Julia Gay Groberg Blair

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.

63 thoughts on “Julia Gay Groberg Blair”

  1. I’m so sorry for your loss, Gabby. I loved seeing Julia’s comments pop up in the comment section over the years. Also, wow, does she have a resemblance to Flora June in that last black and white photo! (Or, I suppose I should say the other way around!) Wishing you all comfort and good memories over the next days and weeks.

    1. I’m so sorry for this loss for you and your family. What a beautiful tribute. You rendered visible Julia’s rich life that involved, as you say, significant sacrifice of personal goals. I don’t know if I ever met her, but during my master’s program in Language Acquisition in the late 80s I took classes from your father-in-law! I’ve followed you for years but wouldn’t have known of the connection without the pictures. I struggled with punctuality in his class, and I remember it frustrated him but that he communicated it in a way that let me know that he believed I could be better at it. I also worked with him in the linguistics conferences he organized. I appreciate knowing about Julia, since he couldn’t have done his work without hers.

  2. I have a seven week old baby and I am a business owner struggling with the ramifications of COVID. Life feels so impossibly hard right now. I watched the RBG documentary this weekend, and then this piece on your mother-in-law and I am just amazed. There are so many women leading their families and communities, being the glue that keeps everything together. I love the way you highlight that this is both unfair and hard and also the way your mother-in-law so beautifully and profoundly shaped so many lives. Motherhood and womanhood are so complex. This tribute uplifts me this morning, and I wish your family lots of peace at this time.

    1. I am so sorry for your loss. Your tribute to her left me in tears. What a lovely woman she must have been and you were definitely blessed with her as a MIL. May her memory be an inspiration for your family!

  3. What a lovely tribute I am sorry for your loss, and very sorry if you and your family cannot travel back for services and to spend time sharing memories with other family members.

  4. Just such a lovely tribute to a remarkable woman. I enjoyed reading about her and am in tears over your loss. Much love to you

  5. Oh what a beautiful tribute! She sounds like such an incredible woman. I did also have to laugh at this line: “If she was judging me, I never knew it.” A great trait in a mother-in-law! (Or anyone, really.) I’m sure she’ll be dearly missed; it also sounds like she’s leaving an incredible legacy. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Oh my – I am so sorry. I’ve always been a little envious about how much you seem to love your mother-in-law. Thinking of you all.

  7. What a beautiful portrait (my mother -in-law is fantastic aswell and I recognize so many of her traits in what you describe); I am so sorry for you and your husband he must be so heart-broken. I will be thinking of Mrs Julia Blair in the tree and will light a candle. I love your writing.

    1. Flori Christensen

      The Blairs were my husband’s mission presidents in Latvia in the mid 90’s and we just loved both of them. This is an incredibly accurate and thoughtful tribute to Julia. She was the best at keeping track of and keeping in touch, and really made everyone feel like her dearest friend! We are so sorry to hear of her passing. If you aren’t able to come to her memorial, I can hear her saying, “Even my own children didn’t come to my funeral!” and then laughing her wonderful laugh. :)

    1. I am so incredibly sorry, especially to Ben Blair. What a loss.

      I loved reading all about her. I always love hearing about great mothers. It’s just so inspiring. I had and lost one too. I think of her every day.

  8. She sounds like an extraordinary women. This is such a beautiful tribute and kind reminder to hold those we love close. Wishing you and your family peace and comfort at this time. ❤️

    1. Sending condolences to you, Ben and your family. It is hard to see that door close for now. Your mother in law sounds like she was a remarkable woman and a great example with a big heart. Always difficult to have to go on without those we love! Sympathy and best wishes!

  9. I’m sure your mother in law is smiling down at you! I too struggle with the domestic work that goes along with being a parent of a lot of children, and with balancing my career goals and my husband’s goals too. I always find your blog inspiring. In many posts you address organizing home life in a streamlined way that helps things to be a bit easier and less time-consuming. I also appreciate that you express an LDS perspective that is less traditional but still in keeping with doctrinal teachings. I think so many of the perpectives on women’s roles are cultural rather than doctrinal. The best marriages include teamwork and mutual support. I think your family represents that in a way I can aspire toward. Thank you!!

  10. I’m so sorry for your huge loss. I completely empathize with you as I was also lucky enough to win the Mother-in-Law lottery. It was a completely unexpected two-fer, and a huge bonus that I had no idea I was getting, when I married my lovely husband 25 years ago. Julia sounds so much like our sweet Joan. We lost her a couple of years ago, also lived long distance (from UK, living in CA), and miss her every day. Thinking of you and holding you in our hearts 💔

  11. I read this teary-eyed, then laughed out loud at the thought that nobody would come to her funeral. Of all people!

    If it weren’t for Covid, everyone who knew her would photo-copy and distribute funeral invites, to be sure no one missed out on it! I LOVE Julia Groberg Blair.

  12. That was a beautiful tribute. Julia sounded like a wonderful woman. I will use her advice should become a mother in law myself, one day.

  13. I am so sorry to hear of your loss. Thank you for sharing these stories with all of us: it is clear how beloved she was (is) by you and your family. I think one of the particular sadnesses of this pandemic is our inability to be able to Show Up for others in their times of sorrow/joy in a physical way. I hope your grief is enough to lean into it to cleanse your heart, but is chased quickly by the abundant joy of her memories that live inside of you.

    You’re in my prayers today.

  14. I am so sorry. There feels like so much incalculable loss. Sending love and juju and prayers. May her memories pierce the dark in these hard times. You will see each other again <3

  15. I’m so sorry for your loss. You and Julia were both lucky to have each other. I doubt many others would reminisce so fondly about living with their in-laws while learning how to be a mother!

  16. I’m so sorry for your family’s loss. Ben Blair’s mother sounds like a completely lovely person. It’s a gift to your husband and children that you all got along so well – you and she both get the credit for that!

  17. Her smile teaches her eyes. She had a countenance that glows. I’m guessing she’s always made the best of things because it shows on her face. Condolences to your whole family.

  18. Such a heartfelt overview of your mother in law’s life, I’m sorry for your family’s loss especially when people can’t easily come together to support each other in person. Wishing you and your family time to remember her life in the way that is best for you at this moment. It sounds like she would have approved no matter how you celebrate her.

  19. What a lovely tribute. We should all wish for someone to reflect so completely on our lives after our passing. I’m holding you and your family in my heart as you grieve her passing. May you find joy in the things that gave her joy, cry at the things that brought her to tears and fiercely cherish what she cherished. I have no doubt that you and the Blair family will do just this and keep her present in your lives.

  20. Condolences to your entire family. Your words towards her life brought me to tears. It is a beautiful thing to have a MIL who shows you such support and love! I had this with my MIL, and it meant the world to have another mother later in my life.

  21. I’m sorry for your loss. This is a wonderful tribute to your mother in law – maybe this blogpost could be published in the newspaper of her hometown for more people to read and enjoy.

  22. Your beautiful words describe an incredible woman, and I love the honor you give to the complexities of her environment – including the secret wishes that might not have been fulfilled. I would feel so loved and fortunate to be remembered in my passing as you remember Julia.

  23. This is one of most beautiful tributes I’ve ever read! You paint a lovely rich picture of Julia to all of us who did not have the pleasure of meeting her.

  24. That is one of the loveliest eulogies I’ve ever read – Julia came to life as I read about her. My thoughts are with you all.

  25. I’m so very sorry for this blow to your family. Your MIL sounds glorious! She reminds me of my late Grandma Lucy – an open-minded woman in a very conservative family. She was so supportive of her children and grandchildren – encouraging us to do more and to pursue our dreams. Despite the fact that she only had an 8th grade education, Grandma Lucy made us (her grandchildren) believe we could do anything. We all need someone like that in our lives – support and unconditional love..

    The impact on your kids must be really hard. I am so, so sorry…. I think of my Grandma Lucy every day. She lived through the Oklahoma dust bowl as a child, adopted my mom when she was a single woman in her early 20s, single-handed my ran a ranch, and “raised” (through her open door policy and generosity) many kids from other families. Whenever I have tough times, or a hurdle to overcome, I try to channel her sass and wit.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top