 years.
"He was my dentist for 40 of them," Danny Chambliss said in a letter to the Times Free Press.
Years ago, Chambliss left Chattanooga for Florida. There, he visited another dentist.
"Within moments of looking in my mouth, this fellow called his entire staff in to admire my dental work," Chambliss wrote. "It was dental school demonstration-quality, the best work he had ever seen."
Laws, who is survived by his wife, three daughters, eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, was a member of First Presbyterian Church, the Mountain City Club and the Rotary Club of Chattanooga.
"[Since] June of 1956," said Erin Kelly, Rotary's executive director.
For most of his career, Laws practiced in the Maclellan Building downtown, seeing probably four or five generations of patients.
"He was one of the greatest men I've ever known," said Dr. Paul Carico. "He was like a second father to me."
Carico and Laws practiced together for 20 years. Easily, Laws was one of the best dentists in the country, Carico said.
"He was a gentleman's gentleman," Carico said. "He was a very Christian man. That's how he practiced dentistry."
You may not have known Laws or Yelliott, may not be an artist or dentist, but there was some golden thread in their lives and how they lived them. Be your true self. Put others first. Find your calling in life. Teeth? Watercolors? Doesn't matter.
Just create a good life and a better world.
We ended Yelliott's funeral by singing a hymn that she'd made the minister promise to include in the service.
"Swing low, sweet chariot," we sang.
I imagine the tilework on that chariot was spectacular. The smiles coming off the angels, stunning.
Contact David Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...
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