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Remembering Mary Ogden, lost at age 100 to COVID, with the lullaby 'Baby's Boat'

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

More than a million people have lost their lives to COVID-19 in the U.S. NPR continues to remember them through the music they loved in our series called Songs of Remembrance. Today, we remember Mary Ogden, who died on November 20, 2020, at the age of 100, through a lullaby near and dear to her heart. It's called "Baby's Boat." Three of her four children, Ruthie Sampier, Glenn Ogden and Marty McCullough, and one of her grandkids, Anne McCullough Kelly, share their memories.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BABY'S BOAT")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Baby's boat's a silver moon...

RUTHIE SAMPIER: I can remember her sitting at the top of the stairs.

GLENN OGDEN: Her sitting at the top of the stairs, singing that song to us every night.

MARTY MCCULLOUGH: That's the same memory that I have of that song.

OGDEN: It was just wonderful. It was peaceful. It was a good way to go to sleep.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BABY'S BOAT")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) As the clouds float by...

MCCULLOUGH: We have five children. And I sang it to each of them. I now have two grandchildren. So it's a tradition that's continued generations.

ANNE MCCULLOUGH KELLY: As my mother, Marty, said, she sang it to me, and I love singing lullabies to my daughter. So it was one of the first that I sang to her when she was born.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BABY'S BOAT")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Baby's fishing for a dream...

OGDEN: There was always music in our home. We always had records. She had one record of Glenn Miller, and I think I wore that out.

(SOUNDBITE OF GLENN MILLER'S "STARDUST")

SAMPIER: She imparted that to all of us. She directed all of our children's choirs when we were kids in the churches where Dad was the minister.

MCCULLOUGH: Actually, it was kind of amazing. Back when she did this was late '30s, early '40s. She went from Long Beach, Calif., where she'd lived, to Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J. They sang in Carnegie Hall several times. They did touring both in Europe and in the United States.

SAMPIER: She was still singing for several years, maybe up until she was 90, in the church choir.

OGDEN: I'll tell you, Mom just showered us all the time and lots of love but kept us on the straight and narrow - couldn't have had a better mother.

KELLY: She was always looking for ways that she could be of service to her community and to the world. Even when she was, you know, technically retired, she worked in schools helping children with their schoolwork. And that is, in addition to her gorgeous singing voice, probably the greatest impression she left on me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KELLY: For the past nine years, I worked as a Kindermusik early childhood educator, and I absolutely think of my grandma when I see just the joy these young children and families experience when they are immersed in music.

SAMPIER: When they called me on the day that she was going to die, that she - that that's what was going to happen and they set up a - so we could FaceTime with her, although she was totally out of it.

KELLY: My daughter held my hand while I sang "Baby's Boat" to my grandma.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BABY'S BOAT")

KELLY: (Singing) A silver moon sailing in the sky.

MCCULLOUGH: You always wonder when someone dies without family members whether they feel abandoned. And I think the fact that Annie was able to sing to her was really a very, very important connection. Hopefully, my mom could make with the love that we all wanted to send her but couldn't.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BABY'S BOAT")

KELLY: (Singing) Back again to me.

CHANG: Mary Ogden of Fayetteville, Ark., was 100 years old. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jonaki Mehta
Jonaki Mehta is a producer for All Things Considered. Before ATC, she worked at Neon Hum Media where she produced a documentary series and talk show. Prior to that, Mehta was a producer at Member station KPCC and director/associate producer at Marketplace Morning Report, where she helped shape the morning's business news.
Sarah Handel
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