The Rev. Beverley Conner McEachern, priest-in-charge of St. Nicholas Episcopal Church in Hamilton, Ga., died Wednesday at her home after a five-year battle with cancer. She was 65.
McEachern was the first female Episcopal clergy to serve in Columbus and had led the Hamilton church on Mobley Road since its inception in 2000.
"It's time for the suffering to be over," John McEachern Sr., her husband of nearly 44 years, said Wednesday. "She died in my arms."
McEachern said he had picked her up and then she simply faded away. Unable to speak for the past few days, and heavily sedated, Beverley McEachern was determined to die at her Hamilton home. And her husband believes that made her happy.
"No question about it, that was part of our decision, the good Lord willing," he said. "We both said we wanted to die in our own bed."
Beverley McEachern was ordained a deacon in the Episcopal Church in 1979 and a priest on June 1, 1980.
She had been in and out of the hospital over the past year, and especially the past few months as the disease took its toll. Five years ago, she was diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer, detected only when she had routine gall bladder surgery. She was treated both locally by Dr. Sajid Ahmed and through consultations with the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Ahmed said in an April interview that other patients had been inspired by her strength and faith.
Life of touching others
Sue Halmrast, the senior warden at St. Nicholas, was at the McEachern home Wednesday until a few minutes before Beverley died, just after noon. By the time she arrived back at her house about 15 minutes away, she had a message on her phone that announced her friend's passing.
"John and I were reminiscing about their courtship, and then he had to leave the room and go tend to her," Halmrast said. "Our conversation was so much about what a lovely marriage they had and how even her illness had brought them closer.
"One of the main things she taught me was to listen to myself and listen to the voice of God — and when he speaks, to act on that. And not to be afraid and to be willing to take risks."
The last time Halmrast and the priest were able to talk meaningfully with one another, she said, was a week ago today, when McEachern grabbed Halmrast's hands to pray.
"Her hands were icy cold, but then she grabbed my hand, strongly, and she looked at me and said, ‘I want to pray,’ and it was for me," Halmrast said.
Also during that visit, John McEachern showed Halmrast a note, one of hundreds, that his wife had received as thanks over the years for this counsel or that.
"It's hard to realize how many lives she truly touched," Halmrast said.
'A pastor's heart'
Women in the Episcopal Church were first approved for ordination in 1976, so McEachern was among the first wave. Before she became vicar of the Hamilton congregation, McEachern served as an associate priest at Trinity Episcopal Church in Columbus. Soon after her seminary training, she was an associate at Columbus' St. Thomas Episcopal.
A graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary near Washington, D.C., McEachern was also a pastoral counselor and had worked at the Pastoral Institute in Columbus between her jobs at St. Thomas and Trinity. The Rev. Ron King, executive director of the nonprofit institute, was friends with McEachern for about 20 years.
"When I came here, she was one of the most caring, personable people," King said. "She was the kind of person where I'd go sit in her office and I'd say, ‘How are you doing?’ and Bev would say, ‘I'm fine, how are you doing?’ and I'd start talking. She had a pastor's heart."
King said one detail McEachern stayed on top of after her diagnosis was her credentials through the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. After hearing of her illness, the association made her an emeritus member. "That was the small detail she wanted. It was important to her," King said.
The McEacherns, interviewed at their home a few weeks before Easter, talked about the Christian observance in light of Beverley's suffering. The priest spoke of her times of struggle and pain, but that she prayed for the strength to focus on hope and grace.
"With cancer, you can't always take good news as good news and that's part of the walk I walk," she said. "There is a blessing in this. There are great highs that I didn't experience before this. We go from life to life."
In addition to her husband, Beverley McEachern is survived by daughter Conner, son and daughter-in-law John and Debbie McEachern Jr., and four grandchildren.
A Requiem Eucharist begins at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Trinity, 1130 First Ave., with burial following at St. Nicholas, 69 Mobley Road, Hamilton. A reception will follow the interment at St. Nicholas.