Etta Patricia (Johnson) Milton ’87

Etta Patricia (Johnson) Milton ’87 died November 14, 1998
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5/12/1965 – 11/14/1998

Etta Milton passed away November 14, 1998 after a year—long struggle with breast cancer. Born May 12, 1965 in Grand Rapids, MI, Etta majored in biology at Amherst and upon graduation moved to Connecticut to work for US Surgical. In 1989, Etta went on to the Univ. of Michigan for her MBA. She subsequently worked in brand management at Sara Lee Corporation in Chicago, and then moved on to an esteemed career in the purchasing group of Proctor & Gamble in Cincinnati. Etta is survived by her husband Bobby, one—year old daughter Kayla, her parents, two sisters, one brother, and a host of loving family and friends.

Several Amherst friends offer below their personal memories and reflections of Etta. Flashback to the fall of 1983 just before freshman year started. After checking into my dorm room in James, I go downstairs and end up meeting a lanky girl with goofy glasses, plaid skirt, and knee highs who’s reading a book. I thought, "What have I gotten myself into?’ "Hi, I’m Etta Johnson from Grand Rapids, Michigan." She was quick to point that out that she was from Grand Rapids. "What a bookworm," I thought. "Where are the cool people?" Because we lived in the same building we ended up talking frequently or should I say Etta ended up talking frequently as she was great at getting her point across first. One day Etta heard that I was not attending class and she read me the riot act—my duty, responsibility, commitment, how important this time was in our lives, etc. Etta how did you know? After that I was her "Mikey," as Etta was very possessive of her friends. No matter what I did wrong—school, women, job—Etta was there to offer advice. She could do that because she knew the road we were traveling down. Etta you are an angel and the poem below epitomizes my feelings:


This conversation is like a long walk
together in the autumn woods.

Mossy silence of shadow, eloquent longing
of birds, thunder softened by distance.

A stag crosses the trail up ahead,
wildness we had thought extinct.

Leaves, the shades of earth, fall at our feet,
gifts from the wind we have to accept.

And now, just at goodbye, where the trail
sudden pathos of sweet rain.

—Mike Thaxton ’87

It wasn’t until I found out that our dear friend Etta had passed that I realized how deeply she and I were connected. In fact, Etta Johnson has left her life—print on me forever. When we used to have our daily lunch or dinner discussions at the corner table in West, I thought she was sheltered and had a lot to learn, being from Grand Rapids, MI. I’ll always remember how she would say, "I’m from Grand Rapids, Michigan," as if to say, "You know, Grand Rapids, the epitome of normalcy and decency." Lord, how I teased her about that. Yet, even within the relatively sheltered confines of Amherst College, Etta grew so much that by the end of our four years together, you wouldn’t have known she was the same person. She still epitomized the very essence of decency—you couldn’t shake her from that strong foundation. But she had grown to be more opened—minded, lively, adventure—loving, and discerning than I believe she could’ve even imagined.

Only a memory now ... the sadness engulfs my heart when I think of Etta. Thinking maybe she lives in the life-giver’s house, braver than those left to grow old on this earth. Knowing that she’s peacefully passed from this world to the next, but my heart still breaks with sadness.

—Sheree White ’87

On a rainy spring day junior year, I was hanging around the first floor of Drew House when I heard hysterical laughter from the front porch. I stepped into the main lobby just as Etta and Lisa (Williams) Smith came walking in, covered with mud from head -to-toe , and laughing non -stop. As more people gathered in the lobby, Lisa and Etta related how they and several other students had been mud-sliding at Memorial Hill in order to blow-off some steam. A large group had gathered around them by this time, and their infectious laughter caused everyone in the crowd to begin laughing as well. Etta then began encouraging everyone to go back to Memorial Hill with her and Lisa, urging us to just let go and enjoy the moment. It was our loss that we convinced them that they were being silly and needed to stay inside to clean themselves up. What we failed to realize then , and what I realize now, is that Etta had never lost that special gift that we all possessed as kids—the ability to just let go and en joy the moment, like mud-sliding down Memorial Hill. This is one of the traits that made Etta such a special friend. ETTA, I LOVE YOU AND MISS YOU!

— Frank E. Thompson ‘87

It has been fifteen years since we first met one another at Amherst College, and eleven years since we graduated. We vowed that we would only go back to Amherst College together. We kept planning to return for reunions and events. But jobs, pregnancies, and now illness and death, have prevented us from making these trips we’ve always talked about. You abruptly left us, and now I must face the fact that when I next return to Amherst, I will have to return without you.

Intellectually I know that you are better off— the pain and anguish that you have undergone in your battle with cancer over the past year is now over and you are free from the uncertainty of what tomorrow will bring, and free to be with our Savior for eternity. Emotionally, however, I am trying to adjust to life without you. I am saddened by the loneliness that Bobby will endure without his wife. I lament thinking about the reassurance and comfort that Kayla will yearn for, but that only you, her Mommy, can give to her. And I grieve with your family for the emptiness we all will feel without the sun shine that you always brought into a room. As life here continues, you will always be in my thoughts and prayers, and most of all you will always be my best friend. I will miss you.

—Lisa Williams Smith ’87

How difficult it is to write about a person who posthumously will always be alive within me. I really had no idea one person could have such a profound effect on my life as Etta did. She was the first person to know me completely—all my strengths and all of my weaknesses—and to still love and accept me thoroughly. That was Etta. Loving, accepting, challenging, giving, forgiving, comforting, penetrating ... no list will do justice to all that she meant to me.

Here I sit, trying to do the impossible—come up with one single remembrance that defines the essence of what I shared with Etta. I think those of you who knew Etta will agree with me about the impossibility of the task. As a result, I will offer my most penetrating memory of Etta. Her touch. I will for ever remember how having Etta hug me felt like sitting in front of a warm fireplace.

— Donn Monroe ’87

I was fortunate to have known Etta as a personal friend, as well as to have worked with her in the Amherst College Gospel Choir. I had the pleasure of working with Etta for three years in the choir. Her talent as an alto voice and her dedication to the choir were remarkable early on. Etta was an example for all of us in reliability and performance. I am very privileged to have known Etta. She will be greatly missed.

— Lucien P. Gochett ’86

Out of the overwhelming sadness of Etta’s sudden passing has emerged a certain repose, appearing light and soft as a whisper. Etta was blessed. At the funeral services, I could see the imp act of her blessedness in the face of Etta’s loving husband, Bobby. It was also present in the faces of her daughter, Kayla, and her family, coworkers, and countless friends. I could feel its soothing warmth in their voices and in their gentle strength. Alas, I could feel Etta within me. I knew then that her spirit would forever strengthen the souls of all who had encountered Etta’s love. My own spirit swelled with strength anew. I now realize that if any of us achieve in an extended lifetime—God willing—the love, the courage, and the unbending faith that Etta so effortlessly achieved, in a fraction of that time, we will likewise each be truly and richly blessed!

— Jeffrey A. Armour ’89

Etta was my friend and my son Coleman’s godmother. The day before she was to have surgery, Etta insisted she had to see "my Cole," as she affectionately referred to him. Etta had yet to meet Cole, who was one day old, and it was important to her that she welcome him into the world. Although Etta was about to begin a courageous one-year battle against cancer, she and her husband, Bobby, drove four hours round -trip to visit us. She dismissed any objections to her planned visit saying that it was just something she had to do. During Etta’s visit, she exclaimed about the wondrous and miraculous gift of life.

To Etta, life, love, family, and friends were things to be cherished. Etta was loyal and committed and she did not hesitate to stand up for what she believed. Etta was loved and respected by many because she was not afraid to give of herself or to be herself. She was one of those rare individuals who lived as she was, free of pretense, materialism, and vanity. Etta was genuine in every way.

Although Etta and I became friends during sophomore year at Amherst, our friendship evolved during the eleven years since graduation. While we had some memorable times during college, it was in the course of sharing our adult lives that we came to know and respect each other. Etta and I carne to lean on each other for support when necessary. We loved each other and we shared so much. We are family, we are friends.

—Annette Harris Powell ’87

No regrets. That’s all I can say in thinking about my relationship with Etta. I really can’t say that I regret not having been better friends with Etta, because Etta and I were good friends. Not best friends, mind you, but good friends. For example, although prior to her battle with cancer, Etta and I hadn’t seen each other since the day we graduated from Amherst, whenever I did have the occasion to talk to Etta, she and I always were able to pick up our conversations as if it had only been a week since we were last together.

I can’t say that I regret that Etta and I were closer together geographically, because I never felt that I had to be physically near Etta in order for us to feel “close.” As many of you know, Etta’s love for her friends ran a close second to her love for her family. If you knew Etta well enough, you know that this is a lot. As a result, I always felt close to Etta's heart. I can't say that I regret not having told Etta how I felt about her, because I did. Etta knew that I admired her, that I respected her, that I was proud of her, and that I loved her very much. I'm so glad that I never waited to say those things. So, I can't say that I regret much at all about my relationship with Etta. Isn't that wonderful?

I feel fortunate to have been able to enjoy many good times with her at and to have observed and experienced how excellent she was. In the end, however, I have lied to you. I do have one regret: I regret that I will never be able to hug Etta again and tell her that I love her.

—Deke Mathieu ’87