Frankie and Danny, 1986.

My mother Frankie passed today. My brother Bill, my sisters Sandi and Lynda, and I are heartbroken and dazed, but also recognize what an amazing life she led, and how much grace she shed on everyone around her. She was my most unforgettable character. She was thinking of others right to the end: my niece Hillary was with her in the hospital, and one of the last things Mom said to a nurse was, "If I go, will Hillary be ok?" That's it right there, folks. Love and grace and courage defined.

She was born in 1926. She grew up in Silverton, WV, then went to DC to work in a government office during WWII. She met my Dad, William Hutchens Jr., and they were married in '46. They moved all over the States due to Dad's Naval assignments...San Diego, New England, etc. ...but finally they returned to Ripley, WV. Mom was home again, near her sisters and brothers and mother...she was all about Family.

Frankie and William Hutchens Jr. Wedding day, 1946.

And she was the matriarch. We all revolved around her, came to her with problems and shared our celebrations...not just me and my siblings, but extended family, friends, neighbors, anyone who ever met her...Frankie was the boss.

She was a tough, feisty Appalachian woman, a force to be reckoned with. She didn't take any shit from anyone. But she was also sweet, generous, compassionate...a Christian in the best and most genuine sense. She would tell you in no uncertain terms what you were doing wrong, what she disapproved of, considered sinful or just stupid––and you didn't want to earn one of her stern, steely lectures; she could make you sting with guilt and shame--but she was also a fountain of Unconditional Love. No matter what. She'd take you in, heal you and feed you and adore you. My lifelong friend Eric Carter always said she was a Saint, and I think maybe that's true in some sense.

I know for sure this truth: everything that's good, considerate, thoughtful, kind, or righteous about me, came straight from Frankie. The wrong stuff I've done in my life was all mine. But whatever Love is in my heart, I learned from Mom.

Back in the '90s she was in a car wreck and broke some vertebrae. I spent a month in the hospital with her in Charleston, WV. One day a stranger walked in and started asking, "Where's Frankie?" He was a rough-looking character, harsh and tattooed, with a mean Hell's Angel type vibe––and I thought, "How does this guy know my Mom?" Turned out he'd recently been released from prison, and my Mom had been sponsoring him through a church group––and he LOVED her. He saw her all broken in the hospital bed, and he actually started crying. He said, "I'd do anything for Frankie."

Unconditional Love. God, we were all lucky to know her. I'm grateful my kids were around her a few years. They'll grow up better people for it. She was magical that way.

I love you, Mom. I'll miss you always, but I'm glad you're free from the pain and the struggle you endured these last few years. You made this world a better place. I'll try to live up to your example, raise my kids to be people you'd be proud of. You were so very strong and beautiful. I'll see you when I get there.

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