Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

November 10, 2019


Making a difference when hearts are broken


            When our friends lose a loved one, we want them to know we care about their pain. We do that in different ways. We may send cards, flowers or sometimes a book about grief. We may attend the funeral or the visitation. We may call to offer our condolences in a more personal way.

            My friend Ed Williams has taught me an additional way to offer sympathy to those who are struggling with sorrow. Ed often sends others a unique blessing – the gift of his memories of the deceased. Having taught journalism at Auburn University for almost 30 years, Ed has stored in his memory bank many precious memories of his students. Since retirement, he enjoys rich friendship by keeping in touch with many of his students. When death invades their ranks, Ed sometimes offers the gift of memories he can recall.

            Ed’s memories extend back into the years he spent in the newspaper business before he became an Auburn professor. Gifted with a remarkable memory, Ed can recall events and conversations with many friends made in several Alabama towns. One of those friends died recently at the young age of 36, a man named Wilson Pippin. He and his family were special friends of Ed’s for many years. Ed had visited in their home many times and Ed had known Wilson since he was a little boy.

            When Wilson died, his mother Babs called Ed and asked him to select a scripture for the funeral that reminded him of Wilson when he was a young boy. Ed chose a verse from Psalms 127 – “Children are a gift from the LORD; they are a real blessing” (Good News Translation).  The family’s pastor used that verse in his eulogy in the memorial service at the Methodist Church in Lagrange, Georgia in October.

            Ed explained to Babs and her husband Mike that he believed God gave Wilson to them as a gift for 36 years before taking him home. And, he added, “Wilson was also a blessing and a gift to me and thousands of others who came into his life.” But Ed did more than provide a verse of scripture; he shared with the family the gift of his memories of Wilson.

            He recalled a time after a visit with the family that they had gone to breakfast at the Waysider Restaurant. Wilson was a young boy and Ed was carrying him. Wilson turned to a man, a stranger, in the restaurant “and in his chirpy, friendly little voice said, ‘This is my Uncle Ed.” That Ed would remember that after so many years reveals how much that moment meant to Ed.

            Ed shared about the time he took Wilson to an Auburn football game. “Wilson never met a stranger so he talked nonstop to a stranger, the man sitting next to him. At halftime the man swapped places with his wife. Wilson understood why. He said to Ed, ‘He is not very friendly.’”

            “One time at Christmas,” Ed said,  we were sitting on the deck at the Pippin house in Selma, and Wilson was about 10 when he sang every single word of that Garth Brooks song ‘Papa Loved Mama, Mama Loved Men.’ A perfect rendition, every word, even down to the Garth Brooks twang. It was so cute and of course before the days of video cell phones.  I wish I had a recording of it.”

            Ed also shared about the tender moment experienced when he was leaving to come home after a Christmas visit with the Pippins. “Wilson,” he recalled, “put his arms around my neck and squeezed and held so tight and for so long I thought he would never let go. He was an affectionate little boy, and he always gave me that bear hug.  I wish that I could hug him today. Precious memories!”

            I can only imagine the difference it made to Wilson’s parents for Ed to send them the gift of his memories. If we were to follow Ed’s example, surely it would be a blessing to our friends when they are struggling with grief. As the song says, precious memories do linger, and for that we can be thankful. Perhaps they linger so we can share them as a gift to hurting people.    + + +