Friday, March 9, 1990

Another Biography of Roberta Hagar Jamieson

MARCH 1990

Roberta Modesto Hagar was born in Mansfield, Ohio, January 20, 1895 to Robert Hagar and Louise Modesto Bettencourt. Louise Bettencourt was one of several sisters of a New Orleans family named Bettencourt. Bettencourt is an Anglicized version of the original de Bettencourt pronounced in the French manner. The father of this family, as the story goes, was the governor of the Canary Island who had a large number of sons -- nine, I think. His wife made a Novena promising that if she had a daughter the sons would all become priests. When the daughter was born, the parents placed all the boys in the monastery. Two or three of them ran away to sea. We are their descendants. Our branch of the family came from one who settled in the Charleston, S.C. area. His offspring became railroad men, running as far as new Orleans. Roberta's maternal grandfather was a railroad man in the New Orleans area. He and his wife had several daughters all of whom, except for Louise, became nuns. I think two left the orders. The names that I remember are Aunt Dessie and Aunt Carrie. Aunt Carrie remained in the convent, and she was still teaching at the age of 80. Louise married Robert Hagar, a Jewish pharmacist, and moved to Mansfield, Ohio. There she had two daughters, Roberta Modesto and "Josie." Her husband Robert died unexpectedly during an epidemic. Louise took her two babies and returned to her family in New Orleans.

Young Roberta and Josie attended Catholic schools until Josie died of "acute indigestion" contracted at school. Louise had married a Mr. Bitterwolf. He had a hard time keeping a job. Roberta quit school and went to work in a cotton mill to help support the family which now included two half brothers, Alvin and Richard. When she as a teenager, she was removed from the family and became a ward of the court due to some family trouble.

The chief juvenile officer offered her a position in his home as governess of his two young sons -- Wallace and Damon. While she was employed there, she met a prominent young man named Pool. He asked her to marry him. They eloped across the state line and lived together. Roberta became pregnant. Mr. Pool's society matron mother was irate because Roberta was not their "kind." She used her influence to have the marriage annulled. This treatment of Roberta incensed the juvenile officer. Since Roberta was still under age, he had Mr. Pool charged under the Mann Act. A sensational trial which ended in a hung jury followed. Mrs. Pool sent her son to Mexico for an extended trip.

Roberta delivered a son, whom she named Wallace, after her earlier charge. A Dr. King was the attending physician. In an attempt to support herself and the baby she took employment as a recreational aid at the Methodist-operated Mary Wherline Mission in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Hugh Jamieson, the lay minister in charge of this "neighborhood house," encouraged her to enroll in a Methodist school for girls. He arranged for a family, friendly to his own family, to care for her young son while she was at school. In the fall of 1915, Hugh Jamieson went to Shreveport, Louisiana, to attend Centenary College and finish his schooling for the ministry. He invited Roberta to attend the state fair there, in January 1916 and talked her into marrying him rather than returning to school. Thus, on January 15, 1916, they were married in a friend's home. Hugh continued school where he was the editor of the student paper. Roberta helped him with his student pastorate assignments which included the Queens' borough Church (a newly organized church in a suburb of Shreveport and now Mangum Memorial United Methodist Church) and a county circuit.

Roberta looked forward to a reunion with her son. Hugh kept putting her off. She was pregnant again. She delivered a baby girl, Roberta Melissa, in October 1916. In January 1918, she had a second son, Hugh William, Jr. World War I was in progress; Hugh became an Army YMCA secretary serving at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and other places. Roberta took her two children and went with him to all these out of the way places. Meanwhile, she was trying to arrange for the return of Wallace. In the course of time, she found out that Hugh had indicated to the Ford family that they could adopt Wallace. Roberta never did accept this condition and repeatedly refused to sign adoption papers. She had two more sons, Robert and David. She never spoke to Hugh's children about Wallace when they were young, but she often called little Hugh Wallace when calling him. The children never knew why. Roberta Melissa remembered the stories about Wallace and Damon and accepted that as the reason. (I do not recall being told that I had a half-brother until I was in high school.)

The Hugh Jamieson family moved to New Orleans where Hugh's mother, brothers and sisters and their families all lived. The Hugh Jamieson family fell into the middle of the expanded family. Hugh was the middle of this mother's seven children. He had two older brothers who were followed by his older sister. Then he came, followed by his second sister and two younger brothers. His older sister never married and lived with her widowed mother. All the others did marry and have families. All of these people lived in or near New Orleans plus other members of Hugh's father's family. This group had close ties with the grandmother, who acted as the center. This condition made for fun for the 14 grandchildren but for some touchy relationships with in-laws.

The children all attended school in a comfortable part of town. Hugh worded at Tulane University part-time. Roberta took graduate medical students into her home as boarders. This load of management even with black help took a lot of diplomacy on Roberta's part. To add to Roberta's problems, beside trying to raise four young children, she found herself with health problems. In those years, she had four pregnancies and two miscarriages. She also had a serious case of influenza and a bout with tuberculosis. She was expected to participate in Hugh's church work and his YMCA and college affairs as well as extended family events.

A big change came in her life when Hugh was asked to go to California to take a church attached to a "neighborhood house" in the mission district of San Francisco. This was a whole new situation. The mother of four young children ages three to ten years found herself and children residing on the fourth floor of a downtown building. The children were "underfoot." There was a gymnasium in the building which helped a bit. But the many steps to climb took its toll on Roberta. She became very ill. She underwent major surgery (a hysterectomy) at Stanford University Medical Center. She almost died during this operation.

This event brings to mind Roberta's health history. She was a premature baby, carried around on a pillow in the cold January of Mansfield, Ohio. She grew up in a financially underprivileged home in New Orleans and went to work under poor conditions as a child. When she was twelve years old, she developed a paralysis in her hands. I was discovered that she was suffering from a very unusual condition. Her cervical ribs (the small ones near the base of the neck) were growing abnormally and cutting off the nerves to her hands. It was decided to try a brand new operation to correct this problem. Dr. Rudolph Matas, a surgeon on the faculty of the Tulane University Medical School read the record of the two previous operations and did her operation "by the book." This was the first operation ever done where the heart could be seen functioning and Roberta was the third person to undergo it. When one remembers this was in 1907, long before antibiotics were in use you can understand the amazing feat. During this operation, Roberta had "death" experience of going to the bright light. This experience made her supersensitive most of her life. She seemed to have a bit of E.S.P. At the time of her hysterectomy in 1927, she had another "death" experience and "came back" when she heard one heard one of her little boys crying "mommy." Her "delicate" condition for the next year or so mandated rest. She used this time to read -- As a child, she read as she went to the store for her mother, bumping into trees in the process. Now she read deep philosophical and other nonfiction books. She was getting "college" education on her own.

After two strenuous years in San Francisco, Hugh and his family were moved to southern California. His first appointment there was to San Bernardino on the edge of the desert at the fool of the mountains. Here with all the children in school -- the oldest now beginning junior-high -- Roberta began to have better health. After one year in San Bernardino, Hugh was assigned to Norwalk, a small town closer to Los Angeles. Here Roberta worked closely with the elementary school where she became P.T.A. president, in addition to her work at the church. At church she worked with a Mrs. Hepler to refresh the interior plus decorate the sanctuary beautifully every week. A money making opportunity came up. The church was offered a secondhand furniture shop to run. Roberta was the main force behind the success of this project. She also convinced the parishioners then it would be a good deal to swap very old furniture in the parsonage for better furnishings from the shop. These activities were indicative of the ingenuity and energy with which Roberta faced life.

A surprise appointment moved Hugh and Roberta from Norwalk to trinity Church in Los Angeles as associate pastor. Because this large down town church had no parsonage, the family had to find their own quarters in the LA area. The first home was in Alhambra, California, where she continued her garden work. Soon it became evident that a residence in Los Angeles itself was more practical. The family lived in several different houses. All near Los Angeles High School. Roberta Melissa and Hugh William Jr (now known as Bill) attended there and graduated. Hugh and Roberta were able to put a down payment on a home at 2121 Overland Avenue in the west Los Angeles area. From this house, the daughter and oldest son began attending UCLA. The second son attended University High School while the youngest went to a nearby grade school.

Roberta was always active in teaching Sunday school and attending women society activities. However, because of the size of the church, she was no longer expected to "hold the place together." She had a full time job caring for her active family and entertaining their friends and the church folks. One very special visitor in the summer of 1936 was my half-brother Wallace Ford who was a handsome cadet at West Point. (I enjoyed having a big brother with whom I had serous talks.) Roberta visited Wallace at Christmas time in 1935. They met in New York City. Her youngest son David went with her on that trip. In the fall of 1936, Hugh was appointed the district superintendent of the San Francisco-Fresno District of the Methodist Episcopal Church South. Hugh and Roberta and youngest son David moved to San Francisco. Soon, daughter and son, Bill, transferred from U.C.L.A. to U.C. Berkeley. Then the family moved to Berkeley.

A new era opened for Roberta. She traveled with Hugh the many miles he had to drive to cover his district. The family had a base in Berkeley, but they were more or less on their own. The two older children graduated from Berkeley about the time Hugh's term on the district was over. Following that Hugh seven churches in Hollister, Colusa and Farmington. The children had found work in different areas. During the war years, while Roberta was in Farmington, she served long hours as an aircraft observer and helped harvest the walnut crop. She grew a healthy garden full of food which she canned and shared with anyone who needed it. Finally, she gave in and agreed to help out by working as a sales clerk at JC Penny in the baby department in nearby Stockton. After Farmington, they moved to Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco. Roberta got a job at the Emporium and worked there until Hugh's death. In frail health herself, she moved to Sacramento, where she bought a house near her daughter who checked in on her daily and grandchildren took turns staying overnight with her.

Finally, in very frail health, she moved to her daughter's home where she lived for twelve and one-half years. She reached the point where she needed extended nursing home care and arrangements were made through her doctor for placement in an excellent facility close to her daughter's home. She lived there with her daughter a daily visitor and grandchildren and great grandchildren coming several times a week. She lived there eighteen months and died on April 4, 1983. She just went to sleep after lunch and never woke up. Her daughter was with her, feeding her lunch, and put her to bed for a nap. She went home and within a half hour was notified that Roberta had passed away.

© 1990 Roberta Locher, File uploaded September 20, 1999 (Happy Birthday, Dad!), Updated March 26, 2002