Donald R. Mohr was born on February 16, 1940, in Bessemer, Alabama. The only child of Dan and Ruby Mohr, Don grew up and attended school in Bessemer until he left home to attend the University of Alabama, where he received a BFA and MFA in drama and public speaking and a lifelong addiction to pulling for the Crimson Tide. After college, in 1965, Don and Pat moved to Iowa, where he taught at a private college for a year, and then to Beatrice, Nebraska, to chair the theatre department at Pershing College, where he taught classes and directed plays. After the college closed in 1972, the Mohrs moved to Lincoln, where Don worked for the state of Nebraska in their community action programs. In 1986, he and his family moved to Columbia, where Don was employed by another state agency, the Continuum of Care, as a contract administrator. He retired in 2005, which was a boon to our congregation because it meant we got even more of Mohr.
Don and Pat invested themselves in this congregation from day they arrived 26 years ago, and there was much work to be done, as the Unitarians had just moved into this building. The first thing Pat did was take down the hideous purple-brown wallpaper in the nursery, and the first thing Don did was become chair of the Worship Committee. In fact, the first sermon I heard here when I first visited this congregation 13 years ago was a sermon given by Don. He and Morgan Maclachlan were sharing their experiences of their heart surgeries. I was struck at the time with Don's courage, when he testified that his brush with death did not make him a foxhole believer but, if anything, only confirmed his humanistic faith. Little could I imagine at the time that years later I would witness his courage in the face of death once again.
As chair of the Worship Committee, it was Don who interviewed me to serve as the stand-in minister during the previous minister's sabbatical. Don did not personally know me and he had not heard me speak, and I could sense that he felt uncertain about me since I was a former Baptist. At the time, I thought to myself, “Man, if you only knew how un-Baptist I am.” Nevertheless, Don took a chance on me, and because he did, he deserves the credit more than any other person for my being your minister today. So you can blame him. It is one of my deepest regrets that he will not be present for my installation service.
Owing to his background in theater, I suppose, Don understood how a worship service is like a theater production in which the sermons, readings, hymns, choirs, the visual props, and the participants on stage and in the audience must all be integrated into a unified whole that touches the whole person – one's mind and senses, one's emotions and conscience. Some of his services have become annual traditions here, like his Christmas Eve service of Christmas carols and stories, to be followed with a party at his and Pat's house, and his Remembrance Service, which reflected on the lives of those who had died during the previous year – the famous, the infamous, and the unknown.
Some of his services really were theater productions, like his “Congregation of Amazons,” a presentation of the women's suffrage movement that involved several actresses and was so well done that is was performed at the Southeast District of our denomination and at the national UU General Assembly. In his last weeks, Don was planning yet another production, a Wine and Cheese Cabaret with Unitarian poetry readings. His good friends Ann Johnson and Morgan Maclachlan will carry out Don's wishes by presenting these readings on December 7th. Now that I think about it, the first time I saw Don Mohr was not at the UU but at Trustus Theater. He was portraying a college campus security guard. It may have been a bit part, but Don gave it his all, which is the way he approached nearly everything in his life.
Here at the UU, Don took on both bit parts and major roles. He was the greeter who welcomed us on Sunday mornings outside our front entrance. He was literally the first person I met here, and he was the first person who made me feel welcomed here because by my second visit, he remembered my name. Don volunteered in our religious education program and taught our kids UU history. He and Ann Johnson began our tradition of providing a Thanksgiving dinner here in our social hall, a dinner that has grown to over 60 people. Who will help Ann bake the turkeys now?
Don was our unofficial repair and maintenance man, trimming shrubbery, painting classrooms, the social hall, and sanctuary, making the bathrooms accessible, and remodeling the kitchen. Earlier this year, he was promoted to construction supervisor, as he was here every day overseeing the renovations to our social hall and playground and the construction of our patio, sign, and memorial garden. So it is altogether fitting that his ashes be the first to be buried in our memorial garden, which we will do at the conclusion of this service. Who can forget our building dedication service when we presented Don with his own construction helmet, which read on one side “Construction Supervisor” and one the other side “More Mohr.” If these walls could talk, they would speak Don's name. He literally and figuratively touched every nook and cranny of this building, a building which he helped to make a spiritual home for all of us with his hands and his heart.
Don and Pat wrote and submitted the Chalice Lighter grant that secured some of the funding for our renovations. He served on the UUA Commission on Appraisal, addressing issues and concerns of our denomination. He served on our Board of Trustees several times, twice as President, and he and Pat modeled a Co-Presidency which will be emulated next year by our Co-Presidents-Elect. And in one final act of generosity, Don and Pat bequeathed to our congregation a sizable endowment to ensure that the Unitarian Universalist principles which guided his life will continue to enrich the lives of our children and future UUs who make our congregation their spiritual home. Don gave everything to our congregation because our congregation meant everything to him.
I literally cannot imagine the Unitarian Universalist Congregation without Don Mohr. In the Baptist tradition, we used to call such dedicated, committed leaders “pillars” of the church. I remember in a sermon in a former congregation, I used that term, and one of the children thought I was saying “pillows” of the church. Well, Don was a pillar and a pillow. As talented and accomplished as he was, he was also modest and unassuming, gentle and kind. Don was out front, but unlike many actors and Unitarians, he never demanded the spotlight. If anything, he shunned praise, even seemed embarrassed by it. Shortly after he received his diagnosis, some of us tried to persuade him to let us have a service of commemoration for him, and he would hear nothing of it. But he meant too much to us as friends and as a congregation for us to allow him to pass quietly into the night. So please forgive us, Don, for making a fuss over you today.
And I literally cannot imagine Pat without Don. They were partners in the congregation, and they were partners in life. Our former custodian, John Squire, used to tell me how Pat and Don bickered with each other when they were working by themselves together here in the building. Of course they bickered – they were together 50 years! For me, Pat and Don were the quintessential old married couple in the best sense of that phrase. They could afford to be honest and truthful with one another because they admired and respected one another. They genuinely liked each other in addition to loving each other. One of the first things Pat told me after Don died was, “I've lost my best friend.” Only lovers who are also best friends could give each other sewage pipes instead of chocolates or flowers at Valentine's, which is what Pat and Don gave each other this past Valentine's Day when we were trying to raise money for a sewage line.
Don loved the theater, especially Shakespeare. Allow me to close with two lines from Shakespeare. The first: “Nothing became his life like the leaving of it.” As he had done years before, Don faced death courageously and serenely. When I observed to him just a few weeks ago that others appeared more disturbed by his impending death than he, he told me that since contracting diabetes earlier in life, he had never expected to live long and that he regarded these last years as a bonus. Don lived his last years as he lived his whole life – with the gratitude with which one receives a gift.
My dear friend, I leave you with one more line from Shakespeare: “Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”
Rev. Dr. Neal Jones