The following is a eulogy I delivered last Saturday at the funeral mass for my father-in-law, William C. Grist. He served his country in the Air Force, federal civil service, and as the County Judge in Logan County, Arkansas. A devoted wife, five children and a host of in-laws, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and friends mourn his passing. Today would have been his 80th birthday.
I didn’t know Bill when he was a farm boy here in Logan County wearing underwear made from flour sacks, though I’ve heard lots of stories. Nor did I know him when he was a young US airman in Tripoli before Ghadaffi, or in Germany, or when he did two tours of duty in Vietnam, but I’ve heard good stories about those, too. I came into the family after the adventure and the wonders of an Alaska experience that predated statehood and shaped his family’s love for the great Northwest. I missed the years at GSA in Auburn and met Bill first in retirement here in Paris.
When Judi brought me home to “meet the parents” I didn’t end up in a basement room hooked up to a polygraph machine as in the movie with Ben Stiller and Robert DeNiro. But I did end up on that first night at Grandma Gracie’s house for a supper of deer meat and a chance to meet the whole larger ‘Grist” family. Harold and Cecil and Lila Mae were all there and so was Snooks. And can I just say God bless Snooks who has been such a faithful friend and brother, but especially in these last months. And the same goes for Reggie, Pat and Bills 6th child. Some say Reggie is the problem child, but some say he’s the favorite. Anyway, on my first night meeting the family, I was at a place where everybody told jokes and tall tales and laughed and where they all called him “William.”
One night not long after Judi and I got married, I was at home in NWA watching the local news on the little 12 inch television Bill and Pat had given us and the news anchor led in to a story from Logan County about a local charity event in which some of the prominent local men were dressing as women and participating in a “beauty-less” pageant. No sooner had they announced the premise, when I yelled “Judi you’ve got to see this---your Dad is on TV!” And there was Bill in a long gown and heels, wearing a wig and waving gamely at the camera with a flirtatious smile. Now Bill was a handsome man, but he was a really ugly woman so when we called to tell him we’d seen him on TV it was no surprise to find out that he won first prize.
I did know him when he decided to abandon retirement to run for Logan County judge. Judi and I came here on many Saturdays and stood in front of IGA or Wal Mart in Paris or Booneville and handed out campaign literature asking people to give him their vote. And though he was as yellow dog a Democrat as my own father, he was willing to look the other way and let a Republican campaign for him. This was a cause I believed in—Judi and I knew he’d be a great county judge, and he was. I am sure that neither before nor since has anyone done better at wisely stewarding the county’s resources and no one has been more committed to serving the public good. And he kept that job until it just interfered too much with flying and fishing and his and Pat’s ability to hit the road in their camper to see family in the Northwest and in DC.
Bill loved his family. I’ll never forget the example he set when Pat was sick a few years back, the way he cared for her and the concern he showed for her health and well-being. And of course the way she has returned the favor has inspired us all. God bless you, Pat.
And he loved his children. Even though we’ve all been separated a lot by distance and circumstance, I always felt like I knew a lot about all of Judi’s siblings and in-laws. And maybe more than anything else, I knew about Eddie’s life as a pilot, the current aircraft in the fleet he supervises, the places he was going and where he’d be in the days ahead. Yes, we all know lots of stories about Eddie
He was good to all his sons-in-law and his daughter-in-law, too. And I think from speaking to any of us you’ll see the degree of love and affection we each felt for him. When Frank toasted him at last weekend’s wedding, we were all in tears.
But I want to speak for just a moment to his grandchildren. As evidenced from the things you’ve said, from your Facebook postings, and from things like the look in the faces of my own children when I had to bear to them the painful news on Wednesday morning that Grandpa had left us---you loved him and you knew how much he loved you. He joked with you and had fun with you. He told you so stories that you were never quite sure whether to believe or not. But he also prodded you to do your best, to become responsible citizens and productive men and women, to make the most of your opportunities. You know how much he cared about your good grades and your achievements. He did that because he wanted what was best for you. And you in turn honored him with your love and affection. Only last week we celebrated Alyson and Bryce’s wedding in Washington and it was of course no coincidence that Alyson chose to get married on Sept. 17, Bill and Pat’s 56th wedding anniversary. She so loved her grandfather that she had asked him to officiate the ceremony. Each of you loved and respected him and you knew he loved you. That’s a gift which can never be taken away from you for the rest of your lives.