A Good Mama is Hard to Lose

A Good Mama is Hard to Lose December 28, 2012
Shelby Jean Mayes Spears, Rogersville, TN

Shelby Jean Mayes Spears, 75, died after a brief bout of cancer at her son’s home in Auburn, WA. on December 26, 2012. Born on January 23, 1937, to John Harve Mayes and Ruth Matilda Shropshire Mayes of Rogersville, TN., Shelby was the youngest of six children and the family’s only girl. Surrounded by all those older brothers, she was destined to be a tomboy. Shelby Spears never met a river she couldn’t fish. In Tennessee, she fished the Holston River. In Georgia, she fished the Chattahoochee. In Oahu, she fished Hanauma Bay, in Oregon, she fished the Nehalem. In Alaska, Montana Creek, and the Skookumchuck River in Washington State.


Two Shelbys fishing the Skookumchuck

Shelby met the love of her life on a blind date to the Hawkins County Fair. David Paul Spears and Shelby Mayes married on February 13, 1954. They would have waited until Valentine’s Day except David, a U.S. Army soldier, had to report back for duty at Fort Campbell, Ky.  A career soldier, Staff Sgt. David Paul Spears was serving with the 25th Infantry Division 2nd/9th Artillery when he was killed-in-action in Vietnam’s Ia Drang Valley on July 24, 1966.


There was no hero’s homecoming when Sgt. Spears’s casket arrived for burial in his hometown of  Rogersville, TN, and no community of patriots to support his Gold Star Widow and their three children. Alone, afraid, and feeling an abandonment she had never known before, the 29-year-old single mother returned to school. Shelby Spears earned her GED, her LPN, and then her RN at Columbus State University in Columbus, Georgia. Shelby Spears’s 42-year nursing career afforded her opportunities to work at the Medical Center, Columbus, GA; Portland Veterans Medical Center, Portland, OR;  Hiland Mountain Correctional Facility, Eagle River, AK; and Washington Correctional Facility, Shelton, WA. She retired in 2003 and made the move she had longed dreamed about to Westport, WA. In 2006, Shelby Spears became a much-loved figure among Gold Star military families nationwide following the publication of her family’s memoir AFTER THE FLAG HAS BEEN FOLDED (HarperCollins). Veterans and their families call her “Hero Mama.”

A self-taught artist, Shelby Spears’s work hangs in homes throughout Oregon and Washington. Her most recent painting – a field of red poppies – was inspired by the war poem Flanders Field. But painting wasn’t her only creative work. Shelby could take the most hardscrabble plot of dirt and turn it into an enchanted garden, invoking the admiration of casual walk-abouts, and covetous neighbors. While other friends took their grandchildren on annual trips to Disneyland, Shelby took hers to the charming gardens of Victoria, British Columbia.

A southern woman born and bred, Shelby Spears had blinders on when it came to her first-born, her only son, John Frank Spears also of Auburn, WA, known affectionately by his sisters as The Favored One. Karen Spears Zacharias of Hermiston, OR, was known far and wide as The Best Daughter. But it was Linda Spears Barnes, of Westport, WA, the baby of the family, whom Shelby regarded as The Most Beloved One.

Survivors seems like an ill-fitting word to use as there is no getting over the death of a beloved mother, ever, for anyone. The list of those who grieve Shelby Spears includes her daughter-in-law, Janet Spears of Auburn, WA, who opened her heart and home to Shelby and sons-in-laws, Tim Zacharias of Hermiston, OR, and Greg Barnes of Westport, WA, both of whom Shelby regarded as hard-working and handsome.

Shelby Spears wasn’t one to brag, but she didn’t hold to that rule when it came to her thirteen grandchildren. Grandma Shelby prayed daily for them: Amy Spears Hayes, and husband Doug, Milwaukie, OR, Stephan Zacharias, Hermiston, OR, David Paul Spears II, and wife Rose, Oregon City, OR,  Shelby Zacharias, Bend, OR, Ashley Zacharias Sinner, and husband, Zack, Spokane, WA, Mannie Barnes, and wife Nicole, Maple Valley, WA, John Spears, and wife Nancy, Seattle, WA, Taylor Barnes, Centralia, WA, Konnie Zacharias Handschuch, and husband Jon, Bend, OR, Gabe Barnes, and wife Cristina, Redmond, WA, Jessica Spears, Kailua, HI, Robert Spears, Auburn, WA, and Rebecca Spears, Auburn, WA.

None of her five great-grandsons were old enough to speak Shelby Spears’s name before she died, but Oliver, Adam and Marcus Spears, sons of David and Rose Spears; Sullivan Sinner, son of Ashley and Zack Sinner; and Landon Barnes, son of Mannie and Nicole Barnes, will hear and learn the stories of their Great-Grandma Shelby – of the dragons she slayed, the God she served, and the family she loved.

Frank, Karen and Linda rejoice in knowing their mother and father are together in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, who surely must have wept himself at the sight of these two finally reunited.  A memorial service will be held Saturday, Jan. 5, 2 p.m. at South Beach Christian Center, 1360 State Route 105 Grayland, WA, 98547‎. The family requests that in lieu of flowers, any remembrances be made to South Beach Christian Center.  Shelby Spears will be interned alongside her husband in Greeneville, TN, at Andrew Johnson National Cemetery.

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  • Mike Morehouse

    Karen, I Am So Very Sorry ForYour Mom’s Passing.

  • Floyd Spears

    I’m so sorry for the loss of Aunt Shelby……great piece above very eloquent

  • Karen, Thank you for sharing, I am sorry for your loss! God bless you and your family!

  • What beautiful words… Have just now learned of Hero Mama’s passing, Karen. Love you. Praying….

  • Diane

    I am so sorry for your loss….what a beautifully written obit.

  • You were blessed to have her. She was blessed to have you. Sorry for your loss, my friend.

  • loretta

    Oh, Karen….there are no words left – you’ve said them all…Wish I could give you a big hug. I know how bad this hurts, but I also know that she raised you to be strong for this moment. Love and blessings to you and your family, and my most sincere sympathy….

  • Christine A. Scheller

    Oh Karen, That was so fast and I am so, so sorry. Lifting prayers for you and yours.

  • Myron Ness

    Great tribute to an awesome woman, Karen. I shed some tears reading this one. Blessings on you and your whole family. She will be missed but never forgotten.

  • A good mama, indeed. Thank you for sharing her with us. Beautifully written. I’m sorry for your loss.

  • AFRoger

    May the peace and blessings of Christ be with you all. Thank you for continuing to share your life of faith with all of us.

  • Jane

    We are so sorry for your loss, Karen. How appropriate she was still here for one last family party I assume took place for Jesus’ birthday and then went right home to glory. Love to all of you.

  • Darian G. Burns

    Karen, I am so sorry for your loss. You and all your family will be in my prayers. May God pour out his mercy and grace upon your family at this time.

  • Praying for His grace and peace for you all. You are so right, it is hard to lose a good mama.

  • Steve T

    Deep deep prayers for you and your family, my sister. Today as I travel down to Georgia to spend time with my family who lost our mom, sister, and wife three years ago just before Christmas, I will hold your sadness gently and send love your way.

  • Beautifully written… Love and prayers and I’m so sorry Karen…

  • Bob Bulldog Ousley

    I’m so sorry for your loss. Thank your for letting me know and the wonderfull tribute to your mother and family

  • Ken Summerlin

    A good mama is, indeed, hard to lose. Your gift with words has never been more eloquently put to use than in this tribute to your mama. Blessings to you and your family.

    Ken Summerlin

  • Dear Karen … we are so sorry to hear of you Mom’s – Xuan’s “twin” – passing on. She was a great lady having endured such a great loss, but becoming a loving, productive, giving person in spite of it. “There is a time of every purpose under heaven…”, and, sadly letting go of our parents is one of them. We will be praying for you and your family, but – unfortunately – because of prior commitments, we won’t be able to be there for Mom’s Memorial … out hearts and spirits WILL be there however.
    Ed and Xuan

  • Sharon O

    I am sorry. I know it hurts.

  • Mary Starke

    I hurt for and with you. You are blessed to have had such a mother and to be able to touch so many people with your words.

  • Marian Carcache

    What a beautiful and heartfelt tribute to a hero mama from her loving daughter. I hurt for you, but rejoice that your mama and daddy are together again.

  • Anita M.

    Such a beautiful, well written, poignant, write-up I have never read. Both the blog and the obit have made me feel like I knew your wonderful mother. God bless you and your family as you celebrate her life and mourn her death.