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Death at a funeral 

City Sage

The Guns of August, Barbara Tuchman's majestic account of the outbreak of the First World War, begins with a funeral.

"So gorgeous was the spectacle on the May morning of 1910 when nine kings rode in the funeral of Edward VII of England that the crowd, waiting in hushed and black-clad awe, could not keep back gasps of admiration. In scarlet and blue and green and purple, three by three the sovereigns rode through the palace gates, with plumed helmets, gold braid, crimson sashes, and jeweled orders flashing in the sun ... The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history's clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again."

Tuchman wrote those words 50 years after the funeral, so one wonders whether any of the crowd realized that an era had passed. No such uncertainty could be assigned to the 400 people who attended Barbara Shove Palmer Webb's funeral last Saturday at Chapel of Our Savior on Fourth Street.

Bobbie, as she was known, married Colorado Springs native Joel Webb in 1939. She had known Webb since childhood. He was the son of Dr. Gerald Webb, whose skill at treating tuberculosis had made Colorado Springs a mecca for wealthy "lungers."

Webb, his partners, and his in-laws built Cragmor Sanitorium to treat his patients in 1914. So influential was he that Springs historian Marshall Sprague, in his first book The Business of Getting Well, about his convalescence and recovery from TB, observed that a "quarter of the new residences and houses since 1900 were there because of Dr. Webb." Webb was also a noted immunologist, who coined the word '"immunology." He founded the Webb-Waring Institute in 1924, now part of the University of Colorado medical school.

Bobbie's uncle, Eugene Shove, gave the eponymous chapel to Colorado College.

So what did Bobbie do during her long life? Why did more than 400 people show up for the funeral of a 94-year-old widow, whose children and grandchildren had long since left Colorado Springs?

Webb was, within her means, an extraordinarily generous and personally supportive donor to local nonprofits, especially to the Opera Theater of the Rockies. That's why Jennifer DeDominici, Judeth Shay Burns and Daniel Fosha sang at her funeral. She made friends and kept them — a gracious, unpretentious woman who, in the words of one attendee, "would have made a better queen of England than the real queen."

Her life was placid and, in modern terms, unremarkable. She raised decent kids, was devoted to her grandchildren, and lived in Colorado Springs for most of her life. She traveled everywhere and took up hiking in her 70s. She lit up a room with her dazzling smile, flashing eyes and deeply compassionate presence.

She was the last of her generation, the last living link to old Colorado Springs, to the genteel, unhurried lives of the 19th-century aristocrats who first settled General Palmer's windswept real-estate promotion. She's gone now, as is her husband, as are all of her contemporaries.

And so we came to Bobbie's funeral. We came from Alaska and Mississippi, from Biloxi and Sacramento, from Colorado Springs, Denver and a dozen other cities and states. Her children, her grandchildren, nieces and nephews, cousins, friends and distant connections came to say goodbye, and to celebrate her life.

At the funeral, Bobbie's nephew Bert Hayes-Davis read the familiar words of Corinthians 13:4-7, 13, ending with this verse: "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity."

It was as strange and wistful as a 50th high-school reunion. At the post-funeral reception, I saw cousins I scarcely recognized, the long-ago prom queen whose dark, lustrous hair had morphed into a cloud of silver ringlets, and the 50-something brother and sister whom I had sullenly baby-sat half a century before. And suddenly it was over, and we walked out into the unseasonably warm January night.

I remembered Bobbie; I mourned the long-dispersed community that, even as the car door closed, seemed to vanish from memory.

"For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face: now I know in part; but then I shall know even as also I am known."

hazlehurst@csindy.com

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