Tribute to Marilyn Hampton from LLL Leader Mary Ann Welter, Maryland USA. 1-30-98
Back in 1985, La Leche League held the International Conference in Washington, D.C. with the conference theme, “Breastfeeding: A Life Long Gift.” That phrase stuck with me; I even have a t-shirt with the logo. I have been an LLL Leader for 18 years, a member for 21. The phrase has certainly made sense as my five children, now aged 7-20, have grown. But while the phrase was intended (I think) to refer to the gift that breastfeeding is to our children throughout their lives, it has always reminded me of the gift breastfeeding and LLL is to mothers.
In July of 1997, as La Leche League once again held its international conference in Washington, D.C., this gift was presented to me yet again as my old and dear friend, Marilyn Hampton, a Leader in Omaha, Nebraska, traveled east for the conference. Marilyn, her husband, Dick McMillen, and four of their five children stayed with our family during the conference and parts of a family vacation that brought them back to Washington, D.C., the city where they met and where Marilyn met La Leche League. It was a sweet and wonderful reunion, made bittersweet now, but no less wonderful, by Marilyn’s death in December, at age fifty, from cancer.
Marilyn and I met a long time ago when we were both young mothers living in the same Washington, D.C. neighborhood. Our eldest sons attended the same preschool. I was the newly accredited Leader of Marilyn’s first La Leche League Group. Marilyn was one of those moms who naturally gravitate to LLL. She was the most health-conscious person I knew, juicing her own homegrown carrots way back then. She was an avid reader on all topics related to parenting. And she truly saw breastfeeding as a gift.
Little do we know when we make that first call with a question or attend our first La Leche League meeting of the gifts of relationship with women who share this bond. LLL has been the cement for many friendships that I have cherished over the years, Marilyn’s among them.
Marilyn didn’t stay in the District of Columbia. She and Dick and, at that time, two little ones moved to Omaha. I clearly remember the day she came and told me they were moving. We were on my front porch sitting on the swing, kids at our feet (and at the breast!). One of her first questions was, “Can you get me the name of an LLL Leader out there?”
Three more children came to each of our families in the intervening years, and lots of Christmas letters and pictures of growing kids crossed the miles. We each had home births, and each family has a Jeremy and an Andrew! Marilyn became a League Leader in Omaha. We followed some different paths, too. My kids all went to school. Marilyn home-schooled several of hers at different points in their educational paths. We weren’t great correspondents during the busy years of young children, but always valued our connection.
When Marilyn decided to come to the 1997 conference in Washington, DC, she was filled with hope for the future. She had had a bout with colon cancer, but following surgery and chemo had regained her health and energy. She geared her conference selections around her goal of becoming a lactation consultant. The family decided that this would be a good opportunity to bring the kids east to see the sights as well as their former home and neighborhood.
Marilyn and I picked up our conversation as if we hadn’t missed a day. The front porch was different, as we had moved to a bigger house not far from the old one. There was still a swing and lots of kids underfoot. We wondered if our kids would get along and how we’d do in the kitchen, vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike, fixing meals for such a crowd. We compared conference session notes. We caught up on the years. We visited old friends. We did lots of dishes. And we talked. It all flowed; the kids paired up in various ways, even the reluctant ones. Sitting on blankets, watching the Fourth of July fireworks with our kids–even the teens–all around us, life seemed really good. So ordinary, yet so precious; we were blessed with the gift given us years ago with our shared interest in breastfeeding, nurtured through years of friendship and family life.
The Sunday before Christmas, another transplanted District of Columbia, LLL Leader Robin Tate, called me with the sad news of Marilyn’s death. Robin said, “Marilyn was a nurturer, a real teacher for so many of us. Just as she was a teacher in life, she was a teacher in death.” Soon after the D.C. vacation, Marilyn’s cancer recurred. Her fall was filled with surgeries, radiation, and hospitalizations. Through it all, she reached out to her League friends in Omaha and they held on and supported her and her family. She had given and received the gift that lasts a lifetime. I will continue to cherish the gift as well, in memories of Marilyn and in the many ordinary, yet precious moments of League friendships.