A Legacy of Restoring Families

By Lisa Thompson-Dyson

My mother believed in the power of family love.
Lisa Thompson-Dyson and her mother, Dr. Marjorie V. Thompson

My mother, Dr. Marjorie Velma Thompson, believed that the home should be the place where children’s spirits were as free to grow and thrive as their physical bodies. She believed that a secure, loving atmosphere was more conducive to a child’s successful development than a large house or bank account.
“I love children,” my mother would often say. “That’s why I want their parents to have the skills to raise them well.”

And that’s what my mother did. My mother saved families. My mother fought for families.

She was known by many in our small city of Kankakee, Illinois, just about an hour south of Chicago, as Ms. Thompson or simply “Aunt Margie.”

When counseling couples, she would always advocate for the family unit. She would recognize and acknowledge their issues, but would make it very clear that she represented the family’s best interest.
One thing was for sure, she was authentic and genuine. People knew she loved them. She could be stern, and she could come at you with strong truth. But you could feel the love. She had a way of putting things straight in such a nice way that it wasn’t until you walked away that you realized your “attitude” had just been sliced and diced with a smile.

A Passion for Family

In 1981 my mother started a monthly parenting support group to support students missing or dropping out of their G.E.D. program because of family issues such as child behavior problems, marital and relationship discord, homelessness and complications because of family members’ involvement in the legal system, drugs and alcohol.

For 25 years she taught families. She taught ways to create and maintain a home environment conducive for healthy, safe interactions and growth for all family members. Most her work was with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), but she was also an advocate for services for families who “fell through the cracks.”

These families’ problems weren’t severe enough to need DCFS intervention, but at the same time, they could not afford family counseling. She had a heart for grandparents who needed support to cope with the unexpected responsibility of raising grandchildren because a parent was missing in action because of drugs, jail or abandonment.

Mom definitely had a zeal for family connectedness. To her, the words were synonymous. As a matter-of-fact, the words family, love, and connectedness were interchangeable. She believed families were meant to be together. She coordinated family “round-ups”, family praise and worship events, and would honor a family-of-the-month at our church. My father shared her zeal and together they spread a family message to family, friends, and the church communities across the country and abroad.

I can remember a parent from one of her parenting classes challenging her beliefs about family. The parent told her that family wasn’t all she was making it out to be. The parent spewed, “Everybody didn’t grow up in a magical family like you. What do you know about family hard times?”

 Without batting an eye, she told him what she knew about family hard times. When she was done, he realized he’d had it better growing up than she did.

Many people didn’t realize that her passion for family was forged through the adversities of her childhood.
She was the youngest of seven children born to Emma Lou Stowe Chatman Jones. Grandma’s maiden name was Stowe and she had two children by her first husband. She had five children by her second husband, Thomas J. Jones, and my mother was the youngest. Her parents divorced when she was a little girl, and she didn’t have many memories of her father living in the house with them when she was growing up.
She grew up in southern Georgia before the Civil Rights Movement. Her home was a single-parent, female-headed household. Her mom was educated and able to work selling insurance. She saw her dad and would stay with him in Florida when possible. Although her mother was a great mother, and managed to provide basic necessities, my mother said she still longed for her father’s presence. There were times she felt disconnected from family and wanted to know her heritage.

She didn’t like the broken family. She said the reason she didn’t leave my father (yes, there were times when she wanted to) was because he was “a good dad even when he wasn’t such a good husband.”  She didn’t want her children to experience the longing she’d felt growing up without both parents.

She loved her family and didn’t care how someone was related. She claimed all her people. For instance, her mother’s family line descends from the Bell family.  Mom would claim everyone with the Bell name as a relative. We used to tease that she was related to Illinois Bell, Taco Bell, Liberty Bell…

She made it her business to know family heritage, then took it upon herself to connect and educate other family members.  I remember multiple generations of family members getting their family schooling while sitting at her kitchen or dining room table. She was always cooking and feeding family. It didn’t matter whether family came to our house from out of town, or if we went to theirs. She was always conducting family lessons around a table filled with something good to eat.

The thing I remember most about these “lessons” was they almost always happened when that family member was seeking answers to solve something happening deep inside their souls. They’d almost always be disgruntled with their life or family. Sometimes they were confused about their identity and life direction. She would tell them about their heritage. There was something powerfully transforming and settling about knowing who they were and where they’d come from. I think it also helped that she was there for them— listening and sharing family treasures and skeletons.

Family also included close friends adopted as family. For those who knew her, if she ever called you her family, you were her family and she treated you as such. She taught us to address those she adopted as sisters and brothers as “Aunt” or “Uncle”, “brother” or “sister”.  These relationships are still intact today. They transcend blood, time, distance, and even death.

To read the rest of this story and other articles from the Fall/Winter issue, download The Well Magazine for only 99 cents. Click on the cover to order.

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