Note: The following is a transcript of the eulogy I gave at my stepfather’s memorial service on July 24, 2013. I am presenting it here for those who were unable to attend the services:
In a land and time when so many are fatherless, I have been blessed to have two fathers. Thanks to the theological scholarship of these men I learned so much more than the average person about God’s word and having a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Yesterday, Robin, Michael, Shelby, Kelli, and I were reminiscing about Walter (Dad) over breakfast. I asked then, and have asked many other family members since, if anyone knew why Walter preferred to wear these [holds up one of Walter’s “Newsy” caps] flat caps. The answer appears to simply be because he liked them.
The image of Dad wearing these caps is burned into my mind. Many of you have probably seen Walter Garland wearing a “news boy cap” frequently as he walked to and from these church buildings over the years. I searched online and found that these caps are most often referred to as “Newsboy caps”. I thought: how coincidental is it that Dad’s preferred head covering is named after men who delivered the news in times past.
Walter was a news boy in a spiritual sense. He devoted much of his life to spreading the gospel; the “good news” that salvation is available to all mankind through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Isaiah 52:7 says:
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news; who proclaims peace; who brings glad tidings of good things; who proclaims salvation; who says to Zion: “Your God reigns!”
As many of us know, Walter’s vocation led him to become a leader in Christian education. The thousands of lives and minds he influenced throughout his career will multiply exponentially as his former students live out their lives and in turn teach their children and grandchildren.
Speaking of children and grandchildren, Walter Garland became a devoted step-father and grandfather the day he married my mother. It is a tribute to Walter’s spirit of acceptance that he tolerated certain aspects of the Frazier and Wilemon family cultures.
One of the most commonly told anecdotes regarding Walter’s early shocking discoveries about our somewhat hillbilly style of childcare was his horror when he walked into his San Antonio kitchen to discover his newly acquired grandbaby Justin being bathed by Mom and Shelby in the kitchen sink.
He reacted by exclaiming, “You’re washing that kid in the sink? That’s where we wash our dishes!”
Sometimes we put Walter through trauma in a more physical sense. The Frazier boys have motor oil in their veins. Michael, who is a master mechanic and has a way of coaxing extraordinary horsepower out of internal combustion engines, invited Walter to go for a ride in his Malibu drag racer one day. As Walter buckled into the passenger seat, Michael asked, “This is going to be pretty intense; are you ready?
“I guess.” Walter replied.
Walter was NOT ready.
Michael launched the Chevy dragster and almost immediately attained what us Frazier boys refer to as “extra-legal” speed. Walter went into a g-force induced wail of “Whoop-whoop-whoop…” and capped it off with a shout of “SLOW DOWN!!!”
In the years since Walter has allowed himself to be repeatedly slimed by grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and dogs. He’s been a warm and loving father and grandfather to us all. Those of you who know Walter’s penchant for cleanliness and his constant battle against germs will realize how much of a challenge those sticky hands and faces must have been.
Mother, as I said before, you did a wise and wonderful thing when you married Walter Garland. You brought this family a precious gift in him, and we are forever grateful to you and Walter for your prayers, guidance, and living examples of love, faith, endurance, and loyalty.
George and Judy, I am so glad to finally know you. One day I and/or my siblings will experience the special pain of losing a brother or sister. For now I can only imagine your loss and marvel at the way you have supported us, my mother, and your brother in these last days. George, you truly are a rock, and cut from the same magnificent cloth as your brother Walter.
It is a testament to the quiet humility of Dad that he wanted his memorial service to be centered upon the salvation provided by Jesus Christ, and that we not dwell upon his substantial scholarly and spiritual accomplishments.
I understand that desire, but I know he will forgive me for pointing out that his very wish to take a back seat is worthy of exaltation.
Luke 14:7-11 says:
So he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noted how they chose the best places, saying to them:
“When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; and he who invited you and him come and say, “Give place to this man”, and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place.
But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, “Friend, go up higher.” Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit with you.
For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
Walter Fleming Garland is alive and well today in the presence of God.
Walter, my friend, my dad, “Go higher”, and sit now in a place of honor prepared for you. We long for the day when we shall see you again.
Thank you all for being here to celebrate the life of our beloved husband, stepfather and grandfather, Walter Fleming Garland.
Walter walked the straight and narrow way without the dings against the guardrails that so many of us experience. He was unwavering in his faith, despite enduring great pain and waging an epic personal battle against illness over his final decade.
He devoted his adult working life to the gospel, the study of God’s word, and the Christ based education of thousands in their formative years.
Walter advised and supported me personally through some very difficult life experiences. He was always available to talk, and to listen, and he had a way of providing advice that was so gentle and non-patronizing that I often didn’t realize he had helped me reach the right conclusion until after I’d arrived.
As Walter Fleming Garland left this earthly existence to be welcomed into the loving arms of the God he served early this past Sunday morning, I was honored and grateful to have been touched by his life and testimony, and to have been in his presence in his final days.
Walter, “Dad” – we are grateful to you for your assumption of the mantle of father and grandfather left by the earlier passing of our beloved father Ted Frazier. We love you and we look forward to joining you in the joy and contentment of your new life. Thank you for your loving care and faithfulness to our mother, and for being a shining example of a husband and family leader.
I think I know the very words that greeted you as you left this existence in a flight that was faster than light itself and arrived at the threshold of your eternal home: “Well done, my good and faithful servant”.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. – II Timothy 4:7-8
There’s one good thing about having suffered large areas of second and third degree burns when I was nineteen and UPPP (Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty) surgery a couple years back: I can honestly say I’ve felt worse pain than my recovery from spine surgery over the last several weeks.
The good news is Dr. Ramnath eliminated 100% of my sciatic pain and my legs feel like they’re nineteen again. The bad news is I still have months to go before I’m fully recovered, and I’m starting the full scale physical therapy portion next Monday.
Pain levels are tolerable with the help of muscle relaxers and an occasional Vicodin now, except for rare sneezing fits such as the one brought on by last night’s hay fever attack as Robin and I were in the back yard observing the super moon. I ended up frozen in a stooping position for about five minutes with tears running down my cheeks as it felt like I’d been shot in the lower back with a nail gun.
Sneezing is a manly exercise in my family. When we do it we engage every fiber of our being in the event; as if expelling an evil spirit from our very soul. Dogs have been known to start barking several neighborhoods away when I or one of my brothers sneeze out doors in the middle of the night.
I’ve sneezed with broken ribs before…sneezing with a mending spine is a tad bit worse. For a second I was sure I’d popped one of those titanium rods right out of its socket.