Eulogy for Joan Foster Dames

August 18, 2018
Our Lady of Lourdes
University City, MO

Thank you for being here with us today to celebrate the life of Joan Foster Dames. She would most certainly be humbled by this turnout in her memory.

I am the ‘oops we’re still having a baby, baby’, the youngest of the “Dames Girls” and it is my profound honor to speak today about the wonderful woman we called Mom.

Joan Foster was born in New Orleans, LA on September 29, 1934 to Albert Steere and Lucia Valdes Foster. She was the 7th child of what would become nine children. My grandfather Foster was the Sales Manager for WWL in New Orleans during the Huey Long era. (There were interesting stories from those days to be certain.) When my mom was four, grandfather was lured to St. Louis by the Jesuits of St. Louis University so he could help turn WEW Radio into a commercial station.

Their first home was #11 Princeton Place, in University Heights and this is where my mom’s lifelong love affair with University City began.

Mom was a proud graduate of Our Lady of Lourdes and Mercy High School and she attended St. Louis University where she worked on the University News before going to work in the Globe Democrat Classified Department. She was making pretty decent money in classified but she longed to be a writer. When the Globe began their Women’s Page - mom campaigned the union to let her become a writer, a move that involved a paycut. And she won. The late Martin Duggan was her boss.

My parents were married in this very church on February 10th, 1959, which was the morning after the great tornado ripped through town, taking many structures with it its path, including the apartment building where they were supposed to have lived. 

Nonetheless, they drove off to New York City for their honeymoon, in a car they borrowed from my dad’s cousin, Father Jack Ghio. And they found a rainbow - over the St. Louis skyline upon their return. For this reason, my dad would always stop and call my mom whenever there was a rainbow in the sky.

After their wedding, our mom went back to work at the Globe and stayed there up to the birth of my eldest sister Alice. She continued doing part time work for the Globe while she had three more children. And six months after my birth, mom joined the Women’s Department at the St. Louis Post Dispatch where she immediately began to blaze a trail and make her mark.

My parents were alike in many ways and also so different. My grandfather Dames died at the age of 36, when my dad was just 6-months old. So my dad and uncle were raised by a working woman in the 1920’s. My mother’s mother was also a working woman who eventually became the credit manager at the old Clayton Famous Barr Store - down the street.

Strong broads at every turn.

One day I asked my mom if I should take it personally that she went to work when I was just six months old she jokingly replied, “with four young girls at home the only way I could find peace and quiet was working full-time at the Post Dispatch”.

There is a lot of truth in that statement.

I must have been around six or so when mom started taking me to work with her on Saturday mornings. It wasn’t a weekly thing but it was something I loved to do because it involved waking up in what seemed like the middle of the night and driving downtown to the Post so that we were there by 5:00AM. Once we arrived we’d go to the 5th floor where mom would do some work at her desk and I would color on blank newsprint pads, with grease pencils that could be found all around the newsroom.

Eventually we’d get the call that the Sunday newspaper was ready to be proofed and we’d journey down to the incredibly noisy Press Room - where mom would proofread all the sections of the paper for which she was responsible. Once she’d signed off on her sections we’d return to the fifth floor and head to the ladies room where mom would lift me up to look out the window so I could see the sunrise over the Mississippi River. And then we’d go across the street to the old Press Box and have breakfast. 

So many fun times at the Post Dispatch.

In 1977 mom went to Washington, DC as the first female delegate/member in the American Society of Newspaper Editors conference. It was here that she was in a meeting with President Jimmy Carter.

Ever the archivist my dad saved some of the information that was sent to delegates in advance of the trip. One item in the packet included a ticket to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts that read: “Admit One American Society of Newspaper Editors Member and… WIFE”! 

In that scenario - my dad is the ‘wife’.

Thank God for dad’s sense of humor.

The following conversation could frequently be heard at our house…

Mom - how do you spell…??


How can I look it up - if I don’t know how to spell it?


Thank you mom for helping us become pretty great spellers…

Dinnertime at our house was THE family hour - which sometimes lasted two. Because of my mom’s job it rarely happened at the same time, either. And there was always room at the table for our friends. In fact my parents enjoyed our friends as much as we did. And as I look around this church today I can see the feeling was mutual. 

We most always had a great meal to share but there were rules to follow.

Napkin in your lap, one hand on the table unless you’re cutting your food… the list goes on. Mom could be pretty militant, too, or shall we say, insistent? And whenever one of us would complain the reply would always be - “Someday you will be invited out to dine and you will thank me…”.

Thank you mom for schooling us on manners, polite dinner table conversation and the Art of Dining… You were right we have been invited out to dine and on occasion, we’ve shared our knowledge with others, too.

My mom was 48 when my father passed away and I was 17. Over the last 35 years we’ve spent some quality time together and she moved from being just my mom to my dear friend.

When the Sheldon Concert Hall had their Grand Reopening - they did so with a concert featuring Tony Bennett. Before the concert mom told me about interviewing Tony Bennett when he as in St. Louis in the late 1950’s. After the interview Tony invited her to attend the show and also to a private after-party at the Chase Park Plaza.

Mom said she declined the offer because she’d recently begun dating my father.

To which I replied, you mean I could have been a Benedetto?!

As the house lights began to dim - my mom reached over for my hand and said, "This is my Bob Weir, dear” - referring to the Grateful Dead’s guitarist for whom I may or may not still be crushing…

Last Spring - when we sold our house of 51-years, I had the “pleasure" of going through the basement where I found a treasure-trove of amazing things, especially from mom’s career. I selected this letter to share with you today.

It’s in an envelope from the Forest Park Hotel - postmarked July 17, 1957. 

And it’s addressed to:
Miss Joan Foster
The Globe Democrat
1133 Franklin Street
St. Louis, Missouri

“Dear Joan,
I can’t begin to express to you my appreciation and gratitude for the excellent interview. I don’t believe I have ever received more favorable comment on an article. The thanks should certainly go to you. You really did an inspired piece with extremely dull material. - Thanks Sincerely - Paul Lynde

Also included in the treasures was an untouched cigarette case/with a built-in butane lighter - still in the box. When I opened the cigarette case I found a business card signed by bandleader Rudy Vallee. It simply read “Thanks Rudy Vallee”…

Try not to gasp out loud when I tell you that mom was a non-smoker for the last 19-months of her life.

It’s true - but you could never convince her of this. After every meal she’d fleece her purse looking for that "one cigarette that she was certain was in there”. One night after enjoying dinner in the main dining room at Cardinal Ritter the purse fleecing began and I reminded her, you don’t smoke anymore… to which she replied, “but I STILL want one!” And I said, that’s why they say it’s a harder addiction to quit than heroin…

Without skipping a beat - and with no indoor voice whatsoever, mom pounded her hand on the table and said, "WELL BRING ME THE HEROIN THEN!”

Several heads turned and I had to wave my hands to assure them this was NOT an option at our table!

Our mom died with the same determination in which she lived. When it was time to leave the party she went.

About five days before mom passed away, two days before hospice care kicked-in, I was hanging out with mom in her apartment at Cardinal Ritter. We were watching television and she’d drifted off to sleep. Soon she was talking in her sleep - at first having garbled conversations with what sounded like more than one person, as if she were at a cocktail party. And then she began laughing, I mean really laughing and then she very clearly said, “Oh you’re just TERRIBLE!”, while swatting her hand in the air.

This made me suspect she was talking with my dad. This thought was confirmed when my mom slowly rose up in her chair and pursed her lips for a kiss. Suddenly I was the 3rd wheel in the room. And the hair on my arms stood on end.

A few moments later my mom awoke and looked at me and said, “I think I am going to serve pot roast and mashed potatoes to my guests.” I told her that sounded like a good idea and then asked what else she would serve? She replied, “why your Christmas cookies, of course”.

Of course.

Then she asked me to play “When The Saints Go Marching In”, Louie Armstrong’s version to be exact.

On the first day of her job in the Women’s Department of the St. Louis Post Dispatch (which was then part of the Pulitzer publishing company), my dad sent my mom a bouquet of flowers with an enclosure card that read:

It’s Front Page News
With Headlines DOUBLE Size
This is the Day
The Pulitzers Got a Prize!!

No truer words my sweet father - no truer words!

On Thursday, July 26th, Heaven got a Prize

Thank you again for being here with us today.

Click Here to Donate to the Joan Foster Dames Scholarship
For women pursuing a degree in journalism or media studies