For more than 20 years, Thelma McDonald, 87, called Springfield her home, quickly joining the Lions Club and becoming a well-known and respected activist.
Her death on Jan. 2 broke the hearts of her children, grandchildren and friends, who gathered at Grace Presbyterian Church on Bath Street to honor her life and memory.
"Thelma lived her life well and worthy," said Rev. Dr. Jay Click, pastor of Grace Presbyterian at the beginning of a memorial service on Wednesday, Jan. 24. "We are here to give thanks for Thelma and the way her life touched ours."
McDonald's five grandchildren each took turns telling stories about their grandmother whom they called "Mimi," sharing memories that made them laugh despite the tears streaming down their faces.
"I used to think I was special because I was the oldest grandchild, but I realized as I got older that she had a special relationship with all her grandchildren," said Joe Batchelor, who took credit for McDonald's nickname.
His grandmother was a constant source of advice whether he wanted it or not, Joe Batchelor said, but it was always appreciated.
When he received his driver's license, it was a relief for both Joe Batchelor and his grandmother, who wasn't the best driver, he said to a bubble of laughs inside the church.
"She was so happy that she got to be chauffeured," he said.
He appreciated her zest for life, which included playing golf at the Springfield Country Club up until last June. "She was always up for anything. She had a great love for life and enjoyed living to the fullest," he said.
SECOND IN LINE was McDonald's second grandchild, Steve Batchelor, who said his grandmother refused to be called "grandma" because it "made her feel old."
As a child, McDonald chased Steve Batchelor around and decided she could only pray for him as a teenager, he joked. Holidays spent at her home are among Steve Batchelor's favorite memories, when he and his brothers would build forts under the kitchen table or run wild in McDonald's yard.
"Mimi didn't take a second of her life for granted," Steve Batchelor said. "She's one of the few people I know who hit the ground running every morning and kept going until well after dark."
When he returned to Springfield for what he felt would be their last visit, Steve Batchelor and his grandmother talked about her life.
"She spoke about being ready to move on but not about her death," he said. "She believed you shouldn't think about dying until one minute before you did."
McDonald was a person who believed she was never too old to try new things, said grandson Bob Batchelor.
"I taught her to water ski in the early 80s," he said. "Much to my mom's dismay, she wore a two-piece when she learned."
As McDonald's only granddaughter, Stephanie McCoil said her grandmother was her best friend.
One summer, when McCoil was staying with her grandmother, they both had gone out for a night on the town. McCoil returned home after her curfew ready to provide a long list of excuses, only to find that her grandmother wasn't yet home.
"I stood on the top of the stairs and waited for her to get back," she laughed. "I didn't tell her until recently that I only got home a few minutes before she did."
The two were very close, sharing secrets few other people knew, McCoil said. When McDonald remarried, to her second husband, William H. McDonald, McCoil was her maid of honor.
"Mimi embraced and enjoyed everything in life," she said, wiping away tears. "She will be missed."
THE DEATH OF his grandmother has been a difficult thing to accept, said Dan Batchelor. "Where do you begin when trying to encompass a life that was and is so incredible? It's hard to come to the realization that this is the course of life," he said.
McDonald was "a shining example of how to live life," he said. "She displayed that the changes of life should be embraced without reservation. She held on to a youthful spirit that will always be envied but never duplicated."
Leonard Walmsley, McDonald's son-in-law, spoke of her life in terms of memories: McDonald learning to drive when her first husband, John J. Gallant, was stationed in Long Island and she wanted to visit her hometown in Rhode Island and the Crescent Park Carousel, which she loved.
"She loved telling us stories about life in Rhode Island, like when the hurricane came through in 1938 and people were sitting on the roof of their houses waiting for help," Walmsley said.
After Gallant died in 1978 following 35 years of marriage, McDonald married her second husband in 1986. Together, she was mother or stepmother to seven children.
In 1998, McDonald received the Springfield Lions Club Interservice Club Person of the Year award for her volunteer efforts. Even in death, Walmsley said, McDonald continued to give for the greater good, donating her body to Georgetown Hospital for research.
"Thelma's motto was 'To Thine Own Self Be True,' and she did," Walmsley said. "She was flamboyant and energetic and no one loved to party more than she did."
But her sense of humor may have been the only quality that upstaged her love of living.
"She told me she was the most successful when playing the dumb blond," Walmsley said. "Thelma was anything but. Thanks for being you."
McDonald is survived by her children, Marsha (Joe) Batchelor and Linda (Leonard) Walmsley; her step-children Bill (Joan) McDonald, Mike McDonald, Chris (Bunny) McDonald, Kay McDonald, Pat (Joe) Bowman and the late Bob McDonald; one sister, Joyce Smith of Rhode Island; five grandchildren, ten great-grandchildren and many other family members and friends.