This last weekend was the funeral of my grandmother Fern Laurine Stoddard Woodbury. It was perhaps one of the most unique funerals I have attended given the current circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic and the nationwide protests in relation to the death of George Floyd. As part of the funeral, my sister and I were asked to write a biography of Fern to be included in the funeral program.
It is difficult to condense ninety-one years of a remarkable life into just 400 words. We also wanted to avoid simply rehashing the dates and details from Fern’s obituary and instead sought to share additional insights that demonstrated the quality of her character her love as a mother, grandmother, neighbor and friend and her devotion as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Here was our attempt:
“Fern was born and raised on a ranch near Bancroft, Idaho. She cared for chicks and orphaned lambs, cooked large meals for the ranch hands, and visited her father at cow camp. One year she was named Rodeo Queen and was expected to make a grand entry into the arena. With hard work, patience, and hours of practice under her father’s tutoring, she learned to stop quickly without sailing over the horse’s head.
Fern excelled in her studies and skipped the eighth grade. She played French horn, performed in plays and glee club, and graduated as valedictorian. She also completed seminary, which she viewed as her first real introduction to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Fern received a scholarship to Weber College from an Ogden Pioneer Day competition. While attending Weber, she met a generous friend and benefactor who funded her education at Brigham Young University (BYU). Fern remarked, “My experiences at BYU were very valuable…for that is where I gained a testimony of the gospel.” She graduated in Elementary Education and taught kindergarten for a year before studying music and art at the University of Utah.
While there, she met Frank Woodbury. She recalled, “Our ideals and goals were so much the same that we were drawn to one another.” After a summer courtship attending dances, picnics, musical productions, and church services together, Fern and Frank were married in the Salt Lake Temple. Theirs was a devoted and loving companionship. At one point they both had broken wrists, one on the left and the other on the right. They received jests in good humor that they had one pair of good arms between them. Perhaps this illustrates one of the many ways they worked together in life with humor, service, and love.
Fern was a remarkable mother, supporting her children’s growth in church, music, and school. She worked through numerous merit badges, started a decades-long Christmas caroling tradition, and climbed trees just to see why the children liked it. Fern shaped the lives of her posterity in countless ways. While she purposely avoided stating that she was “proud” of anyone or anything she often said she was “well pleased” with her family.
Fern filled her home with music. She often sang “My Pigeon House,” a favorite lullaby. She started learning piano in fourth grade and never stopped improving her talent. She was certified by the Music Teachers National Association and taught for several decades. Later in life, she learned the harp to keep her mind active.
Fern magnified numerous church callings, worked in the Dallas Temple almost continuously for 34 years, and served two missions together with Frank. On their first mission, Fern was concerned that she had not yet memorized the talking points of the missionary discussions. When the mission president said the people just needed love, she responded, “We can give that.” And love was given in abundance, along with songs shared on a portable keyboard.
After Frank’s passing, Fern continued her temple service, traveled extensively for family events, and stayed fit by walking several miles each day and practicing water aerobics. She could do 100 water jumping jacks and often led her younger classmates in the exercise. In her final years, she lived with several of her children, blessing them with her kind spirit.
Fern found great joy in living the gospel. At her 90th birthday celebration, she testified of her love and faith in Jesus Christ. Her last words in this life were “Heavenly Father,” a final witness of her devotion to God.
Fern has 7 children, 35 grandchildren, 60 great-grandchildren, and 1 great-great-grandchild. She was mindful of them and their spouses and prayed daily for each by name.
Fern was eager to rejoin Frank, her eternal companion. After being separated by death for nearly 20 years, they are reunited at last.”
Since there is so much more to share about the life of Fern Laurine Stoddard Woodbury, I will take the opportunity in coming weeks and months to share more and elaborate on the details of her life that I have discovered through my research and my interviews and interactions with Fern.