RESPONSE: MARCH 2018 ISSUE

A Legacy of Service

United Methodist Women legacy member Vera Moore is faith, hope and love in action.

A Legacy of Service
Vera Moore with the portrait of her mentorAlma Bryant.

Vera Moore calls herself a “Methodist by choice.” She wasn’t born into the church. Though she missed out on the very front end of her life, she certainly made up for lost time.

“It was a good fit,” she says of joining First United Methodist Church of Bayou La Batre in 1957, shortly after she, her husband and their two young children moved to the Alabama fishing village from her home state of Virginia. “My sister was a Methodist, and she appreciated the freedom.”

Given her long tenure of service, the church—and specifically, United Methodist Women—has been a benefactor of her devotion and hard work. Moore has served in numerous United Methodist Women positions along with church boards and committees at the local, district and conference levels.

Her efforts have not gone unrewarded. In 2003, she won the coveted Alice Lee Award, given by the Commission on the Status and Role of Women of the Alabama-West Florida Conference, given for being a bridge builder and breaking barriers for women through leadership in the church and community.

She accomplished all of this while raising a family, working a full-time job in customer service for a utility company and taking on several community positions, including a newspaper column, a term on the Bayou La Batre City Council and even making a bid for mayor.

“I’m a good multitasker,” Moore says. And at age 80, she continues to give her time and talent.

Perhaps one of Moore’s greatest assets is her willingness to share her knowledge and experience, said Debbie Bell, president of the United Methodist Women Alabama-West Florida Conference.

“She has history, she has a legacy. Start getting in a back-and-forth with her, and it’s like you’ve released the hounds,” Bell says. “We don’t always agree on everything, but she listens and she responds thoughtfully. I consider her a very valuable mentor.”

Undaunted by adversity

For all the energy and physical stamina she’s needed to juggle multiple responsibilities over the decades, Moore’s life could have been vastly different. At age 14 she contracted polio.

“I wasn’t about to let it win,” she says. “Had I done that, I can’t imagine how things would have turned out. I just decided early on that I wasn’t going to ever feel sorry for myself.”

That determination would pay off in a big way.

The year 1952 was one of the worst for polio. The Salk vaccine, developed that year, was not put into widespread use until three years later. Children and adults were contracting the infectious disease by the thousands. Symptoms ranged from a fever and sore throat to muscle weakness, resulting in irrever- sible paralysis.

There were warnings: Don’t swim. Travel less to avoid contact with possibly infected people. Don’t get overheated or overchilled. Moore was living with her family in Virginia at the time and came to Alabama to visit family.

“I guess we didn’t pay much attention to all those warnings,” she says. “We pretty much did everything we weren’t supposed to do.”

Moore’s sister first noticed the symptoms. “You’re limping!” she told her little sister. “No, I’m just lazy,” Moore shot back. “I don’t have much energy.”

As the symptoms progressed, she was taken to the hospital. After a spinal tap, the doctor’s worst fears were confirmed. Moore had polio.

She spent weeks in an isolation ward, then another month in a special children’s unit. Moore says she was lucky that polio affected her legs and not her chest, which would have required an iron lung to breathe. Late at night, she could hear the “swish, swish, swish” of the machine keeping its dependent patients alive.

“Honestly, no one bothered to tell me I wouldn’t be able to walk again,” she recalls. “I had just learned to skate backward, and I wanted to get home and start skating again.”

That wasn’t to be. Once she regained her strength and was sent home, she learned the harsh truth that she would never walk on her own again. The doctor gave her this advice: Work hard and do what you can.

It wasn’t easy at first. For a year or so, she had to wear a “horrible corset” that had a steel bar in the back to keep her straight, and she had to strap on long braces for her legs and use crutches to walk. It was her new normal, so she embraced it with a can-do attitude. Eventually, she was able to shed the corset, but she had to rely on the other devices for decades, until she finally switched over to a mobility cart in 1993.

There was something good that came out of one of her extended hospital stays. A young man named Robert “Sonny” Moore, four years her senior, was visiting a brother-in-law who had been injured. He met Moore and was starstruck.

“His mama used to say, ‘With all the girls walking around, you end up with one in the hospital who couldn’t,’” she said with a laugh. They married in 1954, when she wasn’t yet 17 and he was 20. The union would last 57 years until his death in 2011 and produced a son and daughter, five grandkids and 15 great-grandchildren.

Moore only has one regret about marrying young and having a family right away. “I never made it to college,” she says. “I think I would have loved it.”

A spirit for service

Moore first joined United Methodist Women in 1960, when the organization was called the Woman’s Society of Christian Service. At that time it felt more like a social club than today’s mission-oriented faith organization that focuses on leadership, spiritual growth, education and service and advocacy.

Her first meeting was memorable. “The ladies were making poodles out of coat hangers and that blue plastic that went over clothing,” Moore says. As United Methodist Women evolved, so did she.

She says the group’s emphasis on getting involved in legislative events eventually propelled her to run for a four-year city council term (which she won) and make a long-shot run for mayor in 1993 (which didn’t succeed). She served as president of the local United Methodist Women chapters at her former church in Bayou La Batre and at Christ United Methodist Church in Mobile, where she and her husband moved in 1996. She served as president of the Mobile District from 1980 to 1984.

Her church work reflects Moore’s leadership skills, from Sunday school superintendent to Mobile District lay leader. For her steady commitment to Methodist life, Moore served as a delegate at several conferences, including the World Methodist Conference in Nairobi, Kenya. In her long tenure as an employee for the General Board of Global Ministries, it was Moore who answered the phones on the mission information line.

Moore may be a legend in Alabama’s Methodist circles, but to Amy Ryan, she’s Grandmother. Ryan, married to Moore’s second-oldest grandson, loves having a person within the extended family to provide spiritual support and guidance. Because of Moore’s encouragement, both Ryans are now enrolled in lay servant training.

“I grew up Catholic, and Christopher was a Baptist. We met in the middle with the Methodists,” Ryan, 39, says. “You know how converts are. We want to conquer the world and end up getting overwhelmed. So with her counsel, we’re now taking Grandmother’s one-step-at-a-time approach.”

Ryan says there are plenty of reasons why the family loves its matriarch—she’s “positive, classy, progressive and kind.” And her knowledge of technology makes Moore the “go-to expert” when it comes to buying tablets and computers.

Moore really can’t explain her obsession. It’s a love affair that began when a giant IBM processor was delivered to her office decades ago. The machine took up most of the room. When home computers hit the general market, she was among the first to buy one.

“It was a big bulky thing,” Moore recalls. “I didn’t know anyone else who had one.”

That fascination continues today. Moore helps maintain United Methodist Women’s social network UMWOnline and helps with the national office website and social media. She also helps maintain the website for the Alabama-West Florida Conference. She also is the webmaster for the Mary and Martha Mail Circle for her church, which hosts virtual meetings for those who are unable to attend meetings and workshops in person but still want to serve.

Patsy Adams, 80, saw the same organizational skills and creativity when Moore co-founded the Mobile Post-Polio Support Group in 1995. Adams, who also contracted polio at age 14, became friends with Moore through the group—a friendship that continues today.

Though Moore is mainly housebound these days, it doesn’t seem that way. Adams says her friend’s computer skills and social media savvy keep her connected with the outside world without skipping a beat. “One of her best assets is how she handles everything with good humor,” Adams said. “The truth is, everything is more difficult when you have a disability, especially as you age. But Vera is an inspiration to all of us, showing us how to rise above challenges and find ways to stay involved and relevant.”

Looking to the future

Moore knows that organizations like United Methodist Women are at a crossroads. Its an inclusive organization open to all ages, but, like the church, it has an aging core membership. Obituaries in towns across the country celebrate women’s participation in United Methodist Women. Moore posts the obituaries on United Methodist Women’s Pinterest page. And there are many these days.

Her suggestion to stem the tide: Every member should immediately adopt a youth or young woman. It could be a family member—as she did with Amy Ryan—or someone recommended by a pastor or youth leader. The next step is to find ways to involve that person with United Methodist Women mission projects.

“It’s something that is doable. It’s possible. It’s not difficult,” she says. “This organization has done so much good, from local to global efforts. It’s up to us to keep that train running.”

That’s the attitude Debbie Bell loves so much in her mentor. The example Moore sets on a daily basis is a shining beacon for the next generation of United Methodist Women members.

“Vera has shown us all that you’re not bound by the limitations of our world,” Bell says. “You’re only bound by the limitations of your spirit.”


Michelle Bearden is former religion reporter for The Tampa Tribune and WFLA-TV and is now a freelance writer specializing in faith and values. She’s a two-time winner of the national Supple Religion Writer of the Year award from the Religion Newswriters Association.

Posted or updated: 3/8/2018 12:00:00 AM
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