On behalf of my mother, my sister, and my father’s parents, I must tell you how truly honored my family is by the outpouring of love we have received during the last few weeks. My father, somewhere is desperately trying to act humble as he beams with pride at how many people turned out for his funeral. This would have made him so happy.
I am honored today that my mom and sister have entrusted me with the privilege of eulogizing my father, though truthfully, I asked them to let me. I must say that I am grateful that the actual interment of his ashes at the cemetery happened yesterday. Today will be a celebration of my dad’s life. Holding a viewing, with his casket open up here up front would’ve prolonged the grieving process; we’re not going to do that today. It’s okay to cry because we miss him, but don’t shed tears thinking that he suffered; he died at peace, surrounded by his family. I am confident that when my dad died, he was so sedated and his brain so diseased, that he didn’t know that he had died.
The obituary published in the AJC yesterday was not the complete obituary that we wrote for my dad. To begin his eulogy, I’ll read the complete obituary to you, and then follow with a few remarks.
John McLarty Williams Jr., “Johnny Mac” to his family, CEO of Efolder, Inc., died October 30, 2007 at Emory Hospital of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease; he was 57. He is survived by his wife of 37 years, Laura of Acworth, GA; his children Mac of Hartsville, SC and Susanna Marie of Moss Beach, CA; his parents John M. Williams Sr. & Norma Williams of Moreland, GA; his sister Sherry Connell of Toomsboro, GA; his sister Connie Craig of Moreland, GA; his grandchildren Marley Xiomara and John McLarty Williams IV, “Jack,” who will greatly miss their “Pappy Mac”; his aunts Harriet Jensen of Newnan, GA, Glenna Blair of Sacramento, CA; Artie Blair of CA; and his Aunt Tina and Uncle Loren Blair of Winston-Salem, North Carolina; his father-in-law Raymond Buckner of Canton, GA; his favorite, as he put it, daughter-in-law Mickelle; many nieces and nephews, scores of cousins, hundreds of friends, and countless colleagues and business associates.
Johnny Mac was born in Atlanta, Georgia on August 11, 1950. He grew up on Baxter Road in Atlanta, GA, playing with his good friend Freddie Henderson of Dallas, GA. He graduated high school from Woodward Academy in 1968. After an abortive attempt at a football career at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1968 he enlisted in the US Navy, and in December of 1969 he married his first love, Laura Ellen Buckner. He served in Vietnam, Sicily, Scotland, New Jersey, and Charleston, SC as a Naval Minesman. After receiving an honorable discharge from the Navy in 1973, he returned to Samford to pursue a degree in Accounting with a minor in Computer Science. While at Samford, he and Laura had their first child, John McLarty Williams III, in 1973. At Samford, Johnny Mac became lifelong friends with Susie Waterson, Jodi Hobson, Mike Brand, and Burt Luce of Ft. Lauderdale, FL; through the years Burt, Mike, Kennny Vance, and my Dad spent countless days together sailing around the Bahamas and the Florida Coast. In fact Burt is stuck in the Bahamas right now because of Hurricane Noel. If my dad were alive today, he’d be in the Bahamas with Burt.
After graduating from Samford in 1975, Johnny Mac worked in a family business as a professional apiarist, raising honeybees and making honey. In January of 1980, he and Laura celebrated the birth of their beautiful daughter Susanna Marie. After three years of drought in the early 1980’s and the removal of tariffs against imported honey ruined the bee business, he found that his interest in computer science in college served him well in the emerging personal computer market of the 1980s. He would spend most of that decade commuting between Atlanta and California as he worked for various companies, including Vice President of Sales for Eagle Computer.
Tiring of the strain of constantly traveling, in 1990 Johnny Mac founded his own company, SafeNet, Inc., and worked in the Atlanta area during the bulk of the 1990s. In the last few years, he devoted all of his talents to the growth of his new enterprise, the now-thriving Efolder, Inc., along with his business partners Bill Gross of Sandy Springs, GA, Lynn Christensen of Kennesaw, GA, and Kevin Hoffman of West Lafayette, IN.
Johnny Mac was a member of the Allatoona Ward of the Marietta East Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, serving as the Ward Clerk up until his illness no longer allowed him to fulfill his duties. He had a personal testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, and that families can be together forever through Our Heavenly Father’s Plan.
An avid fishermen, often found sporting a cap that read “Women Love Me, Fish Fear Me,” if he could’ve, Johnny Mac would have spent every day of his life, save the Sabbath, fishing the waters of Apalachicola Bay, Florida. He enjoyed making music boxes and turning wood on a lathe with his good friend John Mitchell of Acworth, GA, playing with his grandchildren, and telling some of the most hyperbolic and wonderfully interesting stories you’ve ever heard. A true Southern storyteller, he had a knack for knowing how to spin a perfect yarn and make his audience erupt into laughter or tears.
Anytime there was a disaster, Johnny Mac would hurry to bring aid. He served as a volunteer firefighter in the Dillard, GA fire department. In 1992, he rushed to Homestead, Florida, after Hurricane Andrew struck, to help with the relief efforts. In his later years, somewhat limited physically, Johnny Mac still lent his organizational skills to relief efforts, lovingly bossing people around disaster areas from Pensacola, Florida to New Orleans, Louisiana after hurricanes Ivan and Katrina ravaged those areas. He was still planning to go back to New Orleans to help people rebuild their homes when the disease caused him to slip from consciousness. He loved working with people, being part of a team (provided he got to tell people what to do), and he had an infectious enthusiasm that motivated others to do their best.
Johnny Mac will be greatly missed.
My dad’s illness destroyed his brain. We don’t know really when, if ever, he fully checked out of consciousness, but I’ve taken comfort lately that perhaps God worked a secret miracle for my father. Let me explain. The Argentine author, Jorge Luis Borges, wrote a short story called “The Secret Miracle.” In this story, the day the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia, a Jewish playwright is sentenced to death by firing squad. The man is a playwright, and feels like he never got the chance to finish his masterpiece. He prays and asks God to grant him the time to finish it. When the day of execution arrives, he is placed against a wall, and right when the Germans pull the triggers, the drop of sweat on his face stops sliding, and the world pauses. He hears a voice tell him that the time he needed has been granted. He can’t move, has no bodily needs, and is able to think and work on his play. He spends what we would consider a year on the play, all the while in suspended animation, and at the exact moment his finishes the play, the drop of sweat slides down his face, and the bullets end his life. While to the Germans, it was instantaneous, to him it was well over a year. God worked a secret miracle for him. I like to think that perhaps my dad had something similar; that while he was buried alive in that diseased body, that the Lord gave his spirit some sort of fun time, that my dad dreamt that he was hauling in redfish two at a time near Bird Island in Apalachicola, or that he finally hooked the biggest catch ever, that my dad caught a blue whale on a pogie minnow. That that during all that time, he was always “holding his mouth right.”
If I have one main regret about something I never did with my father, it is this: If ever a person were in more need of a comic roast, it was John Williams. We missed a golden opportunity to completely embarrass him in public. Imagine him sitting up on the stage in the gym, in a chair of honor, as we all came up to the podium and told our best Johnny Mac story. I can picture his face; he would have tilted his head to the side, drawn in his bottom lip like this, and laughed quietly while his cheeks blushed and he did his embarrassed Johnny Mac smile. Oh Dad, I’m sorry we never roasted you. We can’t really do it now, cause he’s not here to defend himself, but maybe one little story won’t hurt.
We all know that my Dad had a knack for saying something really touching, and then following it with something perhaps a little inappropriate. And then again sometimes, he’d just spurt out something wholly inappropriate without thinking, especially in the high priests group. I’m reminded of an egregious example from February of 2001. When my maternal grandmother passed away, her burial took place in Weaverville, North Carolina. The next day, my grandpa wanted to go by and view the grave after the soil was put back in. Grandma and Grandpa had purchased side by side plots at a graveyard there. While we were looking at the grave, with grandpa standing right next to him at the foot of his wife’s grave, and my dad standing on grandpa’s future grave, he did this motion, and said, in his loud voice, “Yep, we’ll bury grandpa right here someday.” Thankfully my grandpa is as deaf as a statue. That was my Dad.
But more often, my dad knew the exact thing to say. When my mom had her wisdom teeth removed, my dad, though cursed with an atrocious singing voice, tenderly sang the words to Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” to my mom to comfort her, and it worked, because she stills get weepy thinking about it.
When I was a missionary, from 1993-1995, my father kept a journal. He addressed his journal to me every day and wrote to me about the trials and successes he faced during those two years I was gone. He was involved in building up a company, stressed by the responsibility of keeping it going and keeping people employed.
In early August, when my dad was really starting to show serious symptoms, which we believed to be an acute manic episode, I found the journal that my dad had written to me. That night, I read almost every page of it. I felt this special bond to my Dad. I know, for a fact, without a shadow of a doubt now, that I was meant to read that journal then. I knew in my heart that something was wrong, terribly wrong, with my dad. I could feel it. I wanted to reach out to him, but couldn’t say the words out loud to him. This is what I wrote to him:
From: Mac Williams [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] Sent: Friday, August 10, 2007 2:44 AMTo: Dad Dad Daddio
Subject: One for Another
Tonight, I was going through a box of all my stuff I got out of storage when I found the journal you kept for me during my mission. I was immediately drawn to it; now that time and forgetfulness have waged war on my memory, I couldn't put it down. I read almost all of it tonight. You were so frank with your thoughts and feelings and spiritual struggles.I think of how the other night I really wanted you to come join us for dinner, and how you didn't. We wanted you there, I wanted you there. We weren't trying to leave you alone. While I was honored at the time you gave the journal to me, admittedly I only ever gave it a cursory look.
Today, I see just how difficult those two years were on you. I thank you so much for you labor of love for me. I am going to put this on my bookshelf and cherish it alongside my most highly prized books. When I finished it, it brought a tear to my eye. I love you so much Dad.I began to think back to what I was doing on those days when you wrote how hard a day you had, and now that I'm older I can understand better the trials you went through to provide for us. I can't really tell you how much I appreciate this journal now.....more than I ever could have imagined I would that night you gave it to me so long ago. I hope I didn't seem too indifferent to it back then, that I didn't stomp all over your excitement in giving it to me. I was young and foolish at the time, so if my reaction wasn't what you had hoped for then, please know that now I am indeed grateful. I'll try and do the same thing for Jack some day.
I'm fighting back the tears right now as I write this email at 2:30 in the morning, with my babes and my babe fast asleep in the back of the house.
You are an excellent father.
I love you,
...Somehow I knew that my dad and I wouldn’t have much more time together. I fought the feeling at the time, but I now I see clearly what happened. I sent the email and went to bed. I found this response in the morning:
RE: One for Another
From: John Williams - SafeNET (email@example.com)
Sent: Fri 8/10/07 3:12 AM
To: 'Mac Williams' (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Now that you are a tested father, you understand why I did it. You and Susanna are so important to me. By writing down what I was doing and feeling, I left you a gift that is better than an antique.The reason I did not meet you the other night is my health. I am having a rough time lately and my energy level is low and I am not getting any rest…as you can see from the time-stamp. The last week has been a week from hell.I love you son.
This was the last meaningful correspondence/conversation I had with my father, and the last normal week he ever had.
It is priceless to me.
In 1990, my Dad remembered his religion, and began striving to be like Jesus Christ. As we all know, actually trying to be like Jesus is really hard to do, but that didn’t stop him from trying. While my dad was not perfect by any means, there were some things that he was able to master. My dad was impeccably honest in business dealings. For those of you who remember when we still had blue laws in Cherokee County, one Sunday in 1985, my dad decided we needed to scrape all the rust off the metal staircase outside of our home and repaint it. This wasn’t going to be an easy task, involving hours of sanding and scraping. We sat in the parking lot of the K-Mart at the corner of 92 & Bells Ferry waiting for it to open at noon. When it finally did, we went into the garden section to get the stuff we needed. This was before the days of check cards and easy to use credit cards. My Dad had no cash on him, ATMs didn’t really exist at the time, the banks were all closed, and he only had one check left in his checkbook. We gathered all the stuff we needed, including a wire brush drill bit that would’ve made the job a snap. I was so excited, because scraping rust off with naval jelly and a wire brush while standing on a ladder was hard work. So, this drill bit was my new best friend. We got in line to check out of K-Mart. As we were in the garden section, there was a long line of people behind us waiting to check out; we had all waited outside for the one thing we needed, and we all quickly grabbed it. There were 6 or 7 people in line. The man rang up all our stuff, my dad wrote out the check, we got ready to go and then I realized that I had left the drill bit in the top part of the cart. I was visibily saddened. We didn’t have another check. The employee said, it’s okay, just take it. I was thrilled, but my dad said, “no thank you.” I said, “come on dad, he said we could have it.” My dad gave me that unmistakable look that meant “mind your tongue boy.” We left the drill bit on the counter. When we got outside, so as not to scold me in public, my dad told me that he was disappointed in me. I questioned why he hadn’t taken it, when the employee had given us permission to take it. My Dad said, “Son, it belongs to K-Mart, not the cashier; it wasn’t his to give us.” That lesson exemplifies my Dad’s ethics, and I’ll never ever forget how well he taught me right from wrong.
My Dad lived his life the best he could, and tried to help out other people along the way. He was a team builder; he loved to involve others in what he was doing. Granted, he did love being in charge, or helping out at the higher echelons of power, but, my Dad’s purpose in life was to serve other people. After Hurricane Katrina, he would work far beyond the capacity that his body could handle, and would pay for that sacrifice physically with painfully swollen feet and ankles. As an employer of people, he took his responsibility to other people’s families very seriously, oftentimes foregoing paying himself so that he could meet payroll. He hired people that others wouldn’t even have interviewed, and trained them in new careers, changing their lives along the way. He liked helping people help themselves. He was a fisher of men.
As a father, he would do anything for his children. And as a grandfather, well, he would have done anything, including giving his own life willfully for Marley or Jack. It was that selflessness of character that made the decision to give dad’s brain to the National Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Center a no-brainer (pardon the pun—he and Jim Pruitt would’ve loved that cheesy joke). I think they put “Surveillance” in the name of the research center, just to make it sound cooler for my dad. If someone else could be spared the woe of this illness, my dad would’ve insisted that we give his entire body for research. Nope, they just wanted him for his brains, on Halloween.
My dad loved people. I really can’t count all of the people that my dad considered his friends. Certainly he loved Burt Luce, John Mitchell, and Freddie Henderson like brothers. My Dad loved Louis and Jennifer Debroux like they were his own kids. When one of their children was getting baptized, and my dad was too sick to attend, he insisted that I go so that a member of our family would be in attendance. The Debrouxs are family. Their presence at his bedside when he died was perfect. It would’ve been harder without them there, and them being there is exactly what my dad would’ve wanted.
The Schulzke children, oh good grief, he bragged on them almost as much as he bragged on Kevin Hoffman. My dad viewed others’ successes as wonderful accomplishments. He was never a jealous man; he was often more excited for someone’s feat than they were themselves, like when my cousin Marty finally beat him in arm wrestling. My dad loved family more than anything else. I don’t think the man ever got into a swimming pool without immediately offering to throw his nieces and nephews from off his shoulders, or to dunk my cousin Jared. He loved that his niece Carrie Lynn shared his same birthday of August 11th. He loved to tell stories of taking Robbie to Six Flags and the zoo; he loved to complain about the mimosa trees his dad planted in their backyard because Nanny liked them in bloom; and he loved fishing with any of his nieces and nephews capable of holding their own pole.
The man did love to fish, didn’t he? I spoke with Captain Jimmy Maxwell on Thursday, and he told me, “I just lost my best customer and a good friend.” He was really upset, not because of the decrease in business, but because he and my dad shared a love of fishing that they both liked to call “therapy.” These are the kind of men that would fish through a blizzard, because they loved it so. Fittingly, he and I are going to scatter a little portion of my Dad’s ashes out at Bird Island in Apalachicola Bay the next time I make it down there to fish.
My Dad never had to do what I’m doing today; he never knew the sting of losing a parent. I can’t imagine the sorrow my dad’s parents feel right now. He was so young, too young to die, but few people are ever able to decide the circumstances of their own death. Nanny & Papa, no one should ever have to bury their own child; it is a dreadful thing. Though we would love for Dad to be here right now, it’s not to be. The Lord needed Johnny Mac for some other purpose.
The Spanish poet, Jorge Manrique, lost his father on November the 11th, 1476, and he penned these lines that his father spoke telling him not to resist death.
y consiento en mi morir
con voluntad placentera,
clara y pura,
que querer hombre vivir
cuando Dios quiere que muera 455
Translated, “And I consent in my death, with clear, pure, and peaceful willfulness, that wanting a man to live, when God wants him to die, is craziness. I’ll admit, it doesn’t translate well, but you get the sentiment. If this death hadn’t found him, some other one would’ve. And you all know that my dad is bragging to Sterling Eide about how he went out from a one in a million disease. Sterling, ever the Viking, would counter, “John, we Norwegians prefer glorious death in combat to your puny celebrity diseases.” As I’ve called and spoken to many of y’all on the phone, people keep telling me, “That’s just like your Dad, leave it to him to die of some one-in-a-million disease.”
But, my dad’s gone now. It is real. I touched his dead hand and recoiled from the chill in his flesh. We put his ashes in the ground yesterday. He’s not coming back until the trumpet is sounded, the Earth shakes, and the Savior comes again to reign. So for now, I’ll take comfort in knowing that my father finished his work here on the earth, that he died at peace, with his family, surrounded by those he loved, and that as his heart struggled against, and then finally yielded to, the attack on his poisoned body, my father was singing a song in his heart like this one by Bob Marley:
Fly Away Home to Zion,
fly away home……
…..One bright morning, when my work is over, man I’m gonna fly away home.
Your work is over Dad; fly away home.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.