A miracle occurred on the last day of February in 1929: the most preemie baby to survive that year in the maternity ward of San Francisco’s Children’s Hospital was born. It was my mother, Beverly Jean Farr, born at a mere two pounds twelve ounces to Charles Clarence Farr, a captain in the San Francisco Police Department, and Matilda “Tillie” née Sebanc. Beverly joined an older half sister and brother, Bernice and Gene Movern, from her mother’s previous marriage.
Tillie diligently recorded many firsts for Beverly in a fill-in-the-blanks “Baby Book.” Much of what is known of Beverly’s early life has been gleaned from it. On her first day at Fred McCoppin school, in April, 1934, her teacher remarked, “When Beverly first came to school she was our tiniest little girl, she was very friendly and made herself be loved by everyone.” On her fourth birthday, Beverly entertained her aunts and many friends, “receiving many lovely presents, one of which was her first velocipede.”
She was a quick learner, and although there was an attempt, common in that day, to “correct” her left-handedness, Beverly was unable to be cured of the “condition” and was able to write as nature had intended.
She went on trips to Santa Cruz, Marin and Sonoma with her parent’s friends and sometimes with her half-siblings. The Russian River was a popular vacation spot for the city in the 1930s, and there the family visited friends and camped out in Guerneville, where Beverly enjoyed swimming and boating.
At around age five Beverly had a pet duck, but as to its name and its coming and going there is no record. In photographs my mother looks very happy at this time, even though it was the middle of the Depression and life was tough. Not having much, Beverly learned from an early age to not be wasteful, and to appreciate simple things.
In early August of 1940, when Beverly was 11 years old, Tillie suffered a fatal stroke. She was only 39. This traumatic event was one of the reasons that much of my mother’s youth remains a mystery. Perhaps it was too painful for her to talk about, but she was also too young to know her mother very well. Sister Bernice took on a motherly role for her younger sister.
World War II was felt at home in San Francisco, with many air-raid alarms followed by blackouts. Beverly’s time in secondary school was marked with the fear of a possible Japanese attack on the mainland, which of course never came to pass.
Shortly after Beverly graduated from Mission High School, her father died of a heart attack. Not yet an adult, Beverly became a ward of her godmother and friend of the family, Lottie Williams, who lived in bucolic Nicasio Valley. Just like that, Bev—the city girl—moved to the country.
The Williams weren’t ranchers, but they had a large enough piece of land for chickens, a few cows, a dog and cats. Beverly’s father, Charles, had loved dogs, and had paid handsomely in 1921 for an Airedale terrier with a more complete pedigree than his own family.
I can only guess, but it must have been during her time with Lottie that Beverly fell in love with cats. Many of the photos she saved from this time feature frolicking, or sleeping, felines. Growing up, I realized early on that cats were full-fledged citizens in our house. My first memory of a kitty was our purebred shorthair Siamese that my mother named “Mic” (short for Michelmas daisies that she likened to his deep blue eyes.)
Beverly helped out around her new home, and occasionally took odd jobs in Nicasio and Lucas Valley. For a short period she milked cows at the Bull Tail Ranch, which in 1980 was christened “Skywalker Ranch” by George Lucas. Eventually she found steady work through Nick and Mary Kobseff at the only public business in town—the restaurant—as salad maker.
At an unknown date during a Native Sons’ party at Rancho Nicasio, my mother met my father, John Joseph Gallagher, a local dairy rancher. Rich Gallagher, the youngest of my father’s brothers, recalled, “Beverly drove a Henry J. Kaiser to pick up the mail, a cute little car. At the time, Beverly had a good-looking girlfriend and Johnny and I went on a couple double dates, but I didn’t do too well. He was excited about it. He wanted to marry her.” My parents dated for just under a year and were married at Saint Cecelia’s, in Lagunitas, on February 2, 1957.
Beverly was blessed with identical twin boys, Kelly and Charles, in November, 1957; Laurie in December, 1958; Glenn in January, 1960 and Mike in January, 1961. In a period of three years, two months and three days, she had become a mother of five. To make ends meet, John worked multiple dairy milking jobs, one at his home ranch in Nicasio and others ad hoc for ranchers on the Point. The house in Nicasio soon grew too small, and in the spring of 1963, the Gallaghers moved to downtown Point Reyes Station. I was the last to join the party, in July 1968.
Beverly’s hunger for books meant that there were always plenty around for her children. “I tried reading the I Ching when I was nine years old,” my brother Mike noted. “I read The Good Earth when I was ten.” As her father had done, Beverly taught her children how to play chess. “When Boris Spassky was playing Bobby Fischer, in 1972, we followed along and played their moves,” Grace Farley of Nicasio remembers. “Bev was a great chess player… she came over with the kids who played with mine and we’d play chess—she beat me all the time. ” I too learned the game at a young age, and recollect not making much headway against my mother’s steely tactics.
Although she read many well-regarded novels, she had a sweet tooth for murder mysteries. She kept a logbook of them, entering a synopsis for each story and rating them on a scale of one to four stars. For a period she read a book every two days. She had documented 700 books in three years. She introduced me to great old-time radio shows: The Shadow, Suspense, The Whistler, Burns and Allen, and Jack Benny. She loved the crooner music from her youth, but she grew to love Crosby, Stills, and Nash and the Beatles.
Beverly stopped driving over 30 years ago, when my father totaled her classic 1955 Ford station wagon. A few years later my parents separated because of my dad’s abuse of alcohol. John moved back to his ranch with his brothers.
Living through the Depression, Beverly saved everything. She was ahead of “reduce, reuse and recycle” by about 50 years. Later in life, she became a fixture on the streets in Point Reyes Station, as she walked to and from the post office, merchants and library. Dan Morrissey, the barber, reminisced about the time he was shooting the breeze with Barbara McClellan at her gift shop when Beverly walked in with a brown paper bag and mentioned she needed to remember something. “So I took the bag from her and wrote on it, and she said, ‘You owe me a bag—I’ve had this bag for a month!’”
A lifelong homemaker, Beverly enjoyed cultivating roses and hydrangeas, and in her later years, tending to orchids that thrived under her care in the temperate clime of West Marin.
In late May, Beverly was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer. In her final days, she lost her appetite but her senses never dulled. Four days before she died, she got up on her walker at 4 a.m. and made it down the hall to wake her son Kelly, who had forgot to set his alarm for work.
Beverly passed peacefully in her home, with her family, listening to the Beatles. She was 82.
Beverly is survived by her daughter Laurie; sons Kelly, Chuck, Glenn, Mike and Matt; grandchildren Faith, Ben, Erin, Lindy and Everett. Memorial donations can be made to Hospice of Petaluma, 416 Payran Street, Petaluma, CA 94952 and/or KWMR.org, PO Box 1262, Point Reyes Station, CA 94956