A Good Mama is Hard to Lose

Shelby Jean Mayes Spears, Rogersville, TN



Shelby Jean Mayes Spears, 75, died after a brief bout of cancer at her son’s home in Auburn, WA. on December 26, 2012. Born on January 23, 1937, to John Harve Mayes and Ruth Matilda Shropshire Mayes of Rogersville, TN., Shelby was the youngest of six children and the family’s only girl. Surrounded by all those older brothers, she was destined to be a tomboy. Shelby Spears never met a river she couldn’t fish. In Tennessee, she fished the Holston River. In Georgia, she fished the Chattahoochee. In Oahu, she fished Hanauma Bay, in Oregon, she fished the Nehalem. In Alaska, Montana Creek, and the Skookumchuck River in Washington State.


Two Shelbys fishing the Skookumchuck



Shelby met the love of her life on a blind date to the Hawkins County Fair. David Paul Spears and Shelby Mayes married on February 13, 1954. They would have waited until Valentine’s Day except David, a U.S. Army soldier, had to report back for duty at Fort Campbell, Ky.  A career soldier, Staff Sgt. David Paul Spears was serving with the 25thInfantry Division 2nd/9th Artillery when he was killed-in-action in Vietnam’s Ia Drang Valley on July 24, 1966.


There was no hero’s homecoming when Sgt. Spears’s casket arrived for burial in his hometown of  Rogersville, TN, and no community of patriots to support his Gold Star Widow and their three children. Alone, afraid, and feeling an abandonment she had never known before, the 29-year-old single mother returned to school. Shelby Spears earned her GED, her LPN, and then her RN at Columbus State University in Columbus, Georgia. Shelby Spears’s 42-year nursing career afforded her opportunities to work at the Medical Center, Columbus, GA; Portland Veterans Medical Center, Portland, OR;  Hiland Mountain Correctional Facility, Eagle River, AK; and Washington Correctional Facility, Shelton, WA. She retired in 2003 and made the move she had longed dreamed about to Westport, WA. In 2006, Shelby Spears became a much-loved figure among Gold Star military families nationwide following the publication of her family’s memoirAFTER THE FLAG HAS BEEN FOLDED (HarperCollins). Veterans and their families call her “Hero Mama.”

A self-taught artist, Shelby Spears’s work hangs in homes throughout Oregon and Washington. Her most recent painting – a field of red poppies – was inspired by the war poem Flanders Field. But painting wasn’t her only creative work. Shelby could take the most hardscrabble plot of dirt and turn it into an enchanted garden, invoking the admiration of casual walk-abouts, and covetous neighbors. While other friends took their grandchildren on annual trips to Disneyland, Shelby took hers to the charming gardens of Victoria, British Columbia.

A southern woman born and bred, Shelby Spears had blinders on when it came to her first-born, her only son, John Frank Spears also of Auburn, WA, known affectionately by his sisters as The Favored One. Karen Spears Zacharias of Hermiston, OR, was known far and wide as The Best Daughter. But it was Linda Spears Barnes, of Westport, WA, the baby of the family, whom Shelby regarded as The Most Beloved One.

Survivors seems like an ill-fitting word to use as there is no getting over the death of a beloved mother, ever, for anyone. The list of those who grieve Shelby Spears includes her daughter-in-law, Janet Spears of Auburn, WA, who opened her heart and home to Shelby and sons-in-laws, Tim Zacharias of Hermiston, OR, and Greg Barnes of Westport, WA, both of whom Shelby regarded as hard-working and handsome.

Shelby Spears wasn’t one to brag, but she didn’t hold to that rule when it came to her thirteen grandchildren. Grandma Shelby prayed daily for them: Amy Spears Hayes, and husband Doug, Milwaukie, OR, Stephan Zacharias, Hermiston, OR, David Paul Spears II, and wife Rose, Oregon City, OR,  Shelby Zacharias, Bend, OR, Ashley Zacharias Sinner, and husband, Zack, Spokane, WA, Mannie Barnes, and wife Nicole, Maple Valley, WA, John Spears, and wife Nancy, Seattle, WA, Taylor Barnes, Centralia, WA, Konnie Zacharias Handschuch, and husband Jon, Bend, OR, Gabe Barnes, and wife Cristina, Redmond, WA, Jessica Spears, Kailua, HI, Robert Spears, Auburn, WA, and Rebecca Spears, Auburn, WA.

None of her five great-grandsons were old enough to speak Shelby Spears’s name before she died, but Oliver, Adam and Marcus Spears, sons of David and Rose Spears; Sullivan Sinner, son of Ashley and Zack Sinner; and Landon Barnes, son of Mannie and Nicole Barnes, will hear and learn the stories of their Great-Grandma Shelby – of the dragons she slayed, the God she served, and the family she loved.

Frank, Karen and Linda rejoice in knowing their mother and father are together in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, who surely must have wept himself at the sight of these two finally reunited.  A memorial service will be held Saturday, Jan. 5, 2 p.m. at South Beach Christian Center, 1360 State Route 105 Grayland, WA, 98547‎. The family requests that in lieu of flowers, any remembrances be made to South Beach Christian Center.  Shelby Spears will be interned alongside her husband in Greeneville, TN, at Andrew Johnson National Cemetery.

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