It was a wave of emotions that swept over me this weekend when I read the news that Mildred Litton passed away at the age of 98. She was the mother of the late Congressman Jerry Litton. Jerry, his wife Sharon and their children Linda & Scott died on August 3, 1976 taking off from the Chillicothe Airport after winning the Democratic Party nomination for U.S. Senator. The pilot, Paul Rupp, Jr. and his son, Paul Rupp III also died in the crash.
I had the honor of serving in Jerry Litton’ Washington DC office in 1976. The passion, dedication and ideals that were the hallmarks of Litton’s life were continued in the public/political arena and could be witnessed daily by the work of his loyal, dedicated staff. I could share stories, antidotes and experiences or we could discuss how much different the political landscape (state & national) would be in not for that tragic August night….but, this is not about Jerry Litton or his legacy but rather about a mother and grandmother, a wife and business partner.
Mildred attended school at Carlow and then Lock Springs, where she graduated with the class of 1928. During her high school years she met a young Davies County man named Charley Oscar Litton. They were married in Hiawatha, Kansas on March 30, 1929. After a short time in Kansas City they returned to their farming roots, until an accident left Charlie an invalid and unable to work. They moved to a small house on the farm owned by Mildred’s father, and for the next several years Mildred supported them by milking eleven cows and selling eggs from her chickens. During the winter months she trapped and sold furs.
Charley eventually recovered and resumed farming. In 1938 they purchased the ‘Litton Farm’ which consisted of 500 acres and a large house in desperate need of repair. Over the next four years they worked hard to farm the land and renovate the old farmhouse, only to watch it burn to the ground in 1942. Mildred worked hard during those farm years — milking cows, driving a tractor and lending a hand wherever needed.
In 1961, joined by their son and his new wife, they began the ‘Litton Charolais Ranch’ and Mildred’s new life began. The first years were filled with struggles to make a name for themselves and for their cattle. Mildred’s roles included cooking meals for prospective buyers, helping in the ranch office, caring for the two grandchildren and traveling with Charley on the show circuit, where the big white cattle made a national and international reputation for the Litton name.
In 1972 when her son ran for U.S. Congress, she was introduced to the art of campaigning, entertaining politicians and attending fundraisers and coffees for the candidates. She stuffed thousands of envelopes, delivered campaign material, posted information in card files, and copied hundreds of names and addresses. Then came that August night in 1976 when her only child and his entire family were killed in that crash.
Mildred’s life was shattered, and Charley became her lifeline, as he struggled to care for them both. Charley established the Jerry Litton Family Memorial Foundation and began a program of extending help to the community and particularly to the Chillicothe R-II School District. He also became interested in having a biography written about their son, and he was able to persuade Mildred to help. She drew on her inner strength and began the process of returning to a normal life.
In 1980 Charley Litton died from cancer, Mildred was left alone. Once again she faced a devastating loss, but she immediately assumed the reins of the Litton Foundation and completed the effort begun by Charley to build a lasting memorial for Jerry, which culminated in the Jerry Litton Visitors Center at Smithville Lake. She then enrolled the Litton Foundation in a project to build the Litton Agri Science Learning Center for the FFA program in Chillicothe. That was followed by continued building at the learning center, assisting with the Jenkins Expo Building project and improvements for the Livingston County Fair facilities. She was a generous donor to many other worthwhile projects as well.
On Christmas morning 2008…….Mildred Litton dies at the age of 98. As a parent and grandparent, I do not know how this lady managed to give so much, under such difficult, trying times. She persevered and thrived under circumstances I can never imagine. Thirty two years after losing her son & his family; twenty seven years after saying farewell to her husband of fifty one years….Mildred Litton can finally rest and be at peace. I know that Christmas 2008 was a time of glorious celebration and reunion; a gathering of politicians, farmers, neighbors, children, saints, angels and family. All are happy that Mildred is finally at ‘home’…and that she and Charley, Jerry, Sharon, Linda & Scott will, at last, be together again…forever.
May God Bless You.
(Some information for this entry was taken from the ‘Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune’)