Michael Straw began a memorial service Saturday for his wife, Melissa, asking mourners to repeat after him: “Say something nice. Do something nice. Live in harmony with the world.”
“That was how she started her day and her classes,” Michael Straw said.
Then he told the story of how he and his wife met: at MU, in University Singers. The former Melissa Lock was engaging, confident, aware, sassy and hearty, he said. She was a joke teller and a storyteller, and each time she told one, it got better and better.
The couple had been dating for a while when Michael confided in their mentor and friend, the late Harry Morrison, who taught music at MU, that he thought Melissa was going to “do something.” On a trip to Kansas City that included the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, “Melissa took me out to the sculpture garden — and that’s where she proposed.”
Laughter burst from the standing-room-only gathering in Montminy Art Gallery at the Boone County History & Culture Center. The backdrop was an exhibition of watercolors by Paul Jackson, whose work Mrs. Straw admired.
The Straws were married for 24 years before Mrs. Straw died Oct. 29 at age 47 after a long illness.
Mrs. Straw was well-known in Columbia’s music community and beyond. In addition to directing a range of choirs, including the Missouri Symphony Society Children’s Chorus for 12 years, she taught for almost two decades at Smithton Middle School. She was eulogized warmly for her love of family, especially her college-age children, Matthew and Margaret, music, teaching, cooking and the joy she brought into many lives.
Former student Alex Ossana-Galen called Mrs. Straw a life-changing teacher.
“She had a way of making every group of students feel like she was more than a teacher,” he said.
Former Smithton colleague Denise D. Skouby recalled how Mrs. Straw brought her choir into other teachers’ classrooms when it was their birthday, “and I still think of her every birthday.”
Speaking of her work with the children’s chorus, Judith Chmielewski said Mrs. Straw “loved those kids, and she loved them back. ... They are her legacy, and they’re walking all over Columbia” and beyond.
Teresa Henke recalled her youngest sister as smart, funny and perpetually in motion.
“She always wanted to be the star, and those of you who know her know she never got over that,” Henke said, drawing more laughter.
Henke said her sister gravitated to music as a girl. She liked to sit on the organ bench with her mother while she played for a church in Carrollton, Missouri, Mrs. Straw’s hometown. She loved St. Cecilia, the patroness of musicians.
Henke said she hesitated to raise her sister’s battle with alcoholism publicly, “but if I didn’t, you wouldn’t know her struggle. ... She was a warrior — she never stopped trying to beat it.”
“All she wanted,” Henke said, “was for everyone to love music.”
Toward the end of the service, Michael Straw led the gathering in singing “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” accompanied by pianist Sutu Forté. A group of former students, including daughter Margaret, sang “Peace Song” a cappella. The gathering joined in again for “Three Little Fishies,” during which Michael and Matthew Straw as well as others improvised with scat singing. Musicians on trumpet, trombone, clarinet, drums and flute wrapped up the service with a Dixieland farewell with “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
Henke said the warmth that flowed through “Missy,” as Mrs. Straw was known in the Lock family, remains.
“Her energy’s still around,” Henke said. “She’s still here — she’s just organized a little differently.”