Bidding Farewell to a Great Man

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My wife’s father, my father-in-law, passed away Sunday morning. It was not entirely unexpected, as he had struggled with health problems for a few years. But his passing does leave a sort of hole in the world. It certainly makes me pause to reflect on what makes a man or woman great.

By most measures Ron was not remarkable. He lived most of his life quietly here in Eastern Idaho. He served a very short term in the military, but did not see combat or leave the states. He happily accompanied his wife, Marj, as she made some television appearances after she captained the world-record potato-peeling team—yes, my wife could be considered Idaho royalty by her mother’s accomplishment—but otherwise he travelled little.

Ron never held any lofty positions in the community or in the church. He received the Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver award last year, but made it clear that his service was always quietly in the background. He built race tracks for Cub Scouts and arranged chairs for their parents while others led the meetings and ceremonies.

So how can I call Ron a great man?

A man or woman’s greatness can be measured by the impact he or she left on the world. But it is not the size of the divot, or even the depth of the impact crater, left behind. Rather, it is whether the world is a little bit better place for having been in it.

Ron was generous. My wife and I marveled, even jested just a little, when they celebrated paying off their mortgage many years ago. That mortgage was $98 a month, but that was a significant amount as they made very little. They lived carefully within their meager resources. And yet they were generous when others were in need, even giving what little savings they had if it seemed others could benefit from it.

Ron loved to till his neighbors’ gardens. Even when otherwise incapacitated he made the rounds on his small garden tractor. He found joy in making it easier for them, even though most of them were both physically and economically capable of managing without him. He didn’t boast; he only quietly tilled the soil.

Ron and Marj had seven children. All are kind and decent. They also serve quietly in the background and concern themselves with the needs and heartaches of others. As they anticipated and then mourned their father’s passing each was concerned more about the pain of those around them than of their own pain.

The world is little bit better place for the rest of us for his having been here and leaving his mark upon it.

I realize I am one of his greatest beneficiaries, as it has been my privilege to be the husband of one of his children. Ruth is my favorite person in the world—kind, gentle and generous. She is occasionally excited that she gets to play some role in touching others for good, but doesn’t brag. She is her father’s daughter.

Early Sunday morning witnessed a moment of great romance. Ron had been released from the hospital just the day before, with no expectation of recovering. His small, frail body lay in the bed delivered by hospice, to be his resting place before his final resting place.

In the wee morning hours he reached out for Marj, the high school sweetheart he married 65 years ago. With some help she climbed into that hospital bed and for a couple of hours they cuddled, his arms holding her for one last time on this side of the veil that separates this world from the next.

Ron passed quietly, just as he had lived his life. Sunday his small home and yard were filled with his children and their spouses, many of his grandchildren and their spouses, and many of his great-grandchildren. This Saturday we will be gathered to lay his body to rest and to celebrate the great man who made my rich life possible.

Goodbye, Ron. And thank you so very, very much for being a great man, and making my life great.

I love you.


About the Author:

Michael Williams is a licensed psychotherapist, a Marriage and Family Therapist with over 25 years' experience. A specialist in quickly improving important relationships, he is also an expert in helping clients to quickly overcome problems with anxious, depressed or irritable moods.

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