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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

We Lost Two Humanitarians That Week

There are some people who were born to help others.  Not just a few, but multitudes.  A couple of weeks ago, the world lost two of them.  One was Nelson Mandella.  I don’t need to tell you about him.  A Google search turns up 1.5 billion results.  I’m going to tell you about someone lesser known, but who made an impact of countless lives, including mine.

He was Don Williams.  No, not the country music legend, just somene well-knowd in and around Greenwood, Arkansas.

He and his wife, Ann, were the first friends my parents made when we moved to the small town when I was almost 2 years old.  They and their three kids are part of the ever-shrinking group of people who knew me since before I can remember.  They’ve been like an uncle and aunt to me ever since.  The two families often went on camping trips and other activities together.

When I was in 1st grade, Santa Claus knocked at our door.  My brother, Mike, was three years old then and we were both ecstatic.  Santa sat on in front of the fireplace and we took turns sitting on his lap to tell him what we wanted.  I noticed Santa had shoes just like Don’s and thought Don must really know how to pick a good pair of those if he bought the same ones Santa wore.

The next year at Halloween the Williams family decorated their 3 bedroom ranch house as a haunted house.  They didn’t even charge people to go through it.  It was the early 70s.  Tmes were different and Greenwood was much smaller then.

Even after my family moved to Fayetteville a few years later, we never lost touch with them.  When we moved back seven years later, the friendship with them was like we’d never been gone.

In 1998 I was listed for a kidney/pancreas transplant.  When Don and Ann found out I needed to raise $50,000 because the pancreas wouldn’t be covered by Medicare, they organized a fund-raising committee.  A couple of weeks later, the first event took place.  They worked at that one and several others.

On that life-changing day in April, 1998 when I got The Call that a kidney and pancreas match was available, they actually beat the surgeon, who had to harvest the organs at a hospital a couple of hours away, to Oklahoma City.  More importantly, they waited with my parents during the 7 hour surgery.

When I woke up in ICU, the first two faces I saw were those of my parents.  The next two were Don and Ann.  How appropriate that they were there when I stopped being diabetic.  They drove two hours to visit me in the hospital when I was first diagnosed in 1977.

 I presented Don and Ann with the Greenwood Citizens of the Year award in October, 1998.  Pictured from left are Don, Ann, my mom, me, and my dad.

The list of humanitarian deeds Don did is long.  Even those closest to him probably couldn’t name them all.  Most of them had to do with helping those less fortunate.  Much of it was part of the United Methodist Church.  Others were as part of other organizations or on his own.  

Is it fair to compare Don to Nelson Mandella?  Well . . . yeah.  Okay, he never spent time behind bars, justly or not and his impact was on a much smaller scale.  But they shared a spirit of selflessness.  They both did all they could to lift up others.  Don was a Christan and the embodiment of the phrase “faith in action.”

I’ve often wondered if people who die around the same time are more likely to run into each other in the hereafter.  Maybe there’s some kind of orientation they do, kind of like freshman orientation at college.  Or maybe kindred spirits are naturally drawn to each other there.  I can picture Don in heaven, swapping notes with Nelson Mandella.

This isn’t the first time I’ve lost someone who had a positive impact on my life.  I know from experience that one of the best things you can do to keep someone’s memory alive is by doing things they did.  It doesn’t’ matter if you’re as good at it as they were.  Do it in rememberance of them and you just might feel their presence.  Since I’m talking about humanitarians, you know what I’m going to say next.

Uplift others whenever you can.  

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