Gloria Fenn | Obituary | The Norman transcript

Gloria Jean Fenn of Norman died Tuesday evening March 7 after a year of failing health that ended with a short and debilitating illness. She was a cheerful and openly friendly person whose contagious smile – one of her distinguishing features – shone through even in the ailments of the disease. Wherever she was, she made circumstances brighter and people happier with her spontaneous and unreserved smile.

Her achievements in work, love, service and achievement have been exceptional. The versatility of her skills allowed her to be a musician, mother, homemaker, library assistant, laboratory technician and speech therapist. She received her bachelor’s degree from Southern Methodist University and her professional degrees from Baylor School of Medicine (Dallas) and OU Health Sciences (OKC). Her first job was at the Wadley Research Institute in Dallas, which specialized in leukemia research and treatment. After an eighteen-year absence from working outside the home (during which she raised and raised a family), she returned to the medical world, working unpaid for several months at a Norman clinic to revitalize her skills in a field that had entered new ones advance technologies. After guiding her husband through graduate school and helping their children with college bills, she decided to pursue her passion – working with children. She often remarked that she would rather speak to children than adults, and indeed a natural relationship with children was one of her true gifts. She returned to school (OU) to complete some courses that would allow her entry into the OU School of Speech Pathology. After completing this arduous academic journey, she applied to Sooner Start with the intention of working with children. It was in this job that she started the hugely successful program called Rhythm Babies (a music and exercise program for children and parents) at the Norman, Noble and Moore public libraries.

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When she applied to Sooner Start, one of the interview questions was, “What was your favorite job?” Her immediate response was, “Being a mom.” Indeed, she was loving and proud with her children, Deborah Lynn and Dale, every step of the way tied together. She was the main reason they developed the character and skills to graduate from the top colleges in New York and Massachusetts. She clung to her children but also supported them with everything she had when it came time for them to leave the nest. The only illness she had to endure that was worse than her last illness was Empty Nest Syndrome. It was real and it was painful.

Gloria Jean’s unpaid work as a minister’s wife was often just as time-consuming and challenging as her paid jobs. She has been an organist, pianist, choir member, choir leader (children), church leader, UMW commissioner, circuit leader, choir member, committee member, Sunday school teacher, church attendee, card mailer, funeral host, mission tripper, program giver, and all around volunteering. Outside the Church, she has been involved with PEO, has served as PTA President, has served as a museum lecturer, and has served on the boards of the Mary Abbot House and the Xenia Institute. Small and short (never taller than 1.60m), she was nevertheless a gifted and powerful presence. One of the organizations she worked for honored her with a plaque of recognition that read, “Though small, she is fierce .”

Tennyson wrote in grief over the death of his closest friend:

I sometimes think it’s half a sin
To put into words the sadness I feel;
For words, like nature, half reveal
And half hide the soul in it.

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There are no words when it comes to losses. They also fail when it comes to writing about someone who has accomplished so much and meant so much. No words can fully encompass Gloria Jean or fully express the sorrow of those closest to her, but it is a sin not to say something. The felt void she leaves in our hearts is perhaps the loudest and most articulate tribute one can give.

Gloria Jean was born and raised in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Her southern breeding instilled in her a strong sense of propriety and etiquette mixed with acquired grace. She was a graduate of SMU, where she was a bit of “Miss Everything” — honor student, campus beauty, campus darling, mortar board, sorority president. In college, she met her husband, Phil, an aspiring minister who maintained a religious relationship with her, parking behind the seminary chapel and sending sparks flying. During their 63-year marriage, they lived in Texas (Dallas), New Mexico (Belen), and Oklahoma (Fairview, Oklahoma City, and Norman), where they served Methodist churches and formed friendships that endured over the years. Their many years together have been blessed in many ways, but most notably through the birth and joy of their two children and two grandchildren.

Her parents, Mason and Thyra Salter, and a brother, Lowell, and his wife Nancy, whom he married after the death of his first wife Betty, preceded her in death. Gloria Jean is survived by her husband Phil, daughter and spouse Deborah Lynn Fenn and Michael Rock of Chicago, son and spouse Dale Fenn and Molly Stephenson of Fairfax, Virginia, granddaughters Mikaela and Kiara, younger brother and spouse, Stanley and Marian Salter of Natchitoches, and several nieces and nephews.

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Worship services will be held on Saturday, March 18 at 2:00 p.m. at McFarlin Memorial United Methodist Church. Private funeral services are held this morning. Memorial gifts may be presented to McFarlin Church in lieu of flowers. Online condolences can be shared at