On the last day of February, our family had the sad privilege of attending the memorial service for my father-in-law, Reverend William C. Moore.
Struck down suddenly by an aggressive form of lymphoma, Grandad’s illness lasted less than 8 weeks before he died at the Mayo Clinic on February 22. We are still in shock at how quickly he moved from robust health to kidney, liver, lung and heart failure as a result of this deadly cancer. He had visited us at Christmas time, and still seemed to be himself, although unusually tired. We are struggling to make sense of this unexpected and seemingly-premature death of a beloved brother, husband, father, grandfather, pastor and friend.
More than eleven hundred people attended the memorial service, most of whom knew Bill Moore as their pastor. I was privileged to know Bill as a man, as a husband to Cindy, a father to my wife and her brothers, and as the grandfather of my children. I saw him as he repaired a screen door, when he worked outside in the garden, when he had to get up in the night to plunge a toilet, and when he fell asleep while reading a story to my kids.
Bill Moore was 67 years old when he died. He seemed healthy; jogging often, careful about what he ate, full of energy. We thought he would live for many more years, serving as a pastor, traveling and living quietly with Cindy. We expected him to spend many of his latter years reading companionably with his wife, puttering in his garden, and reveling in his grandchildren. Now he is with the Lord; the hole that he has left in our hearts and lives, aches for its emptiness.
None of us feels his loss quite like Cindy, though.
How can I describe this man, who was so full of life and energy and joy? How can I do justice to his faithfulness and deep passion for Jesus? What words can I write, to tell the story of his self-discipline and compassion for others? How can I paint a picture of his zest for learning, and his kindness, enthusiasm and generosity?
When my older children were quite small, Bill and Cindy moved into a house in Canton, Michigan, featuring a large backyard with a stream running through it. A few years later, we moved away, and were unable to visit more than once or twice a year, at the most. Bill began to plan for our summer visits, and constructed a huge sandbox around the base of one of the trees in his yard. Then he built a tree-house in that same tree, installed a swing set, and dredged the creek so that the water would flow properly. In the days before we arrived, he would tune up his tractor (to give rides to his grand-children) and pull down all the old bikes from the attic. He must have spent at least a hundred hours working to prepare for our comparatively short visit, so that our kids could enjoy some fun activities when they came.
Many times, my father-in-law would visit our house, and would spend much of the time that he was there, working on household repair and improvement projects (because I have always been such a poor handyman). He and Cindy would insist on taking us out to dinner, and routinely arrived with their luggage bursting with gifts for each of us.
For some reason, Grandad especially loved to wear hats, and it must be a genetic trait.
Whenever there was a book sale at the public library, Bill was there. He loved to buy books ‘by the bag’ — he could never pass up a good bargain. Even now, there are more than five thousand books in his home, many of which he has read (or at least skimmed). His mind was voracious — he loved to explore new ideas and learn about other fields, from hydro-electric power to an obscure type of beetle. One reason he was such an effective pastor and evangelist, is that he took an active interest in other people and what they knew or cared about. Even in casual contact with strangers, he would often ask a probing question that would result in an outpouring of knowledge or ideas. Among Christians, Bill was always eager to encourage and provoke spiritual growth. “What has God been teaching you, lately?” was one of his favorite questions.
Once not long ago we vacationed with Bill and Cindy, visiting the town of Saugatuck, Michigan. There we found (and rode) what is purported to be the last functional chain ferry in the United States. Immediately after embarking, Bill was exploring how the ferry worked, and soon he had persuaded the operator to let him try the mechanism that propelled the ferry across the river. Others caught the enthusiasm, and eventually most of us took a turn at the crank. That was the sort of man he was — he brought a colorful zest for life and a vibrant spirit of exploration into everything he did, and we were all richer in experience because of it.
Grandad was rarely ‘cranky’, but this was one time when he really was.
As patriarch of our little clan, he knew all about validating special events with his presence, and he wasn’t content to simply sit by, but would invest himself with power and enthusiasm. If Grandad wanted to watch Bonanza, suddenly everyone wanted to watch it. If he played Rat-a-Tat-Cat with the younger kids, even the older ones would drift over to the table to participate. If Bill proposed a golf-cart ride, we’d have to break out the second cart and make a caravan, because his cart would be over-full.
Usually, they let him ride in the front.
Many times, when we would visit Michigan, he would get up early to work at church, and come home at lunch time, vacationing for the rest of the day. The rest of us would sleep in, and slowly the house would awaken, with Cindy patiently serving breakfast to each one as they woke, in turn. At noon, Bill would walk in the front door, shouting: “Where are my Grandchildren?” Then, as it was often said, the ‘fun would begin’.
Each of my children loved their Grandad in their own way, but my son Daniel wore his heart for Grandad on his sleeve. I remember when we moved away from Michigan, Daniel was only two, and would ask us, plaintively, “Where’s Grandad?” The first time Bill came to visit us in Washington, some months later, Daniel took one look at him, reached out his arms to be held, and burst into tears with his head on Grandad’s shoulder, only then perhaps able to process his toddler grief in missing his beloved Grandad. Over the years, they have forged a special bond, and as a result, Daniel has really struggled to come to grips with his grief over the past several months. A few weeks ago, Daniel wrote a school paper about his remembrances of Fort Clark, Texas. It is his ‘favorite place’, where we used to vacation with Kathy’s parents:
“Everywhere I look in the Spanish stone ranch house, memories of Grandad surround me. Grandad loved to build and refinish furniture. The tall book shelves he made climb the walls and hold hundreds of books. As much as possible I would stand close to Grandad and try somehow to help, somehow. He let me hold the tools: screws, hammers and drill.”
My wife is the firstborn among her siblings and the only girl. Perhaps that is why she has such a sweet relationship with her Papa, and maybe that is why he always treated me so kindly. From the time I first swooped into their lives in my dilapidated Buick, a barefoot, arrogant and immature vagabond, Bill and Cindy treated me with honor and courtesy. Over the years, I have learned much from Bill Moore, and part of who I am is because of his godly heritage.
Those who knew him, came to love Bill’s courteous ways and gentle smile.
If I had to choose a passage that best described Bill Moore, I might choose Phillipians 2:3-4:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.
I think those verses describe my father-in-law deeply — he was a man who consistently ‘looked to the interests of others’. As a pastor, as a boss, as a friend and as a father, he put others first. With several advanced degrees and a lifetime of credible service as a pastor and spiritual leader, Bill had plenty of reason to consider himself more valuable than others. By the grace of the Holy Spirit, he was consistently able to set himself aside, and to prefer others above himself.
From the moment he gave his heart to Jesus as a freshman in college, Bill began to immerse himself in the pursuit of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. Bill loved to teach from the Bible, and his mind was full of deep insight on the nature of God and the meaning of scripture. He was an effective preacher and an unusually good listener. He was a peaceable man, able to disagree on major issues without breaking relationships. His wisdom and quiet confidence opened many doors of conversation, yet he had the maturity to give others a chance to be heard, even when their ideas were foolish in comparison to his.
Most people don’t know how often Bill and Cindy visited sick folks the hospital, although many at the memorial service had been touched by that aspect of their ministry. Because we live far away, much of our contact with Kathy’s family is via the phone; Bill would often call us when he was on the way home from a hospital visit. I can remember dozens (perhaps hundreds) of such calls, over the years — it was not unusual for Bill to make two or three such pastoral visits in an average week.
We lived in Michigan near Kathy’s family for five years; during that time we attended Trinity Presbyterian Church, where Kathy’s Dad served as founding pastor. I remember how Bill would make dozens of calls each month, encouraging visitors to return, and persuading young families to attend Sunday School. His diligence and faithful example have and continue to be an inspiration to me as I seek to please God with the offering of my life.
Grandad leaves behind a huge legacy of family and faith.
Looking back, Bill lived his life as one who knew his time on earth is limited. He worked hard, seeking to ‘make the most of every opportunity’, as Paul encouraged the Ephesians. He played with enthusiasm and joy, pouring himself out for his children and grandchildren. He was intentional about rest, and took great satisfaction in leading a life with a healthy balance of refreshment.
My father-in-law was not a perfect man. He worried about finances, and was occasionally angry with his wife and children. He could be brusque and even short-tempered when a repair project wasn’t going well. In some sense, these defects make his example even more compelling; as a fallen man myself, I cannot dismiss him as a ‘super Christian’ whose footsteps are impossible to emulate. In spite of his faults, he was steadfast in his efforts to glorify Jesus Christ, and was a man ‘after God’s own heart’ in the deepest parts of his character.
In recent years, my daughter Rachel has come to especially enjoy Grandad, sharing a love for (or at least a commitment to) jogging. Whether in the stifling heat of Texas, or along the beach at Lake Michigan, they would often jog together. She also wrote a descriptive essay about her love for summers in Michigan, visiting Mamie and Grandad:
“Bright and early my Grandad would appear, his tall form silhouetted by the dawn’s light, which streamed in from a window. My door would open creakily as he tried not to wake my slumbering cousin. “Ready?” Grandad whispers, and together we would tip-toe downstairs to stretch before our morning run. I love not only my grandparents’ home in Michigan, but also the area. The roads, forever covered in dust, remind me of the old westerns my Grandad always liked to watch. Trees edge both sides of the lane, but somehow the sun still shines through, embracing our skin with warmth. My Grandad and I run a three mile loop almost every morning.
Grandad and I ran twenty miles in twenty-one days in the balmy summer of 2010, while we vacationed in Michigan. Often I would take off my thick socks and uncomfortable shoes, and run with my bare feet. I adore running barefoot; it makes me feel liberated, and toughens my feet as it frees my heart. Now, although I run alone, I know Grandad is running along the beautifully paved golden streets of Heaven; old age and sickness is unable to touch him. Perhaps at this moment, he is cheering me on as I continue to run the race of life.”
Grandad didn’t seem particularly upset about being outrun by a girl …
In the last days of his life, Bill was unconscious. His body was losing the fight against the lymphoma, and he struggled with the respirator so that they had to keep him mostly sedated. One of the last things he was able to say to Cindy was the statement, “I’m so sorry.” Perhaps he already understood that he was soon to be leaving her as a widow on the earth. I think that, if he had been able, he might have echoed the final words of the apostle, Paul:
For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. 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 dayâ€”and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
William Carlton Moore, 1944-2011, thank you for being a godly example and father-in-law to me. I love you, and I know we all look forward to being re-united with you on the Glorious Day of our Lord’s return, or if He tarries, as we are each, in turn, called to our eternal home.
P.S. Mamie, I’m sorry if this makes you cry. Writing it made me cry, but I still think it was better to write this, and to remember your beloved Bill.