On June 11, 2019, MY DAD PASSED AWAY. He was 94. For 67 Father’s Days he has been here for me.
I’ve often wondered where my Dad’s patience flowed from. He needed it in great doses raising me. It must have sprung from his humility and deep sense of grace. I’ve often wondered though how he made the tough decisions and choices—the ones that always seemed to be good for us.
For example: early in my life, my parents wanted to instill and inspire a love of music in me, and my brother. When I was around 5 or 6 they bought a small accordian and started me in private lessons. Probably, one of my first acts of rebellion was hating that dang accordian—I don’t care how much they enjoyed the Lawrence Welk Show. I knew I wanted to play the drums. And I did, and they supported me beyond rational explanation.
By the late 60s, my Dad was pastor of a Baptist Church. The causes and the big sins that Baptists railed against over the years have varied. In that era, dancing was on the list. So, we have a Baptist preacher, and a Baptist preacher’s son who is playing drums in a little rock and roll band good enough that we played a lot of gigs—teen towns, school mixers and such. I have no doubt that my dad must have taken criticism—at least— over that, but he never mentioned it to me. He did have one rule: no matter what time I got home on a Saturday night from playing, I was expected to be in Sunday School the next morning, and awake until the benediction, around noonish. After that, I was allowed to join him in sleeping through the third quarter of the Dallas Cowboys game.
I often thought of asking him how he navigated that issue. But, all that matters is that he did, and to this day, there is a set of drums in my house that I play nearly every day. Each of my two sons have drum sets that they play regularly, including in their respective churches, which ironically would have never happened in a Baptist church in the 50s and 60s. You would have been more apt to find a pool table in the fellowship hall or a vegan casserole at a covered-dish dinner than a set of drums in the sanctuary.
We had Dad’s memorial service Friday. It was wonderful. I’m confident he would have loved it. Now that I think about it, we should have had a drum circle. He has three great-grandsons who are playing the drums. But, I’m not sure they allow drums at the Baptist Retirement Village.
I got the privilege of writing Dad’s obituary. I’ve included it here if you’re interested. I also got to do the welcome to start the service. It’s here too. Together there are a lot of words, but behind those words are beautiful memories and many grateful hearts.
WILLIAM LEE FULLER, was born October 28, 1924, in Dubach, Louisiana, the fourth of the six children of his parents, Chroley Smith Fuller and Bernice Colvin Fuller. He passed in complete peace on June 11, 2019 at 5:02 p.m. At his side, as she has been for more than 73 years, was his wife Mary.
He and Mary Ellen Rowden met at a skating rink, and as he loved to tell people, “They’ve been going around together ever since.” He was a new soldier in the Army stationed in Okmulgee, Oklahoma, where Mary was a beautiful high school cheerleader. Yes, this could be a Hallmark movie—which he would reluctantly watch as long as they could watch the ball game later. Most every morning for these 73 years their day would begin together at the breakfast table where they would read the daily entry from their devotional book and the sports page of the newpaper—not necessarily in that order. Those of us that knew them best knew that somehow in the remainder of each day they would be a blessing to someone.
Waiting for William when he entered the heaven he loved to preach about, into the arms of the Savior he loved to serve, were hundreds, including his mother and father, his siblings George Henry, Effie Louise, James Edward, and Chroley Smith Junior; his sisters-in-law Betty Hillman and Patsy Calico, and brothers-in-law Bob Hillman, Vernon Calico, and David Rowden and sister-in-law Joyce Rowden.
Those who are left here to celebrate his life, share amazing memories, and live in his legacy are his wife, Mary; two sons David Lee Fuller, his wife Arlene; and George Edward (Rusty) Fuller, and his wife Luann; his six cherished grandchildren: Wendy and husband Clark, Ashley and husband Noel, Corey and wife Kara, Misty and husband Matt, Zack and wife Hollie, and Kyle and his wife Brooke; and sixteen great grandchildren who are too important to him to not be named: Stephen, Sam, Tucker, Karlee, Jack, Adde, Gage, Harper, Hope, Porter, Haddie, Nora, Cannon, Everly, Lydia, Malachi, and one more on the way. William is also survived by his sister whom he dearly loved, Betty Ann Brady, his brother-in-law, Bill Rowden and many, many more relatives and friends.
William had a spirit of gentleness and humility. He had a deep sense of gratitude for many things: his family, his calling, the St. Louis Cardinals, and the makers of Community Brand coffee. He was a fan of the Oklahoma City Thunder, and as of the past few months became a raving fan of Good Shepherd Hospice. He was proud of his Louisiana heritage, and proud to be an Okie as well. William and Mary provided a wonderful, nurturing home, first in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and then wherever their call to ministry would take them. These last few years their home has been at the Baptist Retirement Village in Oklahoma City where the staff has become extended family to them.
William was humbled by his calling to serve, whether it was the call to serve in the Army during World War II, first here and finally in Belgium, or his call to serve as a Christian leader. Even the smallest church was important to William and his innovative ministry through day camps in camping and resort areas became a model for that kind of ministy.
He started the East Central Baptist Association youth camp near Lake Tenkiller and in fact, the recreation area there bears the Fuller name as a tribute to William and Mary for their service.
William’s sense of calling was rooted in the spirit of Bible verses like this:
“So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” —Luke 17:10 New International Version (NIV)
William Lee Fuller fought the GOOD fight.
Welcome. Thank you for coming.
Remember that letter, the first one that Paul wrote to the Corinthians? Remember his metaphor for the church—he called it a body and all the folks were the members of the body.
You know how when a part of the body is severed, like Van Gogh’s ear; in the medical field they call that dismembered, but when it’s sewn back on they don’t call it re-membered, but they should.
That’s what we’re doing today. We are re-membering with Dad. It happens every time we tell a story or look through pictures or talk to people who knew him, especially those whose lives where made better for having known him.
When we asked Dad several months ago what kind of service he wanted, he said, “I don’t need a church service. I want people to enjoy remembering good times. And I want you all to encourage your mother.”
So that’s what this is about. In a minute, some of his beloved great-grandchildren will read scripture. That’s the way he would have wanted it. Then his grandchildren whom he loved deeply will help us remember him through their stories and memories.
Then we will look at pictures together and listen to one of mom and dad’s favorite songs and one of mine. Then we will listen to one of Dad’s favorite hymns.
After that my little Brother Rusty will tie all of this together for us.
Then the Army honor guard will help us remember Dad’s service to our country during World War II.
I mentioned earlier that Dad said we didn’t need a sermon at this memorial. After the honor guard presentation, Doug Manning, Dad’s friend and fellow pastor from his days in Tulsa will bring a benediction. Our family met with Doug shortly after Dad’s passing. He asked if there would be a sermon at the service. We said no, and Doug said, “That’s the way it shoud be for your Dad. His life was the sermon.”
Remember that supper, the last one that Jesus had with his little band of brothers? Remember how he took bread and wine, he explained the metaphor to them, then he said do this wine and bread thing often and every time you do—remember me.
So, in that spirit:
Whenever you think of our mom, remember our dad.
Whenever you enjoy a hot, strong, black cup of coffee, remember him.
Whenever you hear the score of the St. Louis Cardinals game, remember their lifelong fan.
Whenever your fishing line gets tangled or you lose your golf ball in the woods, remember William.
When you think of all the kids, pastors and small churches he ministered to, think of Bro. Bill.
Whenever you find yourself wondering if there are any men of humility and integrity left, whose highest calling was to serve…
Oh, and after the benediction, hang around for awhile, because he also said he wanted this to be a time of fellowhip and people enjoying each other’s company.
HAPPY FATHER’S DAY DAD — ONE LAST TIME.