We at FEE are mourning the December 27, 2021, passing of a gracious and extraordinary lady. She embodied the best of the American spirit—a creator of wealth and a manager of business who was devoted to her God, family and country. She generously supported FEE for decades as a donor, trustee and advisor.
Her name was Ethelmae Humphreys of Joplin, Missouri. I knew her for nearly 40 years and came to call her “my Missouri Mom,” or “MO Mom” for short. She died a fortnight short of her 95th birthday.
The Humphreys family and FEE have been philosophically joined at the hip for well more than half a century. Leonard Read, our Founder, sure knew how to find quality people who shared his passion for freedom and free markets! Ethelmae’s late husband Jay served nine years on the FEE board of trustees in the 1970s and ‘80s; Ethelmae herself graced our board for more than a dozen years. Their son David and daughter Sarah also served as trustees. Indeed, the FEE board without a Humphreys on it would seem like a Thanksgiving dinner without the cranberries—or even the turkey, for that matter.
It is a supreme honor to carry the title of Humphreys Family Senior Fellow at FEE since my retirement to the president emeritus role in May 2019. It’s also a daily reminder to live and teach by the same lofty integrity for which Ethelmae and the Humphreys family are widely known and respected. My appreciation for their personal support over the decades is boundless.
In 1944, Ethelmae’s parents founded a roofing company in Joplin and named it TAMKO. Each letter in the name derived from a state in which they hoped to sell the shingles they made—Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. Nearly eight decades later, the company markets its products just about everywhere. For almost all of that rich history, Ethelmae played a key role in growing, guiding and inspiring the firm and its employees. On TAMKO’s 75th anniversary in 2019, she said:
Over time, we’ve seen great business growth and we’ve built upon our character without sacrificing who we are. It’s special for me to think about TAMKO—a company initiated by my father, named by my mother and run by my husband and children. However, we never would have made it without our people. For 75 years, TAMKO expected hard work, honesty and integrity from its employees, and just as my father did from day one, our employees have demonstrated a work ethic and level of dedication that no one ever had to ask for.
Quoting from a statement released by the company, The Joplin Globe noted this week that she “was considered the matriarch of the roofing industry. She succeeded in a predominantly male industry, confidently leading a major corporation as a 20-something woman in 1950s America, setting an example for women in the manufacturing and roofing industries.” You can read the full story here.
About 20 years ago, MO Mom gave me a personal tour—hardhats and all—of the Joplin plant. She knew her business in fine detail and was proud of its high standards. Not many mothers in this world could tell you how to make a great shingle or why free enterprise is the system that makes it possible, but Ethelmae Humphreys sure could!
When Leonard Read met someone whose principles were steadfast—who wouldn’t desert them come hell or high water—he would proudly pronounce, “He doesn’t leak!” He would say the same of Ethelmae. Her shingles didn’t leak and neither did she. In addition to FEE, many fine, freedom-loving organizations earned her support over the years. She was as good a friend as freedom ever had.
Still reeling from the shock of her sudden passing, I searched my mind (and the internet too) for some appropriate words. I stumbled upon a short poem authored by someone named “Anonymous.” I immediately thought, “I can hear those words coming straight from Ethelmae herself.” In tribute to her, I offer that poem here—including five additional verses I composed myself:
Don’t Grieve for Me, for Now I’m Free
Don’t grieve for me, for now I’m free
I’m following the path God laid for me.
I took his hand when I heard Him call;
I turned my back and left it all.
I could not stay another day
To laugh, to love, to work or play.
Tasks left undone must stay that way;
I found my new place at the close of day.
If my parting has left a void,
Then fill it with remembered joy.
A friendship shared, a laugh or kiss;
Ah yes, these things I too shall miss.
Be not burdened with times of sorrow,
I wish you the sunshine of tomorrow.
My life’s been full, I savored much;
Good friends, good times, a loved one’s touch—and so much more.
Don’t forget the shingles,
And not the ones the doctors treat!
I mean the ones we made in Joplin
To keep out the cold and in the heat.
The roofs of Heaven await my inspection
They’d better say “TAMKO”
To earn my affection.
Perhaps my time seems all too brief,
Don’t lengthen it now with undue grief.
Two weeks shy of 95 is pretty darn good
So I’m not complaining, even if I could.
One final note on that precious word, “free”:
You know it always meant a lot to me.
Life without freedom is hardly worth living,
Which is why, to it, I never stopped giving.
The gifts we give can mean so much,
Especially when our hearts and minds they touch.
But a gift that leaves the greatest legacy
Is the one that says to all, “Maintain the character that will keep you free.”
Ethelmae Humphreys—faithful, kind, generous, adventurous, unforgettable, a MO Mom of boundless character—Rest in Peace.
(Note: A link to the obituary notice will be posted here as soon as it is available.)
This article, Ethelmae Humphreys: A Friend and Mom We’ll Never Forget, was originally published by the Foundation for Economic Education and appears here with permission. Please support their mission.