A Shiny Life
Memoir by Michael Usey
September 21, 2002
Jesus said, let your life be shiny. He said, Let your life so shine before others that they will see your good works and give thanks to God in bright heaven. This is a noble calling, a high and holy vocation to which all Christians aspire. But this is also a tall order, being shiny. The world can be a pretty dark place, and being bright and luminous, reflecting the light of God’s love, can be difficult, even risky.
We are all here because of Ann Pillow’s premature and unexpected death. Her sudden death has left us reeling and grief-stricken, and our loss is beyond words. She died of a heart event, of natural causes-there was no forced entry into her apartment, no violent confrontation with some stranger, no act of despair. She went to sleep after eating dinner with friends, and she didn’t wake up. It is not God’s will that any of God’s children die in their youth, in Ann’s case at the peak of her brightness so far. Heart attacks are no respecter of persons, and Ann’s family has a history of early cardiac attack, having lost a cousin’s son to one when he was young.
So we look at her days-ordinary days in which she met friends and went to work-and what strikes me is that there is real radiance in Ann’s life, a brightness that comes only from living a shiny life. And this shine is more than just a metaphor. Her co-worker Cindy Lowmae wrote the following in a letter to Mary Ann & Barry:
There are many things that I think of when I think of Ann. Mostly, I think of her joy-both the joy she exhibited and the joy she brought others. She was a great person to work with because nothing was ever dull when she was around. She was so full of fun and laughter that it was contagious. Once last year, when we were a bit too stressed at the office, she organized Shiny Day. Everyone wore shiny clothes to work, like satin or silk, and she and a bunch of us wore glitter and shiny makeup. The glitter that came off of our clothes and skin stayed in the office carpet and upholstery for months! I know that this might sound silly or frivolous, but was the perfect cure for a tough month. In the midst of all the deadlines and madness, we had something to laugh about. For weeks, we continued laughing whenever someone spotted another fleck of stray glitter. It was wonderful. Ann was very good at sensing when others were taking themselves too seriously or feeling low and lifting their spirits. One of her many gifts was the ability to uplift people. … I still expect a phone call or email with her familiar greeting, “Hey Chick!”
Barry and Mary Ann’s daughter came early into their lives, three and a half years into their own five year plan to have children. Ann was born on February 17, 1976, right in the middle of the birthdays of two great America lights, Lincoln on Feb.12, and Washington on Feb. 22. She was the first baby born in the new hospital nursery in Fostoria, Ohio. By the time she was 18 months old, Ann was busy and talkative. Her daughter had a mind of her own; she was fiercely independent and goal oriented. Mary Ann bought a copy of and read The Strong Willed Child, and hoped for the best.
As a young child, one of the first things Ann said was from the TV game show, The Price is Right. She would shout, “Bob Barker, come on down!” This became a famous saying in the Pillow household, and it foreshadows adult Ann’s love of shopping. Most of you know that Barry, Mary Ann and Ann spent a week at the beach, a week before her death. It rained a lot of the week, so they chatted and ate and shopped and play games … and watched The Price Is Right, and giggled while they told old jokes.
The Pillows moved from Ohio to Holland, Michigan, where Ann learned to love the water. They moved to Roanoke when Ann was 3 years old and lived there until she finished the 4th grade. Ann loved animals and especially cats. She had three cats as her companions at the time of her death: Onyx, Tigger, and Junior. She had several cats growing up, Woodsy, and Patches, who is 20 years old and still lives with Mary Ann and Barry. Her first cat was a white kitten with a few black spots. Barry asked
Ann, “What show we name him?” “Daisy!” Ann said. Her dad pointed out that this was a boy cat. Ann said, “Mr. Daisy!” and Barry had the good sense to let that name stick.
She was a brownie scout and had lots of friends, and bunch of Barbies. She could always con one set of grandparents or the other into a new Barbie or a new set of Barbie clothes. Barry remembers Ann and her friends playing Barbies outside all day during the summer. Her second grade teacher noticed how bright Ann was, and made arrangements for her to work on one of the school’s computers. The Pillows moved this bright light to Lynchburg where Ann lived from 5th grade through high school. Graduating from elementary school (and her first year in new school), she was voted citizen of the year-the plaque is still there in her school. By this time Ann was a smart, sassy, sensitive and somewhat sarcastic young woman-one who was well liked by almost everyone. In high school, every subject interested her: math, science, reading, and she excelled at them all. She was baptized and joined Peakland Baptist church. She graduated with honors and a member of the National Honor Society.
Ann’s decision to go to Syracuse University, “as far away from home as possible,” and where she knew no one, represents well her courageous and adventuresome spirit. Ann had done her homework, and she liked Syracuse because of its academics and athletics. She wanted to do something different from all her Virginia buddies who were going to VT (where her parents had gone) or Washington and Lee, or University of Richmond.
Clearly Ann was great with people. Her girlfriends said of her: If she went into a public restroom, she’d emerge with three new friends. During her freshman year, she talked her parents into letting her work at the GAP while she was in college. This turned out to be a great move, since she managed her own money, and keep her grades high. She started on a pre-law course, but ended up majoring in Marketing and Retailing. She graduated a Dean’s Scholar.
She had excellent taste in clothes, and loved to shop, not just for herself, but for her friends and family. She was always on the lookout for clothes for them-a shirt, a pair of jeans, a coat. One time she bought Barry a really nice GAP down jacket. Barry said, “It’s beautiful, thank you, Ann, but I don’t think I’ll need I need such a warm jacket here in North Carolina. “Sure you will,” she said, “besides it was on super sale and discounted further, plus I got my employee’s discount.” When she told him just how inexpensive the coat was, Barry said, “Wow, in that case, I’ll keep it for sure.” “Good,” Ann said, “because I put it on your credit card.”
Ann was not a spendthrift, but early on in her university career Mary Ann had to have a talk with her about when and when not to use the emergency credit card they had given her. Pizza and beer were not emergencies, Mary Ann explained. In fact, Ann took a class at Syracuse entitled “Beer and Wine Appreciation.” Apparently she studied hard in that class too, cause she appreciate a good brew.
Ann Pillow loved sports, especially college football and basketball. She liked to cheer and to fuss, as she called it. Always a dedicated Syracuse University fan, Ann forewarned her neighbors who live below her that her pounding on the floor was simply her excitement about her team during a game, so they shouldn’t be alarmed. She rooted for the Philadelphia Eagles because the quarterback used to play for Syracuse, and she cheered for Virginia Tech because of her parents, unless they were playing Syracuse. While she lived in Washington, she and a bunch of friends went to the Georgetown/Syracuse basketball game at the MCI center. Two of her friends, Shana and Derrick were Georgetown grads and they had bought the tickets. So Ann and company were stuck in the Georgetown fan section. Georgetown had control of the game from the beginning and never let it go. The game was not close. Instead of suffering quietly through the game, Ann ended up joking with the group of people in front and in back of her. By the end of the game, she had three rows of people giggling over her wise-cracks and giving her high fives.
After college, she came home to stay with her parents for a summer, all the while sending resumes out. She found a good job at the end of that summer, in August of `99, and with her parent’s help she bought a furnished condo. Mary Ann was having to work a lot at that time, so Ann and her dad set out to set up her apartment. Ann went to Target, the Home Store, Wal-Mart, Sam’s and made a list of the things she needed, and comparison shopped. When she was done, she made a list of what she needed from each store: this lamp and this stool from Target, this clock and that bench from the Home Store. Doesn’t that give you an idea of what kind of wise shopper she was? She knew how to shop for deals. Mary Ann and Barry bought her a TV then, and Barry helped Ann move in. It was a great and special time for father and daughter to be setting up house in D.C.
Ann was a consummate hostess. She loved to cook, to entertain, to throw a party, and generally to share her shiny life with her friends. She entertained regularly. Recently Ann was sitting in a Raleigh restaurant with her friend Emily Moore. There was no waiter available, and the service wasn’t speedy, when a group of older adults came in. So Ann got up, went over to their table, took their drink order as if she were a waiter, then went and got their drinks. Then she sat down and spent 30 minutes visiting with these new friends. Ann knew how to find a common bond and to connect with anyone she met.
Ask any of her friends to describe Ann, and you will hear talk about her energy, her leadership, her organization, her focus and her enthusiasm. If this is not the light of Christ, I don’t know what is. She was always well-dressed and well-prepared. Her co-workers commended her hard work-she was in line for a big raise because of her work ethic-and they called her “the office princess,” or “the sunshine in our office.” “Let your light so shine before others …”
She was an avid reader, interested in most everything. The books in her apartment reflect a wide variety of tastes. She loved a wide variety of music-she had an amazing collection of CDs. When she went to the beach in August with Mary Ann and Barry, she bought a bunch of books and fashion magazines, and the Washington Post. And the fact that she vacationed with her parents speaks volumes about their relationship, for not every adult child loves to be around her parents as much as Ann loved Barry and Mary Ann. While at the beach, she insisted that they all three grab hands and run into the water, as they always did. It’s a glowing memory, the sun sparkling on the water and the three of them plunged into the surf together, a family whole for the last time on this side of eternity.
Ann knew how to be a thoughtful friend. Ann called her neighbor Stephanie when Steph was in Chicago, to warn her that a strange man had been seen in the parking lot, so that when she came in from the airport, she should be aware. Barry found a number of presents, already wrapped and ready to be mailed, in Ann’s closet. She knew how to glisten as a friend. Said one of her friends, ” I can truly say that she was a good friend to everyone she met.”
Her friend Cindy credits Ann with helping her work out her marriage to Todd last year. At that time, wedding planning was driving Cindy insane, particularly since she and her future mother-in-law had been fighting over colors, clothes, flowers, and the rest for eight months. Cindy had an ulcer, a six-month case of hives, asthma, and other stress induced illnesses. Three months before the wedding, Cindy called it off. When Ann found out what happened, she immediately called Cindy to cheer her up. Ann took her to lunch and helped her laugh at the whole mess, making sure she didn’t take all of it too seriously, and helped her to gain some perspective. Ann also gave Cindy some valuable advice, which Cindy took. She scrapped her plans for a big wedding in favor of a small one with just immediate family. She and Todd were very happy with the way the wedding, and her marriage, turned out, and Ann was the right person to rely on during a time of crisis. She said, “I don’t know how it would have turned out without her help, but I believe God put Ann there to help me. I know that God touched and influenced many lives through her, many in ways that no one even realizes.”
Wrote another of her friends: “No ray of sunshine will ever quite be like Ann again. … She brightened a lot of lives including mine, and for that I will always be grateful.” Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and give thanks to God.” Which of course is exactly what Ann Pillow did, living her shiny life that reflected so radiantly God’s bright, blazing love.