An Extraordinary, Ordinary Woman

& a Woman in the Shadows

France LaVane Weathers

October 30, 1918 - July 26, 2006​

France LaVane Weathers was born on October 30, 1918, in Moore, Texas. She was a beautiful, petite woman with unforgettable red hair. Through her brother Duard, she met the man she would eventually marry, a tall, tough-as-nails Marine who served in World War II. On November 16, 1946, she married Jack. 

 

Jack got into law enforcement after the war, starting out as a small town deputy in La Pryor. It didn’t take long for him to work his way up to become a Texas Ranger. The quote by Ranger Captain Bill McDonald’s “One riot, one Ranger” was true for Jack, who stopped a riot on a volatile election night in his home town of Cotulla during the late sixties. Jack was fearless and tough on the outside, but he always had a soft spot for the down and out, the underdog, a good horse, and in time, his grandkids. 

 

LaVane and Jack had two boys, Jack and Jimmy, and she held down the fort while Jack was often gone on assignments and investigating cases all over the state. Jack always had horses, and he leased land and ran cattle on the side, and LaVane and the boys took up the slack in that area, too, when Jack was on the road. Years later, when an old friend stopped by their house in Cotulla, he recalled driving by their place and seeing LaVane out fixing a pasture fence dressed impeccably with not a red hair out of place. 

LaVane maintained that signature red hair throughout her life. She said if she ever got to the point where she was not in her right mind, she asked her daughters-in-law to do two things: to keep her clean, and to keep her hair styled. She loved shopping at stores like Dillards and Joske’s in San Antonio, and she would find some classic outfit she liked, and then waited until it was on sale later to buy it because her petite size would almost always still be on the racks. Her clothes never went out of style. 

 

Her husband Jack raised his sons to work hard, especially when it came to working cattle. But every time they worked together, no matter what they did— right or wrong, earned them a loud reaming out by their father, which turned into an expected routine— even a tradition—  when they worked together, no matter how old they got. Their shouting matches while working cattle were legendary, especially among the hired hands, most of whom were Jack and Jimmy's friends. They all had great respect for Mr. Jack, along with a healthy fear of him. 

 

During the late 1950s, Jack and most of the Texas Rangers gained notoriety over a period of three years taking down illegal gambling casinos along the coast, especially in Galveston. He said it hurt him to destroy all of that beautiful furniture used for gambling. Another high profile event was when Jack tracked down and brought back to Laredo a young girl that had been kidnapped and hidden on the run for several years. People felt safe with Mr. Jack around. He wasn’t afraid of going after the worst sort of criminals. 

Early in Jack and LaVane’s marriage when their oldest son was just a baby, they lived in a one-room apartment in a hotel in La Pryor. One night, LaVane awoke to the smell of cigarette smoke and liquor, and she saw a man holding a knife leaning over the baby’s crib. She was so shocked she couldn’t speak, so she did the first thing that came to mind, which was grabbing Jack’s stomach and pinching it as hard as she could. Like something out of an old western, Jack came out of the bed fighting, and he fought the man out into the hall and into the street. The man didn’t realize that Jack was an amateur boxer, and wasn’t afraid to use his fists if need be. Turned out, the man had been making threats because Jack had killed his brother in a shoot-out, but not before that man shot off the end of Jack’s finger trying to kill the lawman.

 

LaVane was highly respected in her community, but she lived in the shadow cast by her larger-than-life husband. When Jack passed away in 1996, her daughter-in-law wrote her a letter to let her know that his death in no way diminished who she was and how important she was to her family and all who knew her. Her youngest son came across it recently and shared it with the author, who had forgotten she had even written it. Here is the letter:

April 13, 1996

 

Dear LaVane,

 

I’m not quite sure if the words that follow will come across to you as I intend for them to, but here goes. I keep hearing you put yourself down in saying no one will ever forget PaPa, but that you wouldn’t be remembered a week after you are gone, or that you’d have to pre-pay your pallbearers for your funeral, or something of the sort. 

 

PaPa was a man of strength and courage, and has led a very eventful life, but MaMaw, you have been his strength and rock all through these years. You are the one who has been the backbone of the family. You were the one raising Jack and Jimmy when PaPa had to be gone so much. It was you who have been the financial manager for your family, who paid off the house much earlier than the note said.

 

You managed to work a full-time job for all those years, and yet your house was always clean and beautiful, and you almost always made home-cooked meals AND Sunday dinners before you went to church. You were the spiritual leader of your family, and have always demonstrated a more Christ-like attitude than any of us. You have been the one to represent the family at countless weddings, showers, and funerals when we were too busy to go. 

You gave us encouragement instead of criticism. You were the one who took care of extended family obligations, even when others could have, but didn’t. We don’t know all that you have done for us and others, but we know you, and that you’ve always gone far beyond what most people would do for others. 

 

And when the one you loved the most seemed to appreciate you the least, we knew he would be lost without you. I think he knew it, too, but didn’t know how to express it to you. But in spite of that, you always held him up in great esteem before others, and it has lifted you higher in our eyes because of your graciousness and selflessness.

 

Many folks are coming to honor PaPa’s memory because they love and honor you, too. We loved PaPa, LaVane, but you were the best part of him. And we love you so much. Please remember that.

 

Donna

*.  *.  *.  *.  *

LaVane Weathers Van Cleve was my sweet mother-in-law. I couldn’t have asked for a better one. She always took my side when Jack and I had disagreements. : ) She did everything well, except for one thing. She worried enough for all of us, and we failed to convince her not to. In hindsight, we probably gave her much reason to worry. 

 

One memory that is seared into my mind happened in the Nix Hospital in San Antonio after PaPa had the bad stroke that would soon take his life. We all took turns staying in the hospital room with MaMaw and PaPa, which was located high above the beautiful Riverwalk. You could hear the music drifting up from some of the establishments below. 

 

The stroke had taken almost everything from PaPa, including his ability to communicate. He seemed to recognize voices, but his expression looked like he had little presence of mind. When nurses came in to try to exercise his arms or legs, he would fight them because he didn’t know what was going on. I remember one of these instances when he was struggling with the nurse, and LaVane walked over to the side of the bed, leaned in and started talking to him and rubbing his forehead. He calmed immediately and turned his face towards her. He looked at her with such an innocent awe— almost like a baby would look with love towards his mother. In that unguarded mental state, his expression revealed he knew her in the deepest, most tender part of him, and it was pure adoration. In their lifetime together, though, he didn’t often show any vulnerable side to her in his healthy days. It still makes me cry to recall that sad and beautiful moment.

Like so many in that generation, women acquiesced more than their men in countless ways in life, and LaVane was no exception. In a marriage, if one had to give in, If one had to love more than the other, if one had to put off any personal ambitions or dreams, it was more often than not, the woman. If a woman worked outside the house, she also did most or all of the housekeeping, cooking, and rearing the children. I did not come even close to the type of wife LaVane, my mother, my sister, and my sister-in-laws were. 

 

On my first trip back to Cotulla after my marriage ended in 2005, I picked her up and took her to my church’s Christmas cantata. LaVane didn’t cease being my mother-in-law after her son and I stopped living our lives together. 

 

I learned so much from her over the years. I assumed nothing bad would ever happen to us, while LaVane always assumed something bad would happen to us. We were naive. She had seen enough in life to prepare for hard times and anticipate problems ahead. In the first half of my life, I used to drive on fumes— tempting fate way too often. She was the one who taught me to fill my vehicle’s tank when it reached the halfway mark. That way the car would always have at least a half a tank in any emergency.

 

I have a very short list of ladies I classify as “SuperWomen” who did or do everything well, even while working full-time. LaVane is on it.

 

Another instance of God’s timing was how this article came to be. I was finishing up the next “Women Behind Successful Men” profile a few days ago, and my brother-in-law, Jimmy Van Cleve, called me. He asked me what I was doing, and I told him I just finished writing a story about a woman who lived in the shadow of her husband. He said that God must’ve had something to do with this because he came across a letter that mentioned that very thing. I had written to his mother when his dad passed away. He read it to me, and we both cried all the way through it. I didn’t remember writing it, but I remembered everything in it was true about LaVane.

 

I loved her, and I love her still. 

 

 

Donna Van Cleve

July 2020

Women in the Shadows

Extraordinary, Ordinary Women

Photos provided by Jimmy & Donnie Van Cleve

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LaVane in her teen years

LaVane and Jack in his Marine uniform before they married

The Van Cleve Family: LaVane, Jack, Jack III, and Jimmy

Beautiful LaVane at her oldest son's wedding

LaVane's son Jack III, Texas Ranger Captain A.Y. Allee, husband Jack, & son Jimmy

The Van Cleve Family: back row - Jack III, Donnie & Donna; middle row - McLean, Katherine & Jimmy; bottom row - Jack IV, LaVane, Vanessa & Jack Van Cleve

LaVane & Jack Van Cleve

One of LaVane's last photos; taken by Rice Photography of Beeville

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