Read Oxford writer Curtis Wilkie’s touching tribute to his wife, Nancy

Published 5:37 am Friday, September 2, 2016

Nancy Roberson Wilkie of Oxford, 72, a vibrant personality who spoke with the soft accent of her native Mississippi Delta, died early Thursday morning, September 1, 2016, in Oxford.

She was an ecumenical Episcopalian and a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m., Monday, September 5, 2016, at the First Presbyterian Church in Oxford, the spiritual home for five generations of her husband’s family. The Rev. John Semmes, a close friend who presided at Nancy and Curtis’s wedding, will officiate. He will be joined by the Rev. Jody Burnett of St. Peters Episcopal Church of Oxford. Waller Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.

For the past year she had been dealing gamely with a series of three separate, severe health blows – bladder cancer, a ruptured colon, and a stroke. Nonetheless, she was scheduled for a final surgery at Mayo Clinic in October to complete her recovery. But a few days after a dinner outing with friends and a quick trip to Memphis, she complained of a cough and congestion. She was hospitalized on August 21 and diagnosed with pneumonia. Weakened by her earlier illnesses, which included life-saving emergency surgery last Christmas Eve, she slipped away.

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She was the daughter of two old, well-known Mississippi families. Her mother was Yvette “Y” Williams from Neshoba County, where the legendary Williams Brothers General Merchandise Store has existed for more than 100 years; Nancy’s grandfather was one of the founders. Her father, Lake Roberson Jr., whose own father founded a prominent law firm in Clarksdale, was one of the earliest Ole Miss athletes to play professional football, for the Detroit Lions in the years before World War II. Ole Miss DNA ran deep on both sides of her family.

Nancy was born in San Antonio, Texas, where her father was stationed during World War II. She grew up on her parents’ cotton land outside Clarksdale. Her father preferred to call himself a farmer rather than “planter.” Like him, Nancy resisted pretension. She attended public schools and graduated from Clarksdale High School. She hid the fact that she had been a Delta debutante. She pledged Delta Gamma at Ole Miss, but was able to laugh at herself after failing to make grades necessary for initiation into the sorority of her mother and cousins.

She had enrolled at Ole Miss in the fall of 1962. Within a couple of weeks the campus was swept by rioting that triggered international headlines. Her life would always be interesting. With a degree in education, she moved to Memphis in 1967 to become a teacher but soon gave that up to raise her own family.

Nancy spent most of her 40 years in Memphis as a resident of Chickasaw Gardens. She worked for several years at Rhodes College’s admissions office and enjoyed part-time jobs at gift shops. She often used her taste and skills in interior decorating to assist her friends. She was active in the Junior League and enlisted in more informal organizations in Memphis such as her beloved “Birthday Club,” a group of her close women friends who used each other’s birthdays as an excuse for luncheons.

Although she traveled the world, Nancy liked to say that she never lived beyond a 75 mile radius of her childhood home.

After her marriage to Curtis Wilkie, she moved to Oxford in 2007 and swiftly connected with her old college town. Her vast circle of friends widened. She learned to play mah jongg and did so weekly with many of her pals. She was also part of a Wednesday lunch group. She and her husband were season ticket holders at Ole Miss baseball games and celebrated football seasons with friends under the “1810” tent in the Grove on her old campus.

Her red hair never faded nor needed to be colored. From a distance, she still looked, even in her last year, like a school girl.

She kept an immaculate home. She loved her family, friends, elegant clothing and accessories — and especially animals. When deer encroached on her lawn in Oxford she refused to shoo them away – until they began feasting on her hibiscus. From the time she was a child she had pets: horses, dogs and a succession of Persian cats named for foodstuffs.

During her last year, she was forced to learn to walk again after last winter’s onslaught on her health. She embraced physical therapy that restored her personal mobility. She carried on conversations without a hint of trouble, yet she was frustrated that the stroke had robbed her of the ability to read. She loved books. Two were dedicated to her earlier, and so will be a third next spring.

In the midst of her health struggles, her life was brightened by a new grandson, saved from an orphanage in Haiti, and the arrival of her first great-grandchild. Her large family helped sustain her through her illness. They called her “Natny,” a nickname established more than 20 years ago when her first granddaughter was unable to pronounce her name.

She leaves her husband; her sister Melissa Roberson (Sal D’Agostino) of Hoboken, N.J.; a daughter, Margaret Newton of Memphis; two sons, Daniel (Kristi) Newton of Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Lake Newton of Baltimore, Md. Seven grandchildren, Jesse Graber, Rowan Graber (William Gratz), and David Graber, all of Memphis, and Vivian, Sophia, Andrew and Lucien Newton, all of Oak Ridge, Tenn.; and one great-grandson, Ellery Gratz of Memphis.

She also leaves two step-sons, Carter (Allison) Wilkie of Boston; Stuart (Melissa) Wilkie of Tupelo; a step-daughter, Leighton (Campbell) McCool of Oxford, and six step-grandchildren

Her family suggests that any memorial contributions go to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, 6931 Arlington Road, Bethesda, Md. 20814 (Nancy had two granddaughters with CF) or the Oxford-Lafayette Humane Society, 413 McElroy Drive, Oxford, Miss. 38655.

Nancy’s family welcomes all of her friends to an informal luncheon reception at her home at 1016 S. 11th Street in Oxford following the services to celebrate her life of accomplishment and joy.