“A Homily to Honor the Life of Andy Williams”
Delivered at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church
In Fort Washington, Pennsylvania
On Saturday, November 25, 2017
Sally, Kate, Ted, Sam, Rebecca and members of Team Williams:
Thank you for coming out to celebrate the life of a man whom we all loved and treasured, for faithfully following Sally’s incredible blog, which should become a book, and for sending your love and your wishes, food and flowers, powerful prayers and now countless condolences to Sally and her family. We know that your love and support will continue for years to come.
Andy was one of the finest people that I have ever met, and he was one of my closest friends. One day, my daughter Isabelle asked me, “So, Dad, who are your friends?” Andy’s name was among the first names that I mentioned. I suspect that a lot of us could say the same. How could one man engender so much love, admiration and respect from all of us?
Andy was a real day brightener. Just seeing him made us feel like the sun was shining and the world was well. He was humble and humorous, prudent and wise, considerate and kind, always thoughtful and respectful, incredibly bright and talented.
Andy was the first member of our church whom I visited in the hospital 23 years ago when I became rector of St. Thomas’ Church. He was recovering from back surgery, and Sally and Andy and I had a lovely visit. That night, I telephoned my wife, who was packing up our house in Richmond, Virginia and told her that I had just met the most extraordinarily couple.
So, began an enduring friendship. When our daughter, Isabelle, was born, we asked Andy to be one of her godfathers. We could not have picked a finer role model. Over the years to come, we enjoyed many visits together. When the time came for me to appoint my first Senior Warden, I asked Andy to help lead our church. He later chaired our Finance Committee and attended many men’s Bible studies. As a leader, Andy was thoughtful, cordial and hopeful. He was unflappable and always had a light-hearted comment to keep things from getting too serious. Andy knew what not to laugh at and what to focus on. He was a person that you always wanted on your side whether you faced a storm or were enjoying a spectacular afternoon at the beach or playing a round of golf.
I remember in one of our first years together, Andy and I were playing tennis at the Penlnlyn Club. In between games, we spoke about changes in society. Andy explained that leaders at Germantown Friends School were debating the new school directory. Having many same sex parents, the school was considering switching from using “mother” and “father” to “parent” and
“co-parent.” I shared my thoughts. Andy listened respectfully, then quipped, “Well, Sally and I are just trying to figure out which one of us is the co-parent.” That was quintessential Andy. When a friend recently called the hospital to see how Andy was doing, Andy said, “Well, I’ve moved to West Philadelphia,” humorously noting his long stint at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital.
Andy was someone whom all of us could confide in and count on for wisdom. Educated at GFS and deeply rooted in the Episcopal Church, Andy was what I like to call a “Quakerpalian.” He embodied the best of both traditions. Hence, he was never judgmental and always looked for the best in others. Before his surgery, we talked about his going back on our Vestry after he recovered from his lung transplant. He was looking forward to that. All of us had plans to spend more time with Andy. Now, we must change our plans. The world does not seem right without him, and all of us feel that he was taken far too early from us. But how many people get to enjoy 41 years of a stunning marriage and how many children are blessed with such an incredible father?
One morning after he had weathered a turbulent night in the hospital, Andy quietly confided that he thought that he was going to die several hours before. “I was afraid of leaving Sally alone,” he said quietly. He wasn’t afraid of dying. Rather, he was afraid of leaving Sally alone. Andy was not disturbed by the barrage of medical tests and procedures he faced or the setbacks that he incurred, but rather by the anguish that all of this had caused his family. He was the most selfless person that I have ever met.
Throughout that journey, you, Sally, were his rock and his fortress, a source of towering strength to the love of your life and to your children. Kate and Scott, Ted, Sam and Rebecca, Papa D and Sue, Nan and Vince, Tom and Eve, Ted and Anna, Bruce and PR, Ellen and Lee, Stig and so many of you gathered here today, were a fortress of love letting Andy know that he was never alone.
Joyce Shumaker told me that when her husband, Bill, our Senior Warden before Andy, was in the psychiatric unit of the hospital battling dementia, she arrived to visit him one morning, and a nurse told her, “A member of your church is here.” Joyce found Andy dressed in a business suit, sitting on the floor, next to Bill’s bed, which was almost at floor level, gently holding Bill’s hand and talking in a reassuring voice about things that they had done together. “He stayed and spent at least half an hour,” notes Joyce, adding, “It was one of the most poignant scenes that I have ever witnessed in my life.” That story captures something of the soul of the man whom we all loved and forever will cherish.
I believe in my heart of hearts that the dead shall live and experience heaven. When we cross to that distant shore we will greet those who have gone before us and we will have our glad reunion and spend eternity together. Last Sunday, as I celebrated the Eucharist in this church, where Andy so often worshipped and delighted in the music, I closed my eyes as we sang the sanctus and saw Andy’s face radiant with light, and as if the sun were shining behind him and he was standing on a beach smiling, and I knew that Andy was alright and that he watching over us.
Some may say that this as is wishful thinking, but it is the biblical promise that lies at the heart of our faith. No belief is more central to Christianity. Take away the Resurrection to eternal life, and what is left is no longer Christianity. Hope is no longer hope, and faith disappears. Without the things that are unseen and so vital, all we have left are the brute facts of science but none of the things that give our lives their deepest meaning and greatest significance, such as faith, hope and love – life’s three greatest gifts. For “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (I Cor. 13:7-8)
I close with the words of Anna West, Andy’s niece, who is Jewish. She notes that in Reform Judaism, people believe that a person’s actions in life equate to the materials that they are given to construct their house in the life to come – the more good deeds the better and more comfortable the house has the potential to be. Anna wrote to Sally,
…I can see Uncle Andy getting started on his house right now. I see him building
the barn with his mom, Mouse, and all your animals who are no longer with you. I
see him getting comfortable in his chair and playing the bass. He is living his life in the
barn as you live yours. I see him smiling as he watches over you and excited to see
you when the time comes. I wish you can think about this barn as you sit in yours.
Sally, Kate, Ted, Sam and Rebecca, this church and Team Williams will shelter you like a barn full of love until one by one we, too, cross that distant shore, where Andy is already building a barn for where we will gather one day in the future. Amen.