My diligently positive mother-in-law, Julia Gay Groberg Blair, age 87, passed away this morning at her home, surrounded by several of her kids. We are so so sad.
Born December 28, 1932
Died September 21, 2020
Julia was an ideal mother-in-law. Seriously. I can’t believe how lucky I got in the mother-in-law department. She had 8 kids; Ben Blair is number 7 and the last one to marry. So by the time I joined the family she was a total pro. She gave us plenty of space, and was vocally supportive when we made decidedly risky plans to move across the country and around the world. She made a point of being expressive of how proud she was of what we were doing. She generously sent money when we moved to New York and started graduate school and just never had enough to make the bills.
There are some people in our Mormon community who questioned my priorities as I worked through young motherhood, but never Julia. She was consistently supportive. If she was judging me, I never knew it.
My father in law was a linguistics professor, with a significant side career in language course publishing, and he dedicated his life to his work. So Julia sacrificed whatever her personal goals might have been (performing, writing, playing violin), so that he could do what he felt drawn to do.
She raised 8 remarkably open-minded human beings. As a woman in a conservative religious community, she was expected to do the job of running her large household — 8 kids and lots of visiting university students — the cooking, the laundry, the cleaning, the organizing, the bills, the social calendar, the errands, the parenting. The more I got to know her over the last 25 years, the more I realized she did not like many of the domestic tasks she was stuck with, and almost none of them came naturally to her. But somehow, she kept the resentment at bay and did them anyway.
At different points in her married life, Julia lived for extended periods in Guatemala, Russia, Latvia, and China. These were not luxurious or pampered moves. In each case, she was there doing difficult pioneering work, helping to set up programs for those who would come after her. Living abroad is interesting and adventurous and enlightening, but also HARD. Her willingness to do this is truly amazing to me.
She thrived in leadership roles and teaching roles. She worked alongside her husband as they opened an LDS mission in the Baltic States — Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. She LOVED that role and if she had been born a few decades later, it’s easy for me to imagine Julia would have figured out how to hire out the household management so she could experience more of that type of work.
Well read and up to date on current affairs, she kept a really good collection of ever-changing coffee table books. As soon as she finished one, she would gift it to whomever happened to visit next. I was happily the recipient of these books on more than one occasion. A visit to Julia’s would inevitably include discussing the news and what was happening in the world.
I got to know Julia best during my 3rd and 4th years of marriage, when we lived in her basement and Ben and I had our first two babies. We would hang out and watch TV when the babies were napping. I loved how she saw the world. She was committed to assuming the best about people in a way that I’m not at all capable of.
In those years, I learned a lot about being inclusive from her. No matter what kind of event she was hosting or helping with, the guest list would grow until the event itself. If 50 invitations were printed, she would save the last one and then photocopy it a bunch and keep handing out invites right up until the party started. Anyone who expressed even a whiff of interest was invited and welcome.
Julia gave extravagant nicknames to her children. Ben’s is: Benjerbomboom. A sampling of others: Jenettikins, Blopsy, Caroliney-Deeny-Diny, Margretchie, and Deedle-Doos. Just by reading those names aloud, you can probably guess that my mother-in-law was a wonderful singer. And you’d be right.
Julia had 33 grandkids and 24 great-grandkids (I hope I did that math right!) She knew each and every one.
She loved growing up in Idaho Falls, Idaho. She was number 2 of 11 siblings, and her dad was a leader in the community; she felt deep roots there. She ended up raising her kids in Provo, Utah, while her husband established the linguistics department at BYU, but I think she was always a bit surprised (maybe disappointed?) that she didn’t end up back home in Idaho Falls.
Julia had no enemies.
You know that feeling of throwing a party and worrying that no one will show up? Julia had that (totally unfounded) worry about her funeral. She worried she would die and no one would come to celebrate her life. So I’m choosing to consider it a blessing that her death has come mid-pandemic, when big funerals aren’t even an option, and traveling is difficult or not permitted at all.
We hate that we’re so far away right now. Our oldest, Ralph, was able to spend quite a bit of time with Julia over the summer, and we’re grateful for that. We miss her already. It’s hard to imagine visiting Utah without Grandma Blair’s open arms, and her everyone-is-welcome open door policy.
P.S. — For those who are curious, we’re not sure yet if we will be able to travel to Utah for the small family memorial. We still haven’t received our renewal visas and it may not make sense for us to leave France right now. The death came quite suddenly; there was a precipitous decline starting last week, so we haven’t had a chance to explore our options.