Peggy Kirk Bell, in a memorial service Tuesday, was remembered as genuine, feisty, funny, generous, outspoken, Peg, Peggy Kirk, Ma Bell and the Great One.
Bell, who died last week at 95, was remembered as someone devoted to her family and her faith, to golf and to teaching golf. Home for her was always Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club, but Peggy’s friends were widespread, as evidenced by all those who came Tuesday to Brownson Memorial Presbyterian Church to celebrate her life.
There were few open seats in the sanctuary 90 minutes before the 2 p.m. service. Others later watched the service on a big screen in the church fellowship hall.
And, oh, were there stories to be told.
Rev. John Hage, the Brownson pastor, said he visited Peggy not long ago and at one point said, “Let’s pray.”
Peggy’s response: “Let’s play.”
“She was ready to play 18 holes of golf,” Hage said, smiling.
Or teach the game. So many young girls and women learned about golf from Bell at Pine Needles, the Sandhills club with the Donald Ross golf course that she and her husband, the late Warren “Bullet” Bell, bought in 1953. So many later returned to give thanks to the woman who was always gracious, always happy to see them again.
“She made you feel special and that was her gift,” said Kelly Miller, one of Bell’s sons-in-law and president of Pine Needles and Mid Pines Inn and Golf Club. “She was more than a golf teacher. She was a teacher of life.”
One golfer who would drop by Pine Needles to see Peggy Bell was Kathy Whitworth, the winner of 88 LPGA tournaments and a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame.
“She was just real,” Whitworth said after the service. “I mean, what you saw was what you got and there was no pretense about her. You always felt good when you were around her.
“When I think of her legacy, you’re never going to think of her and not smile.”
There were mostly smiles Tuesday as Miller, Bonnie McGowan, one of Peggy’s daughters, and her husband, Pat McGowan, spoke about the woman they knew so well.
“She never limited her lessons to the driving range,” Bonnie McGowan said. “She gave just as many lessons in the dining room, locker room, golf shop, lobby, swimming pool. Grocery stores, airports, airplanes ...”
Peggy Kirk Bell received nearly every golf award worth having, including the prestigious Bob Jones Award from the U.S. Golf Association. While not a name dropper, her friends included Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.
Peggy liked to laugh and say when she posed with a grinning Tiger Woods – the photo is at Pine Needles – she told him he wasn’t as big as she had thought he was. She’d wait a beat, eyes twinkling, the timing perfect, and say, “And Tiger said, ‘No, but I’m strong.’ ”
Peggy was proud that Pine Needles hosted three U.S. Women’s Open tournaments — in 1996, 2001 and 2007. Annika Sorenstam and Karrie Webb won the first two, and Cristie Kerr has the distinction of being the last to win an Open at Pine Needles and be congratulated by the Pine Needles matriarch.
But it didn’t take an Open for Peggy show off the golf course she said was one of Ross’ favorites. She’d put visitors in her white 1964 Lincoln Continental convertible, top down, and scoot them around the course. There were no speed limits for her — on the course or in life.
In an interview a decade ago, before the 2007 Open, Peggy was asked how she hoped to be remembered after she was gone.
She paused for a few seconds, mulling it over. She leaned over, setting her eyes, and said, “I’m not going.”
Peggy Kirk Bell, born in Findlay, Ohio, in the “Roaring Twenties,” lived to be 95. She passed away Nov. 23, surrounded by her family.
“What a full and wonderful life Peggy Kirk lived,” Rev. Karen Allen, associate pastor at Brownson, said Tuesday. “She was truly a mentor and a pioneer, especially for women. She was generous, full of joy and humor, feisty and faithful.”
For that, and more, she will be remembered.