What My Mother Taught Me

“All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”
-Abraham Lincoln


It could fill a library – the lessons that our mothers have taught us. Some lessons we have learned and some we have yet to understand, but all we are grateful for. These men, like most Southern gentlemen, owe much of who they are to their mothers and in their own words, express what is in all our hearts for our mothers.


By Brenda Shafer  /  Photography by Lanewood Studio

Todd Henon Properties Chattanooga Realtor

James and Ruth Thomas mother and son in chattanooga

James Thomas

Physical Security Group Manager, Tennessee Valley Authority

Pictured with his mother, Ruth Thomas

Pastor, Real Life Christian Ministries


To the greatest mom on earth,

I want to thank you for all the wonderful life lessons you taught me. I will admit, I didn’t listen to everything because I was trying to chart my own course. I can still remember you telling me in high school to study and do my best so that I could go to college, but I decided to go to the Navy. Even though I enjoyed my time in the military, I think about how much further I would be in life if I had listened to your advice. Having to go to college after the military while working full-time to support my family are the things you were trying to protect me from. You understood how hard life can be, and you didn’t want me to face self-imposed hardships. But even through my stubborn decisions and ignoring your advice, you were still there for me: loving me, lifting me up, and sending me money when I was flat broke living in California.

Now that I’m an adult with my own family, I often think on the life lessons you taught me, including the ones I ignored, and I find myself, as a parent, trying to pass them down to my son. Now I am the parent teaching life lessons and praying my son doesn’t go through the unnecessary hardships of life. Maybe he will listen better than I did. But if he doesn’t, I’ll be there to love him, lift him up, and send him money if he gets flat broke living in California like you did for me.

This letter is a small token of appreciation I wanted to share with you. There aren’t enough words or actions I could say or do to truly express my gratitude for your love and support throughout my life.

Your baby boy,



“There aren’t enough words or actions I could say or do to truly express my gratitude for your love and support.”

Baylor School Ad Chattanooga

Nick Kyriakidis and his mother in chattanooga

Nick Kyriakidis

Owner, Acropolis Grill

Pictured with his mother, Betty Kyriakidis

Owner, Acropolis Grill



I wanted to take this time and thank you. For as long as I can remember, you have worked hard, from the 13 years at Little Athens in East Ridge to 24 years at the Acropolis. You have sacrificed so much to help provide for us, your four kids. We all could not have accomplished what we have without your continued support. I know our relationship has been different from most mother/son relationships because we work together. We have now been working together for almost 25 years, and through all of it, you have continued to take time to give me motherly advice even though the restaurant creates a hectic and crazy work day.

I also wanted to thank you for being a “Yia Yia” not only to my three boys, but also to all 13 of your grandchildren. For so many of the grandchildren, Dad died too early for them to remember much of his larger-than-life persona. You have had to fill in for them and help them understand their Greek family roots and how important family is to both of you. They all continue to laugh about who is Yia Yia’s favorite. It is incredible that you balance a full work schedule along with time for all of them, and for this, I am truly thankful.

Your favorite child,



“You have sacrificed so much to help provide for us, your four kids. We all could not have accomplished what we have without your continued support.”

J.D. Frost Chattanooga Ad

Kyle stokes and his mother sharing a tender moment chattanooga

Kyle Stokes

Youth & Community Outreach Associate, Unity Center

Pictured with his mother, Debbie Stokes

Minister of Congregational Care, Christ United Methodist Church



You have taught me many things through your deeply thoughtful and profoundly caring way of living, but several lessons have stood out along the way.

You taught me to always remember who I am and whose I am. I know how lucky I am to be raised in a loving family surrounded by a community of deep faith and lifelong friendships. As I’ve grown beyond the comfort of my youth, your words have helped me stay grounded.

You taught me not to lose my head in a group situation. What started as reasonable advice to an impressionable teenager to warn against the usual teenage vices became timeless wisdom for me in a world in which so many seem to lose their heads in group situations.

Finally, you taught me to love liberally, specifically those who are left out and forgotten. You communicate your love to people more freely and clearly than anyone I know. You always want to make sure that anyone you come in contact with knows they are loved. I hope to make the people in my life feel as loved and cared for as you have made me feel.

And you continue to teach me how to be a better person with your life. I truly believe the world would be better if more people were like you.

Your son,



“I truly believe the world would be better if more people were like you.”

Wells Fargo Chattanooga Ad

Jim McKenzie with his arm around his mother in chattanooga

Jim McKenzie

Market President, First Bank

Pictured with his mother, Rose McKenzie

Former school teacher


Dear Mom,

You have been a wonderful mom! I am so grateful for your love and support for me through every season of my life. From my childhood to my years at Baylor and UT, to my young adult years and now as a husband and father, you have always been there for me to offer both encouragement and wisdom.

You have taught me a lot over the years. Above anything else, you have taught me about unconditional love. There really isn’t any greater trait than that, I suppose, that a parent can give to a son. You have also taught me about honoring commitments. In just two short months, you and Dad will celebrate your 65th wedding anniversary. Wow! Talk about honoring commitments and sticking together through better or worse! You have set an example for me of what good parenting is all about.

Through your own life, you have taught me about kindness, graciousness, humility, perseverance, faith in God, and to cling to the notion that ultimately all things in the end are working for good, even when adversity strikes.

You have always known that I’ve had a bit of what some would call a stubborn side. I like to think of it as a determined side, but as you know, there can be a fine line between being determined and being stubborn. I have tried to channel that determination/stubbornness into constructive outlets. No doubt, at times, this trait has served me well, while, at other times, it has been a stumbling block for me. You have helped me to understand that, ultimately, so much in life is totally beyond my control, and this has been something I have been slow to learn but that I am embracing more and more. I guess it’s that “Do your best, and let God do the rest” mentality that you have been teaching me my whole life!

Thank you for everything,



You have taught me a lot over the years. Above anything else, you have taught me about unconditional love.”

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Monty Bruell and his mother smiling in chattanooga

Monty Bruell

Small Business Consultant & Entrepreneur

Pictured with his mother, Phyllis Parks

Retired from Norfolk Southern


Dear Mom,

From the very beginning, you have always been the most special person in my life, the one who has nurtured my individuality, instilled in me self-confidence, and supported me through the good times and the bad.

Thank you for being such a ferocious advocate for me and placing such a high value on education. You wanted the best for me and were willing to do whatever it took to get it. You are my greatest champion, and I am forever grateful.

You encouraged me to accept the challenge of attending Baylor School and becoming its first African-American graduate. When I said that I wanted to go to Harvard University, some scoffed, but you told me that I could achieve any goal to which I set my mind. Today, I am a Harvard graduate too.

When I think of lessons you’ve taught me and things I’ve learned from you, I don’t even know where to begin. I owe you for all that I am, and a simple thank you seems way too inadequate.

Above anything, I am most grateful for the example that you have always set for me. Community service is central to who you are. As a young woman in the 1960s, you participated in lunch counter sit-ins, and today you volunteer at The Bethlehem Center in Alton Park, around the corner from where we lived and where my grandfather played Santa Claus every
Christmas. You also served as president of the
Memorial Hospital Auxiliary and continue to work as a volunteer there. Thank you for inspiring me and being such a wonderful role model.

Finally, you have taught me the importance of love and family. Thank you for bringing my stepfather, Oscar, into our lives and for being the best possible grandmother to my daughter, Dayna. You are the very best, and I love you more than mere words could ever say.

All my love,



“I owe you for all that I am, and a simple thank you seems way too inadequate.” 

Southern Surgical Arts Ad Chattanooga

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