The day Freda Faith Sullivan was born, February 25, 1939, it was cold enough to snow in the small North Carolina town known colloquially as “Valley of the Lilies.” Cold, wintery days brought her joyful memories of every Christmastime spent in the warm embrace of family. It is a blessing that the last holiday season she’ll take into eternity was filled with the happiness, love, and laughter of her family. Faith passed away peacefully in her sleep on February 11, 2020, in Provo, Utah. She was 80.
Please click here for a tribute celebrating her life.
Memorial services will be held Friday, February 21, 2020, with a visitation from 9:45-10:45am, followed by the funeral at 11am, at Anderson & Sons Mortuary, Lone Peak Chapel, 6141 W 11000 N, Highland, Utah. Interment to be at Highland City Cemetery.
She is survived by her husband of nearly 62 years, Paul Sullivan, and her seven children, Paula Kavmark Sullivan, Richard Sullivan, Patti Radovich Sullivan, Mark Sullivan, Velina Price Sullivan, Dan Sullivan, and Stephanie Mackin Sullivan. She leaves a legacy of 28 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.
One of seven children—six sisters followed by a little brother—she believed their big family was more than a handful for her mother, Nellie, a small-town girl with an eighth-grade education who married her father, James, at the age of 19 before having a chance to experience much of life.
It was wartime when she started grade school at age six in a backwater town nestled between the Great Smoky and Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina. Most of the time, she could be seen wearing her favorite dress, a pretty red one with white leaves that her mother got at a thrift store. On the way to school every day, she was allowed to charge a five-cent bag of peanuts at the corner drugstore.
After the war, her mother singlehandedly moved the family across the country, her father to follow when work permitted. During the week-long journey on a clackety train filled with soldiers returning home, her mother kept the five little girls on leashes for the safety of the brood, all of whom were younger than eight.
Upon arrival, she was thrilled to see what through a child’s eyes was a grand white farmhouse with green shutters. It was surrounded by wide open spaces on the edge of a wonderful forest with its own pond. Soon she discovered farm life was not always to be idyllic. She grudgingly plucked the feathers off the poor chickens for supper, and when her pigs met their fate she hid under the bed to muffle their haunting squeals. One consolation for the little farmhand was milking the family cow twice a day, even though her sisters mocked her strange fascination with the dreaded chore.
She grew to love the outdoors. On the spur of the moment, her father often packed up the family to take a trip to the beach, or the river, or the mountains. They went to the rodeo every Fourth of July. She loved the calf roping, and the bucking broncos, and the clowns in barrels who distracted the bulls while the bucked riders ran to safety. They often went camping and fishing along the coastline, staying in cabins on the bluffs above the beach. She and her father shared a fondness for crabbing, and for gobbling up the tasty crustaceans, a common interest that was uniquely theirs. On one river trip, she swam without fear from shore to shore through treacherous currents. Although she was a very strong swimmer, she realized in hindsight her confidence was little more than a foolhardy sense of invincibility.
As a young girl, her most beloved teacher ended every schoolday with a chapter from Little House on the Prairie, gifting her with a life-long love of books and reading. A vivid imagination became her constant companion. “I’m never bored,” she would say. “I have my mind to entertain me.” Playing make-believe in the fields, she fantasized about being Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys, shooting her cap pistol astride Trigger, her magnificent stick horse. She entertained herself at other times by pretending to be a doctor who delivered the babies of garden snakes by the hundreds, little knowing that one day this child’s play would draw her into the medical profession.
She put away childish things in her teens after meeting a series of boys named, in order of appearance, Dan, Harold, and Maurice. She would call each her boyfriend at some point during those junior-high years. But it was Jack, the raven-haired “dish” with a cowboy tan, who she fancied most. Like Roy Rogers, he saddled up his horse and they rode together for hours until the sun went down.
Ever the avid sports fan, she joined the high school pep squad to cheer on the basketball and football teams. At the sock hop, she turned heads in her poodle skirt paired with a fuzzy cardigan, white bobby socks, and saddle shoes. A blue-eyed beauty, her hair the color of dark maple syrup, she could charm the boys with just a smile, especially Dean, Dave, and Ronnie. She would make each her boyfriend in time. But it was Royden who stole her Bobby Soxer heart. She would remember him years later as her first love, and how he was taken by tragedy much too early. Royden would forever stay young in her memory and dear to her heart.
After high school, dauntless and always up for adventure, she moved 3,000 miles away from home at the age of 18, having joined the Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) intent on marrying an admiral. She was practicing to become a nurse at the Annapolis Naval Hospital where her husband-to-be was recovering from an illness.
On their first meeting, she accused her future husband of stalking her. Paul seemed to be following her on a date the night before, since they just happened to go to the same restaurant, and then the same theater, and then back to the same place where all three were staying. When they ran into each other again the next morning at breakfast she was certain he was a stalker. She remembered him as the blue-eyed blonde boy with a great personality, the boy her date referred to as the guy we should lose. He remembered her as the pretty, fun, interesting girl, the one who was a bit of a flirt, who uncannily went everywhere he was going last night. Indignant over the stalking accusation, he suggested it only fair she make it up to him with a date. She confessed later that she had had her eye on him ever since he was admitted to the hospital—there was something about the way he carried himself, the carefree bounce in his step, that mostly drew her to him. Over 60 years later, he would recall thinking, “From that moment on I was a marked man. I chased her until she caught me.” He was on the hook, but he waited a respectable several dates before proposing marriage. On their first date, they enjoyed a day trip to Washington, D. C., looking at monuments and engagement rings. On the next date, with Cary Grant charm, he wondered aloud whether WAVES could be transferred with their enlisted husbands. After a few more dates, they set the wedding date.
In the years to come, the couple would worry about paying the bills, work long hours away from home, lose themselves for their children, and chase dreams that remained just out of reach. But in the twilight time before life happened, they were two people in love, talking under a thousand stars until morning and awakening on the steps where they had first met, hopeful that no matter what lay ahead they would forever remember the words of their song:
Here in the sweet and same old way, I fall in love again as I did then.
They were married on June 7, 1958, in a quiet ceremony at Rocky Mount, North Carolina. She held a small bouquet of pink roses, and she wore all white, a pretty white dress, hat, gloves, and heels. “We were so happy,” she would often reminisce. Just like her mother, she was barely 19. Yet she had already experienced more of life than her mother, and would go on to experience much more than she could have imagined.
It all began with the harrowing honeymoon, a tale of crooked cops, mob money, and murder. The newlyweds were caught in a devious speed trap while driving home from their honeymoon. With only $2 left in the world, they couldn’t pay the fine, so the cold-hearted cop threw the young husband in the county jail. Married less than a week, she’d already lost her true love! Worse yet, he was locked up with a cellmate who had just killed a man in a bar fight. She raced homeward, driving through the night, desperate to get her hands on enough clams to spring her outlaw lover from the hoosegow. She didn’t mean to, but she took money from the mob (actually, a generous aunt had won a lot of cash in a numbers game run by the mafia). The $29.95 fine was paid, the 14-hour ordeal ended without incident, and the man she loved was back in her arms once again. True story.
About a year later, her first child was born, and the next year came another, followed by another, and another, and another, and another, and another, until there were seven. She raised her family with everything in her, because they were everything to her. She was the first one there for happy times and hard times, performances and competitions, school graduations and church missions, marriages and births, illnesses and injuries. She was there when her teen was confined to bed for a year in a full-body cast. She was there to care for her newborn baby struggling to breath from a respiratory problem. She was there holding her daughter’s hand for hours at the birth of her first child. She was there to rush her young child to the hospital when he lost his little finger. She was there to comfort her wailing little one when a car dragged him down the block. She was there to revive her toddler when she fell into the pool and nearly drowned. It was her by their sides through the heartbreaks and triumphs, providing guidance or a shoulder to cry on, supporting them at as many important events as she could attend. She was there even when her kids didn’t think they needed her. She was a hero whose superpower was caring and her kryptonite was family.
But she was also very human. As strong and independent as she could be, she was genuinely vulnerable and able to express deep emotion. She was often self-deprecating, and she struggled to accept her frailties. In times of trouble, she openly sought out family and friends for support and solace. She was an open and honest person. She wasn’t afraid to share her real self. In joyful times, she freely shared her feelings of love and appreciation. She also showed her rough edges, and there were times when she was, perhaps, overly open and honest. At times, a fiery temperament would get the better of her. She was driven to connect in a deeply human way, and sometimes things might get too real. If things became more than she could bear, she was known to escape in her car for hours, sometimes days, at a time to clear her head and come to terms with her feelings. But there was never any doubt that she cared about everyone. In fact, her rich spiritual life, her unshakable conviction that all people were children of God, inspired her to boundless generosity and heartfelt service to anyone in need.
Her caring nature brought greater purpose and commitment to her work as a nurse. Her former Navy training served her well as a mother, but she wanted more. Eight years after leaving the service, she qualified for her first professional nursing license (LPN). At the time she was raising five children alone, while her husband was stationed on a submarine halfway across the globe. Five years later, she graduated from college a registered nurse (RN), realizing a 30-year dream to earn a degree in higher education. An outstanding medical career gave her many opportunities to be of service in hospitals, nursing homes, and private practice. But she often took night shifts to be with her kids during the day. She was really on duty all the time, even when she wasn’t at work, and she offered her nursing expertise without compensation to family and friends. A notable experience was the time she attempted to save a man who had suffered a heart attack while on a long flight. A personal career highlight was acting as the private nurse to a movie star she had adored watching on the big screen. Nursing was in her DNA, an expression of her nurturing personality.
She was an outspoken advocate for the causes that meant so much to her, especially for the protection of precious children. She composed passionate letters to the editor condemning injustices brought upon the defenseless. As part of the community awareness committee of the city’s child abuse commission, she volunteered to help police and educators produce school programs to combat child molestation. She led a campaign to keep downtown free of stores peddling adult content, striving to maintain a wholesome place for kids to grow up. She once wrote, “It takes courage to parent a child. May we all gain that courage. Their future depends on it.”
Her life was filled with various creative endeavors, from cooking, decorating, and floral arranging to painting, filmmaking, and theater, some of these becoming entrepreneurial ventures in which she would enlist the help of her family and friends as “volunteers.” She was fun loving and laughed easily, even at her own foibles. She could laugh at herself when recounting funny stories that showed her silly side. She chuckled a lot at the one about the fancy-dress party when she tumbled head over heals into the pool, her skirt floating to the surface as she floundered, the onlookers scoring her dive like an Olympic event. And the time when a crowd was bouncing a large ball overhead at an event, and she reached so far back to hit the ball that she toppled backwards in her chair, tumbling head over heals, dress flying up in the air. Certainly, there were other funny stories that didn’t involve falling head over heals and exposing herself in public, but these were two of her favorites.
She embodied a rare combination of fierce independence and a steadfast devotion to those she loved. She was both a lion and a lamb. She lived life her own way, while also living to make life better for others. She fought for what she felt was right and good. Her self-professed shyness would come as a surprise to most, since she didn’t seem to shy away from anything. Never say she couldn’t do it, because she could and she would. She overcame her fears every day to be strong for herself and for the people in her life. She gave her entire self to the people she held dear. She was a tireless protector, a constant champion, a faithful friend.
She didn’t know her middle name was Faith until she was 16. From then on, that’s what she wanted to be called. Those who knew her best will tell you she lived up to her name. She was a woman of simple faith. She loved God and believed in the teachings of Jesus Christ. She was living her best life with an eye toward heaven. This is how she would want to be remembered.
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