What a privilege for me to share this Eulogy yesterday for Bill Ward.
My name is Paul Moore. I’m the pastor of Chain of Lakes Church a new Presbyterian church in Blaine. I got to know Bill through Rotary. On Wednesday mornings at 7:30 the Blaine-Ham Lake Rotary Club gathers in this space for a meeting. I’ve been a part of it for three to four years. Bill was a member of the club for the past 18 years.
One of the philosophies of Rotary is service above self. That was Bill—service above self. In his soft-spoken way he always looked for ways to serve. When Rotary had a breakfast meeting before doing a program at a school—Bill would bring the food; when a group from Rotary went on a special project in Guatemala, Bill took Kim and served. It didn’t matter to Bill that at the time he had cancer in his body. It was service above self.
He loved to help. A couple years ago his singing group offered singing Valentine’s for anyone who wanted to purchase one. Bill told us about it at a Rotary meeting. I bought a singing Valentine for my wife, Amy. Bill brought his group to sing for Amy, at her office. I’ve seen the video many times. As he was singing Bill couldn’t stop smiling. It was a smile we’ve all seen many times; I’m guessing we can picture it without even seeing a picture. As Bill sang he had his hand in front of him. He wasn’t conducting the group; he was so into the moment. He was fully alive—enjoying the happiness that his group was bringing to Amy. His hand gesture was more than just a movement. He was serving; he was helping—it was a helping hand. That was Bill—smiling—helping—serving. Service above self.
It was certainly shocking when Bill told us at Rotary about 22 months ago that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He was honest with us. “I have probably have six months to live,” he said. “Maybe less.” A few weeks later we gathered at Rotary and prayed for him. We prayed with all the spirit that we had. Those prayers were answered. Bill would often tell us what was happening with his cancer (such a role model of honesty). He would tell us when he was concerned; he was blunt at how hard it was to go through treatment; he would often ask if any of us knew of special treatments for the cancer. When he lived past six months he told us that with a smile. He shared that he wasn’t supposed to be here, but he was. He was here for 22 months.
It might be easy to say that Bill lost his battle with cancer—but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Bill encountered something that humans haven’t figured out how to beat. That had nothing to do with him. Bill won every day—when he laughed, when he helped, when he served.
And when he gave hugs. You ever experience a bear hug from Bill Ward? I told Bill often at Rotary how I was praying for him. We listed him on our congregation’s prayer sheet, so a lot of people were praying. He thanked me and often he hugged me. He would circle me like a bear and squeeze me so tight. He literally took my breath away. I can’t imagine someone stronger than Bill—and it wasn’t his physical strength. It was the strength of his spirit. He never lost that spirit.
As I shared just last year Bill and Kim traveled with others from Rotary to help in Guatemala. Another example of service above self. I didn’t go, but I saw the pictures. Pictures of Bill grinding coffee beans; pictures of Bill helping out at the work site, Bill sitting on a boat draped by a gorgeous blue sky. And then there was the smile. There he was—winning. Showing us how to live.
A lasting image I’ll carry with me of Bill was this past Christmas Eve. Bill came to worship at Chain of Lakes. As part of the service people brought gift cards for homeless youth in Anoka County. During the service everyone brought the gift cards forward to put in a Christmas stocking. Bill sat in an aisle seat and watched and smiled and rejoiced that people were being helped.
Bill wasn’t perfect—he was a Packers fan for goodness sake. He loved to wear that godawful Packers jacket. When the Packers beat the team in purple Bill would let us know. He wasn’t obnoxious about it. He just smiled.
I had the privilege of being with Bill and his family the night before he passed. Kim called me on Friday night and asked me if I would come pray. So I drove to the hospital. Bill was asleep. Kim asked if we should wake him up. “No, let him sleep.” I anointed his forehead with oil. Kim and their three kids and family and I grabbed hands around their bed. We prayed. I prayed that God might take him—for it was time. When the prayer was done Kim shared a story. Then she asked if anyone else had a story and everyone did. For we all had stories about Bill. It was beautiful. It was like we were serenading a man who so blessed us with his songs.
We’re sad today. Not for Bill for he’s singing in a better place. We’re sad for what we’ve lost. Wednesday mornings at Rotary won’t be the same for a while. But Bill is still with us. We carry his spirit inside of ours. And despite our sadness we can rejoice. That each of us had the privilege of knowing a man who was so willing to help and was so willing to serve. Thank you, Lord for giving us Bill Ward.