“A Fine Christian Gentleman”
A Eulogy for John G. Willome, Jr. by his son (my father), John H. Willome
Mom used to say that her main desire in life was that her three sons grow up to be fine Christian gentlemen—like their dad. We heard that a lot, didn’t we, Tom and Mike? She seemed to say this when I had accomplished something that I was really impressed with. I often bristled when I heard her make this remark because I thought that whatever I had accomplished, in terms of my definition of success—position, power, money or prestige—was being discounted. Mom just held a longer view.
Both of my parents are gone now, and we are here celebrating Dad’s life. As I think about him, these are some attributes of my dad’s character that readily come to mind.
He was a devoted husband and loved our mother dearly. He knew how to treat a lady. He opened Mom’s door and always treated her with respect. Raising three sons wasn’t always easy, and he backed her up in dealing with us, always making sure that they had a unified front. He wouldn’t put up with our talking back to her for a minute. He shared in household chores with Mom—washing dishes, taking out the trash—and expected us to do the same.
He had a high respect for others and was always considerate. He didn’t gossip or talk about people behind their backs.
He smiled easily and had a hilarious laugh.
He was a humble man and totally unpretentious. With Dad, I never had to wonder about an ulterior motive. He was always up front.
He could keep a confidence. His clients trusted him with knowledge of their financial affairs: a trust he earned and treasured.
He had a deep and abiding faith in his Lord, Jesus Christ, and did everything he could to nurture the faith of his family.
He was absolutely dependable. You could take him at his word. I never knew him to tell even a white lie or not fulfill a commitment he made.
He taught us by his example that it was our responsibility to give back—to our church and our community—of our time and money.
He considered raising his sons and instilling character and values in us as one of his greatest responsibilities. He encouraged our involvement in church activities, scouting, music, sports, and the arts. He came alongside us to help us develop and take advantage of opportunities, even when he didn’t understand a particular interest we had. He sacrificed to make sure that all three of us had a college education—a benefit that he didn’t have—to prepare us for professional careers. He blessed us, affirmed us, and let us know how proud he was as we each pursued our individual uniqueness. He loved our wives and cherished the time he spent with his grandchildren.
I’ve learned that the real measure of a man is to watch how he suffers. Dad suffered with Alzheimer’s disease for over seven years. After Mom passed away, he gave up his freedom and moved to Texas. He did this to ease the burden on us. He never whimpered or complained about the pain and indignity that beset him as this insidious disease raged his mind and body. The one thing the disease count’ touch was his unshakeable character. At the end of his life, living in a place that sometimes seemed like a “coo-coo’s nest,” he never gave up his dignity. As I watched him suffer, I saw in him the incarnation of Jesus. My dad suffered like a gentleman.
As I reflect on my Dad’s life, I realize that Mom was right. Dad was a fine Christian gentleman, and saying that is the highest tribute that I could ever pay him.
He is my hero and I love him deeply.
Dear God, my dad ran across the text of his eulogy for his father recently and emailed it to me yesterday. I read it this morning, and it brought tears to my eyes. My grandfather wasn’t perfect. No one is. And he would have been the first to tell you he wasn’t perfect. He knew he needed Jesus’s blood and your forgiveness. But all of that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a fine Christian gentleman.
Of all of the people in history, if I could have a few hours over dinner with anyone it would be my grandfather. I’d talk to him about all sorts of things I want to know. I want to know more about him growing up and his mother dying when he was a late teen. I’d like to know about his dad remarrying and having another set of children about the age of his own children. About his dad’s alcoholism and his response to that. About his marriage. About raising his boys. About how he responded to them as adults. What it looked like from thousands of miles away when my own parents had marital problems. How he sees it all now from a heavenly perspective. How he sees my life: my successes and my failures. My struggles with my children and different familial relationships. I would love to get some counsel from him. He would have a different perspective on everyone I know than I do. From his wife (my grandmother) to my parents, to my aunts and uncles, to my siblings and cousins.
Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when I was 22 and just married. Frankly, even if it had happened three years later I probably still would have missed the window. It’s only been in the last several years that I’ve longed for a conversation with him. My dad described him well, but there is something he left out. He was a man of few words. He was quiet. But I think we secretly have a lot in common. He apparently liked sports like I do, but he had to be a little more quiet about it because my grandmother didn’t give him as much latitude in that area as my wife does. I still remember going to a Spurs basketball game with him after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and had moved to Texas. The other team was shooting free throws and he actually heckled the free throw shooter! I was shocked. “Boooooo!” he yelled. It was awesome. I don’t think I had ever been more impressed with him.
Father, I don’t know that I have anything deep and meaningful to say except that I am grateful for this kind of legacy. I’m grateful for what was passed down to my dad, and what has been passed down to me. I don’t know to what extent I have passed this to my children. I really don’t. But I know I didn’t hold anything back from them. They got my absolute best effort, starting with worshipping you as best I knew how at any given moment. Like my grandfather, I am certainly not perfect. I need Jesus my savior. I need your grace. I need your love. I need you.
I pray all of this in Jesus’s name,