Brooks, Bessie Lee Witherspoon (Mrs. Cleanth)
MRS. CLEANTH BROOKS
August 5, 1882-February 13, 1962
My mother, Bessie Lee Witherspoon Brooks, wife of the Rev. Cleanth Brooks, was born in Madison County, Tennessee, on August 5, 1882, Her father was William Witherspoon, who had served as a lieutenant of Cavalry under General Nathan Bedford Forrest; her mother was Elizabeth Weir.
She was married to Cleanth Brooks in 1905 and began with energy and devotion the rigorous life of a Methodist minister’s wife. In succession they served pastorates in Murray, Ky.; Milan, Collierville, and Memphis, Tenn.; Mayfield, Ky.; and Whiteville and Ripley, Tenn. In 1912-13 they occupied the Presiding Elder’s parsonage at Lexington, Tenn.; from 1916-20 they lived for a short time at Jackson, Tenn., and for over three years, again at Collierville, Tenn., while my father served as Secretary of Education for the Memphis Conference.
In 1924 they were transferred from the Memphis Conference to the Louisiana Conference, where my father served pastorates at Alexandria, at Noel Memorial at Shreveport, and at Haynesville. In 1933, while at Haynesville, my father suffered a crippling paralytic stroke. My parents retired to Baton Rouge and my mother devoted herself to my father’s care and the management of the household during the difficult depression years. She made many friends in Baton Rouge during these years and, because she lived there for a much longer span of years than in any other place during her life—from 1939-1940—she came to think of it as home.
My father died in 1943. A few years later, in order to be nearer other members of her family, my mother moved to Memphis and lived there from 1949 to 1956, and then, from 1956 until her death, in Inglewood, California, where two of her sons reside. During the last years of her life she remained in reasonably good health. She enjoyed her little house and her flower garden, where she did much of the work herself, rejoicing to be out in the sunshine and close to growing things. She remained active until three or four days before her death.
On February 12, 1962, she suffered a heart attack and, in a little more than twenty-four hours was dead. Her three sons, Cleanth, William and Murray were at her bedside. In addition to her sons, she is survived by two brothers and a sister, all in Tennessee. She is buried beside her husband in Roselawn Cemetery in Baton Rouge.
My mother was by temperament more akin to Martha than to Mary. She was energetic and ardent, not afraid to use her hands, too humble about her capabilities otherwise, but in any case anxious to be of positive help—to do something. Many a parsonage she left in spick-and-span shape only to find the task to do over again at the parsonage to which she had just come. She had a warm heart for the poor and afflicted. She loved children. She was tireless in her devotion to those who she thought had need of her help.
Hers was not an easy life. She suffered hardships and some disappointments, but she persevered in faith and hope and ended her days in sunshine and serenity. May light perpetual shine upon her.
Source: Journal Louisiana Conference, 1963; p. 272 By Cleanth Brooks