In the summer of 1993, Mary Pauline Priest, who was in her late sixties then, was flipping head-over-heels in a rickety metal cage, that, in hindsight, was a bad idea. Her glasses went flying, but she held on through each sickening topsy-turvy. She was on a carnival ride at Hickam Air Force Base, Oahu, because I asked her to be there. If she did not come with me, I would not be able to go and then endure the shame of my classmates, so she came along. Every member of the Priest family can share a story like this: Pauline was an ultimately giving and sacrificing matriarch. Her family was her entire world. She adored her sons and all of their children. If she could help, she would, even if it meant enduring nauseous hours at a noisy summer fair.
She was born Mary Pauline Bonham on July 31, 1925 in Burley, Idaho. By her own reckoning, they did not have much and there was not much to have. As a child she grew up in the harsh penury of the Great Depression, which stayed with her the rest of her life as a thrifty mindset. Her love of horses and the color blue also stayed with her. The single greatest influence in Pauline’s life was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. She was baptized in August 1933, wearing a red swimsuit in an irrigation canal. Her mother died not long after, and Pauline was raised by her father, but mostly by her older sister, Thelma, whom she called Shum. In school she enjoyed art, and hated Latin. She nurtured her talent for figure-drawing and painting, which eventually lead her out of Idaho and to Salt Lake City, Utah, where she enrolled in art school.
Social and church life kept her busy; she made friends with her roommates but spurned their fussy cosmetic routines. She went to art school and worked as an agency cashier for Bankers Life Insurance Company. World War II was ravaging Europe, and altering the landscape of even Salt Lake City, with influxes of military personnel flowing in and out of town. This is how she came to meet the love of her life, James Martin Priest. They met at the USO, making a leather wallet. Later, he wrote: “I guess I fell in love with her after only being with her a few times. She has always been the best thing to ever come into my life…I have always loved her and always will.” On their first date they went out for ice cream, and afterward Jim wrote to his mother than he had finally met a girl who could eat more ice cream than he could. In a lot of ways their first dates reflect the kind of marriage they had: wholesome, loving, with a bit of crinkly-eyed humor, and maybe some ice cream. They were married on May 3, 1947 in a friend’s house in Salt Lake City. She wore a dusty rose afternoon dress and a pink rose corsage.
Their first home was in Pensacola, Florida. Jim was a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force, and she worked at a bank, where she made nearly twice as much in wages as he did as a new soldier. Jim was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in the summer of 1947, and the Church eventually became as important and central to his everyday living as it had been for Pauline. Their first Christmas together was spent in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1947. During these early years of marriage, they spent nearly as much time apart as they did together, but their commitment to be together is clear. Jim was stationed in Japan, and then to Germany to work with the Berlin Air Lift Support Operations in 1949. Housing was a consistent problem due to second world war, as family housing was simply unavailable. Pauline had to make do with all kinds of uncomfortable housing arrangements, constantly dealing with faulty electrics, cramped rooms, and shared living spaces. As a result, they rarely spent time at home, and instead spent their evenings out. Between 1949-50, Jim wrote that they saw just about every film that showed at the British Army Theatre. Their spirit of adventure prevailed, so that even as the Air Lift was winding down, Jim reenlisted, and they stayed for another tour in Germany.
Pauline proved herself remarkably flexible and resilient, and eager to learn and grow. She took a 10-week German language course, and both she and Jim enrolled in evening and correspondence courses. This is another prevalent theme in their life together: constant self-improvement through education. They were both committed to schooling, and they valued expanding skillsets and knowledge. This certainly formed the virtues they would later extol in their sons. Pauline continued her education in the arts, and had a painting exhibited in an art gallery in 1949. Her appreciation for naturalism and disciplined skill developed into a preference for the “old grand masters,” like Rembrandt and Michelangelo.
Pauline’s personal growth and flexibility was highlighted especially when her sister, Thelma, came to visit them in Europe. Thelma had never left the United States, and she was frightened. She was anxious about foreigners and their foreign tongues; Communists haunted the corners of her nightmares. During Thelma’s visit, there was a simulated evacuation of the Air Force Base. Pauline had a role to play in the drill, which she executed calmly, but as Jim later recalled, it terrified Thelma. Thelma had to fly home on a commercial American airliner soon after. These kinds of anecdotes bring to the surface the characteristics and personality traits that Pauline nurtured and actively cultivated: an adventurous spirit, curiosity, and adaptability.
Wherever they were, Jim and Pauline enjoyed social events. They went to dances, floor shows and Bingo at the Officer’s Club. All their savings went toward traveling, a practice that definitely stuck their whole lives. They drove from Germany to Paris, London and Brussels in 1949. Then Vienna, Venice and Salzburg in 1950. Sometimes their car stopped working, sometimes they quarreled, sometimes they slept in the car because there were no hotel rooms, but they always went. They returned to the United States in March, 1950. That year, they also owned their first dog, a German Shepherd as black as night, as black as his namesake: Satan. He was the stuff of family legend forever after.
Pauline crossed both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans with Satan, who was literally as sick as a dog. After a few years in Arlington, California, Jim was stationed in Japan again in 1953. Jim was busy with flight duties, so she learned to drive on the left side of the road and navigate the narrow, mostly dirt roads around Tokyo. A lady with grit and spunk indeed: driving in Japan was a formidable task; she could not even read the road signs. She was active in the Haneda Air Base Officers' Wives Club, vice president and then president, and with callings in the Church. She and Jim climbed Mount Fuji together to watch the sunrise, and ate at posh restaurants in Hong Kong.
When their tour of Japan finished, they moved back to the United States, where Jim was accepted to the University of Utah’s meteorology program in 1956. After ten years of marriage, Jim and Pauline had their first child: James Martin Priest, Jr., born on August 3, 1957. She was now a mother, a role that filled her days until her last. She did not have a maternal role model of her own growing up, and by his own admission Jim did not know what to do with babies or young children. These early days of motherhood were a steep learning curve, and must have been lonely. After graduating from the University of Utah, the family moved to California again, this time for two and a half years. Their second son was born there, Jeffrey Gilbert Priest, in 1959.
Again they moved abroad in 1961, this time to England. Jim was working 60-70 hour weeks in highly classified, extremely stressful conditions on the air base, as well as working as a branch president in the Church. Their marriage endured intense strain during this time. Pauline was left alone nearly all the time, with two growing boys, in a cold house and a husband who could not discuss his work. The stress showed in both of them. One Sunday, Pauline was conducting music for the Sunday service, with young Jim wrapped around one leg, and Jeff the other. In many ways this vignette captures how she may have felt at the time: trying to make music despite it all. Jim’s work pressure pushed him to a breaking point, and he suffered severe congestive heart failure. He recovered, but his health was never the same, and it forced them to reassess their life.
In typical Pauline fashion, she managed the pressures of daily life, and even found fun in adventure. In the spring of 1963, the family of four visited Paris. Jim said the “high point” of the trip was taking the elevator up to the top of the Eiffel Tower. This is another undying tradition in their family life that continued with their progeny: bad puns. Their family was complete in 1964 when Andrew William Priest was born on 3 April. They lived in England for three years from 1961-64, and then to Omaha, Nebraska, back to California. From 1968-72 they were in West Germany then briefly in North Dakota. Their social life changed as their family life did: they exchanged dances and Bingo nights at the officer’s club for Cub Scouts, baseball and camping trips. She earned the Eagle Scout badges her sons wore. Jim’s heart disease followed the family, leading to a heart attack while they lived in Denver, Colorado. Jim survived, but it necessitated leaving active military duty. He retired in 1974. After 27 years of constantly moving homes every few years, this drastically altered their lifestyle. They moved to Modesto, California in 1975 but settled in Turlock, California in 1976. As their boys grew, this allowed Pauline the stability and time to follow her interests in genealogy. She honed her research skills to a professional level and spent countless hours uncovering family connections of not only her own family, but dozens and dozens of others. She was active in her local ward Relief Society, church activities, Scouts, and the Daughter of the American Revolution.
They moved to Springville, Utah, in 2000. Jim and Pauline continued to travel at every possible chance. They drove the entire length and breadth of the United States of America at least ten times. No one knows exactly how many cruises they took, or even everywhere they visited. Their house was full of memorabilia from around the world, from Black Forest cuckoo clocks to laminated placemats of maps. They were wonderful grandparents, supportive of everyone’s varied interests, always encouraging education and civic engagement. They appreciated the talents in their grandchildren and were always curious about what was going on in their lives. They were always there for their kids in a scrape. Pauline was well loved in her community of neighbors, church members and friends. She would bring casseroles and dinner rolls to anyone who needed a meal. She was funny with witty phrases and loved a hearty laugh.
Pauline was not a great cook, but that did not stop her from cooking for everyone she loved. She grew up in a more traditional era and cherished conservative values, but that did not stop her from loving people with views different from her own. She was practical to a fault, and inexplicably loyal to certain food brands. She could be fiercely disapproving, but unfailingly forgiving. Her favorite restaurant meal to-go was chicken strips and waffles, and she famously loved chocolate, especially German chocolate cake, but always made her grandkids finish their vegetables. She was always generous, even with her political views and her take on the day’s news.
Like so many of their moves before, Jim went ahead of her in death. She missed him every single day, and while we know they are finally together and whole, we will miss Grandma.
Pauline is survived by her three sons: Jim, Jeff, and Andrew Priest yes at my name is Jeff Priest you were out of the care of my mother right there could we send the addely "official obituary to you yeah
A viewing for family and friends will be held Friday, March 25, 2022 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. at Wheeler Mortuary, 211 East 200 South in Springville, Utah. Funeral services will be held Saturday, March 26, 2022 at 11:00 a.m. at the Church at 1460 East 900 South in Springville with a viewing from 9:30 to 10:30 prior to the services. Burial will be in the Springville Evergreen Cemetery.
For those unable to join us in person, you may view the services HERE
Condolences for the family may be left on this page.