I knew him first as a parishioner in my first full time ministry (God bless them). Then later I knew him as the father of the lady I was dating. It wasn’t many months later that I watched him walk alongside my bride on that hot July day 24 years ago. From then on he was “dad”, and he always treated me with acceptance. He was always interested in me.
But not just me, he was a student of humans, considering them all his friend. He could be at a mall waiting on his wife, sit on a bench by a stranger, and walk away with a new friend (and often a relative if he had time to explore family history with them!).
Dad never let his mind rest. He had enjoyed success as an owner of a Sonic franchise, and owned other restaurants as well. Long after retirement he would ruminate over ideas for new business ventures that might just work. If he had the strength and opportunity he probably could have made a go of it!
But everyone who knew Dick knows that he was a storyteller. These stories were nothing short of epic! It’s a shame they aren’t written down, because although they were told as true the evolving nature of them indicated a largely creative element! I often found myself looking at mom to see if it was actually true! Most of them had an element of truth anyway. The entertainment value of them was enormous. John Robert, like the rest of us, loved to hear the tales of life in the Mississippi Delta from long ago.
Dick Willingham died Monday morning. Years of heart disease and diabetes took their toll on his health. Tomorrow will be a funeral. The preacher, who has himself spent many hours hearing Dick’s stories, will tell his story. It’s a sad story today for his wife of 65 years. They grew up together in the same area, so he is longtime husband and lifetime friend. It’s a sad story for Kathy, Carol, Margaret, and Dickie … Children he loved deeply. Even the inlaws felt his love.
But it’s a happy story too. He outlived all his brothers and sisters, parents, and a grandson. The reunion party on the other side is just beginning. He was a Christian. He was quick to point out that he wasn’t perfect, but His trust was in the One who is. The good news is that all of his children are Christians and have the same hope to which he held.
What we see tomorrow is not the end of the story. But if he were telling it, I’m sure that you wouldn’t forget how great a story it was!