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Remembrance: Fanny Y. Singer (1959-2018)

The following remarks were delivered by Mr. Keavy at Mrs. Singer’s vigil service on May 7, 2018.

When Andrew told me that he and Fanny wished that I deliver words of remembrance, of course, I was honored. It’s not hard to say good things about Fanny Singer. And I’m honored because of who Fanny was as a person; strong, independent, peaceful, loving, funny, and wise.  

Andrew prepared beautiful remembrances and reflections that helped me know Fanny’s life more fully. Because of Fanny’s dignity, privacy, and humility, many do not realize the extraordinary arc of her life – — though all sensed her depth.  Still waters run deep.

Fanny has always been independent and strong-willed.  She was born in Ujung Pandang on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia.  She has four sisters and two brothers and is the third oldest. She grew up as a Chinese minority in a Muslim-majority country.  Her grandparents and parents were entrepreneurs. While her family is Buddhist, she and her siblings were sent to schools run by missionaries and converted to Catholicism at a young age.  Her parents wanted the best education for their children.

Fanny tells of when she was in grade school and taller than other children. She helped protect smaller children who were bullied. One would search long and hard to find anger or sharp feelings in Fanny. But one thing she hated was racism, something she experienced personally. From a young age, Fanny looked out for others and remained keen to oppose prejudice and bigotry throughout her life.

She began college in Indonesia, but after two years came to America. She arrived in San Francisco in February 1983, just shy of 24 years old.  She learned English, passed the TOEFL, moved across the country, and enrolled at Old Dominion University in southern Virginia. She graduated from Old Dominion in 1986 with a Computer Science Degree.

Following a friend, Fanny moved to the Washington, D.C. area and took a job as a computer programmer/analyst. She programmed COBOL. Those early mainframe computers took up large, air-conditioned rooms.  She enjoyed the technical challenge of writing and analyzing code.

Andrew worked briefly at the same company in late 1988, for just two months.  He met Fanny in a break room when she was selling homemade spring rolls for a church fundraiser.  He bought two and thanked her — in Chinese. She stared at him as if he had six heads. Maybe it was his accent, or maybe his Caucasian face threw her for a loop.

But she wasn’t too badly put off, and Fanny and Andrew began dating.  First, she invited him out for dimsum. He arrived at the restaurant to discover that she had brought along twelve Chinese friends and their families to chaperone.  For their second date, they drove her Mustang out to Luray Caverns in the Shenandoah Mountains. On the third, they went to New York City and visited Andrew’s brother at NYU.

After dating seriously for a year, on a cold February day at the Lincoln Memorial, Andrew proposed marriage. Fanny agreed, but with a stipulation.  She would not get married until she had earned her green card on her own. She did not want to get her green card because she married a US citizen. Isn’t that Fanny! Independent, proud, tough. No doubt many of us have seen that strong will and the high standards she held for herself in our interactions with Fanny.

Green card in hand, Fanny and Andrew were married in late July 1991, at Wychmere Harbor Club in Harwichport.

After Andrew’s law school graduation, they moved to Portland, Oregon.  To get there, they took a road trip lasting 28 days and covering 7,700 miles and 22 States.  Fanny and Andrew zigged and zagged up and down and across the country visiting friends, relatives, and seeing America.  Fanny and Andrew funded their trip rather cleverly. As they were already planning on relocating, Fanny found out that her company was planning layoffs.  She volunteered to be laid off, and they used her severance pay to travel for the month and to provide enough money to get set up in Oregon. Well played, Fanny!

Though they loved the Pacific Northwest, Fanny and Andrew relocated back to MA when Andrew’s father sent him a hand-written note asking him to join his law practice.  Adrian was born in 1996, and Ethan was born in 2000. They have lived on Cape Cod since 1996.

Fanny loved to cook and grill. She enjoyed experimenting and rarely used recipes.  The foods could be simple but were always well-presented. Andrew loved her spring rolls, which formed their first connection. The boys liked it when she put chocolate bits in raspberries then made chocolate pancakes.  All loved her chicken and green peppers, veal and peppers, steak, grilled vegetables, beef sate, Indonesian specialties, brownies, cookies, and more. The boys noted that Fanny’s high standards for presentation were found not just in food but in many facets of life. Impeccable is the word Adrian used.

Travel was a central part of Fanny’s life and a reflection of who she was — open-minded, worldly, multi-faceted, confident, and curious.

Fanny and Andrew brought the boys when very little to Nova Scotia.  They took them to diamond mines in New York State, to Howes Caverns, Secret Caverns, and Cooperstown. They went to New Hampshire hiking the Flume Gorge, Lost River Gorge, and Boulder Caves. Fanny and Andrew visited New York City every year on their way back from seeing relatives and friends in Virginia, to see the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center and eat roasted chestnuts.  They picked apples and Asian pears at Lookout Belkin Farm.

Fanny and Andrew went to the British Virgin Islands with friends in 2003 (the first time they left the boys for an extended period).  They traveled to Prague and Vienna in 2006. There were weekend escapes to Newport, RI. With Andrew’s parents, they went to Hilton Head, NC in 2007. Fanny and Andrew traveled to the Dominican Republic in 2009 for a niece’s wedding.  They took the boys to Rincon and Western Puerto Rico in 2010; to Indonesia, Bali, and Hong Kong in 2011; on a 50-year wedding anniversary Alaskan glacier cruise with Andrew’s parents in 2012; to Provence and Paris, France, Sweden, and Norway in 2013; and to St. John, New Brunswick, Canada in 2016.

Recently, Fanny started to learn French, because Adrian studies at McGill University in Montreal and she thought it would be good to know French. In addition to the five languages she already knew. Amazing.

Those who knew Fanny well could see the fierce dedication, pride, and love she had for Ethan, Adrian, and Andrew. Well-presented foods, learning French on top of everything else, keeping cancer where it belongs, these and many more illustrations point to the depth of dedication and love Fanny had for her boys. They were the center of her life.

I had the happy accident of coaching Ethan in Yarmouth little league baseball. This is when I first met Fanny and Andrew as sports mom and dad. I got to know Fanny a bit, and because I was contemplating the introduction of Mandarin Chinese language at Pope John Paul II High School, I told her I’d like to meet her for breakfast to ask her advice. We went to Perry’s on Main, and I said her I didn’t want advice, I wanted her to teach it. That was the only time I got the best of Fanny. Even then, at breakfast, I could see she was hooked. Surprised, yes, but hooked. Ultimately, she said yes.

Starting a new school program takes work. Lots of it. Fanny worked extremely hard in her preparation, cultivation of resources, and her acquisition of teaching approaches. She expected much of herself and her students. Andrew and the boys would find her up at 1 AM revising materials. Exactness in presentation is her hallmark, and her students saw this — day in and day out.

Fanny was an outstanding teacher. The reason for this is simple. Fundamentally, teachers teach from who they are. Knowing this, how could Fanny be anything but an excellent teacher?

For a woman who loved travel, teaching led her to a place she never wanted to visit: China.  She had no interest. But after joining JPII, she went three times. She traveled to Beijing on an orientation tour and then led two student trips (2015 and 2017) to Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai.  Her students loved these experiences, and now knowing the Lord has taken her from them, they treasure these experiences even the more so.

There’s another word for tough, strong, independent — it’s stubborn. I joked with Fanny on more that one occasion “Don’t be stubborn!” By 2017, I was aware that Fanny was facing an adverse prognosis and difficult course of treatment. Nonetheless, she wanted very much to take her students to China again. As an administrator, I sought to dissuade her. What if she wasn’t feeling well? Is this really a good idea? As you might imagine, I didn’t stand a chance. Fanny went. Andrew went. The students went. Cancer did not rule her. I asked her more than once to allow her friends and students to share their love by disclosing her illness. I even ventured to say “Don’t be stubborn.” Once she knew she could not return to teaching, she permitted me to share the difficult news. This became a week of students and staff expressions of love and affection for Fanny. She knew she was loved. She gave and received the very best.

From her first diagnosis of cancer in 2007, Fanny determined to face her illness head-on without compromising her family life, travel, or interests.  Cancer did not rule her. It was ever-present, but not in charge. She rarely told people she was sick.

I have been amazed — and many of you may have been, too, to see this week how many people felt a close, special relationship with Fanny. She had a way of valuing people, finding the right word, saying, or gift to create a unique bond. She was not a woman of grandiose gestures or many words. Instead, Fanny offered the right words at the right time. And this generous, quiet presence affected many lives. Her family, her students, of course. The guy at the restaurant to whom she was teaching Mandarin. People are popping up all over telling of their special connection with Fanny.

Fanny lived the best kind of life; a life centered on others. I cannot remember — or imagine — any encounter with Fanny that was about what she needed or wanted. Didn’t happen. Can anybody here imagine a self-interested or self-centered Fanny Singer?  

Her other-centeredness, coupled with her wit, intelligence, compassion, and character, made this best life, a life of profound relationships and a profound impact on those around her.

Our world is poorer now. Less graceful. Less generous, more poorly presented.

Fanny told me several times when confronting her illness and mortality that she believes in miracles. Perhaps she meant a miracle of defeating cancer. But maybe the miracle is 11 years of life and love with Ethan, Adrian, and Andrew. Or the miracle of having Fanny Singer as your teacher, friend, mother, wife.

At the end, Fanny was not afraid. She trusted that Andrew, Adrian, and Ethan will be okay and take care of each other. She regretted not making it to Ethan’s graduation, or seeing the boys begin their own families. She wished she had made her final exams. But she was at peace. And don’t worry, she won’t take kuckahooey from anyone.

Rest in peace, friend.

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