Saturday, May 31, 2014

Nancy Calhoun Cain

August 17, 1940 - May 29, 2014
She was as pretty as a picture every day of her life, and when we were both 16, she was a knockout. But Nancy Calhoun had so much more about her than her looks—she was fun, honest, kind, and interested in everything.

There was never anything ordinary about Nancy. One of those people who is universally beloved, she attracted friends with her personality, her kindness and her sincere concern for others. We could rely on her to listen and hear us, to laugh with us, to care and empathize with what we cared about. She was always ready with a piece of good advice or a personal affirmation. Being her friend you never hesitated to ask and she was never less than generous in her praise and her pride in your success.

Nancy married Ken Cain, the local dreamboat, in her early 20s. They were married for 53 years. As he rose in his business dealings to great success he showered her with everything she could wish for. They own magnificent houses in Santa Fe and Fairhope with a view of Mobile Bay. She loved decorating and her homes were always designed in the highest level of good taste.

She had many enthusiasms—from animals to books, travel, the arts, and fine food. I think she valued her friendships above them all. In her teenage years she had a horse she had raised from a colt and a fine black lab named Knight. She and Ken always had little dogs and elegant cats, and she treasured them like children. Not having children of her own she loved her nieces and nephews as if they were her own offspring and opened her home to them and all her relatives at every opportunity.

She had a lovably quirky mind, which prompted her to explore everything in life she found interesting. It was a way of educating herself, on her own terms. Her curiosity took her to the pyramids of Egypt and on photo safaris in Africa, to English villages, to London, Paris and all of Europe, for all I know. She and Ken traveled to many unknown spots in the U.S. as well, in the big RV they bought when he officially retired. It was their plan to drive to every arts festival in the country, and they did try that for as long as the interest lasted. She enjoyed the local events in Fairhope and musical presentations everywhere. She read omnivorously, and was in more than one book club while reading whatever struck her fancy on her own. Many a weekend she and I drove the two hours to Montgomery to catch a play (or two) at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, chatting, giggling and gossiping on the drive up and discussing the intricacies of Chekhov and Shakespeare on the way home.

She was great at conversation because she was so interested in other people and what made them tick. Many came to her with their troubles; she was never less than sympathetic and understanding with any of us, no matter how great or trivial the crisis. She enjoyed nothing more than a good laugh and a good talk with a new person. She could be exasperatingly silly in conversation about politics or movies, or she could engage in heated contrarian debates about literature, history or the existence of god.

Perhaps the neatest trick in her arsenal was her ability to make her own life look as if she didn’t have a care in the world. She could joke and enjoy herself in spite of a congenital heart condition that had taken her father in his early 60s and a niece at age 20. At least 17 major heart procedures were sprinkled throughout her life, plus a mastectomy and probably other medical situations nobody knew about but Ken and her beloved brother Chuck. She never discussed the trips to the Cleveland Clinic, M.D. Anderson, and other prestigious hospitals where her surgeries took place. She simply bounced back and planned another party or trip to study the gardens of England or the hills of Africa.

She was determined to live as good a life as humanly possible. And, until the final hospitalization was ended by a trip home because nothing more could be done, she did as good a job of living that life as any human being could. She exemplified the phrase joie de vivre, always ignoring the pain that lay beneath for her. She was brave in the best way; she made it look easy.

She showed us by example how to choose the happiest option in front of us, how to slay the dragons by simply shoving them aside and moving on to something more fun. Yes, the world is a darker place for us now that she’s gone, but those of us who remember seeing her deal with grief have a better way to handle it. We have her transcendent joy to remember.


  1. Splendid work, Mary Lois, to craft such an appreciation in the middle of your own loss. This is beautifully remembered, beautifully written.

  2. That was beautiful Mary Lois, You described her perfectly and with such love.

  3. I know Kenny will be moved by your loving tribute. I was brought to the tears which I have needed to release. Thank you for sharing your beautiful and tender feelings with us ML

  4. What a beautiful tribute to a dear friend..

  5. My favorite cousin.... I will miss so much. Because of all the things you wrote and more.

  6. This is beautiful Mary. She'd be so touched by this.

  7. Mary Lois - Such a lovely description of a lovely, vibrant person. We'll miss her enormously. Kent

  8. Such a lovely tribute, Mary Lois. I so wish I could have seen her one last time--as we all do.

  9. BEAUTIFUL!!!!! ...You did a fantastic job letting us in to know this very special friend and how she graced our lives.

  10. Mary Lois, what a beautiful tribute. I'm in tears after reading your loving description of your friendship and of Nancy.

    1. Mary Lois, I'm sorry that my own name didn't appear - but gypsyqueencab was my blog for many years and my twitter handle @gypsyqueencab. Thank you for sharing your post. Lovelace

  11. Such a lovely tribute to your incredibly special friend!

  12. Mary Lois, thank you. She will be greatly missed.