We buried my father this week. It seems we gain clarity about certain things in times like this. I thought you might want to hear what I have to say about your town.
You may have lived in Thomson all of your life or maybe you've just moved to town. It really doesn't matter. Regardless of your situation, I'm here to tell you how fortunate you are to be in Thomson.
Don't get me wrong: There are other wonderful towns around this globe that offer a wide range of opportunities and excitement and I've lived in a few of them. I've lived in Brazil for nearly a year; New York City for two years; Denver for three years; San Diego for a year; Chicago for a year and Atlanta for several years. I've even lived in China for weeks on end.
But I'll tell you this for sure, there is no place like Thomson.
I had the good fortune of being raised in Thomson and placed my deepest roots into its fertile soil in 1975. From age 9 until I went to the University of Georgia in 1984, Thomson was my home.
Ray and Wanda Willis steered me along in these early years with my older brother, Scott, setting an excellent example. We lived on Lee Street just a few blocks behind Thomson High School (now the middle school). Ray worked at Thomson Company with people that remain some of our closest friends even today.
The lessons of childhood were properly folded into our long and wonderful days here. Wanda Willis, my Mother, stayed home with me and my brother, as many women did in those days. We played hard every day, but we worked hard too. We learned great lessons from this town, its place and its people.
We learned to appreciate the power of church and community. We learned to play baseball; to love our neighbors; to respect our elders; how to break-in a new ball glove; to respect diversity -- there is no "black" and there is no "white" my mom would say -- "just humans."
We learned to do our very best every time, no matter what, to make our parents proud or face the consequences. We learned to work hard, whether it was working on Joe Newton's chicken farm or his feed and seed store down by the train depot, or engraving silver cups and jewelry at Wall's Jewelry Store, or cleaning office buildings for Richard Dozier on Saturday night, or cutting grass for all the neighborhood widows for $5 a week, or maybe tending the pool at Belle Meade.
We learned a lot of lessons in Thomson back then, yet, Thomson continues to teach me.
My father, Ray Willis, died Tuesday, April 19, at McDuffie County Regional Medical Center. How appropriate that his last breath was drawn here in McDuffie County.
There are no words to describe the love and support we received from the wonderful group of people at your hospital. A perfect stranger, a respiratory therapist who was on duty assisting my father in his last breaths, broke down and cried with my mom and Scott as Ray died. We still do not even know this beautiful lady's name. But what love and empathy she showed, this is a special person -- a special town.
Within minutes of my father's death, Dr. Jim Ramsey from First Baptist Church arrived at the hospital. His serene spirit would help guide us through the coming minutes, days and weeks. Without his guidance and support, our loss would have been harder to bear. What a special man; what a special town.
Our close friend, Patricia Newsome, was with us when Ray died. We were soon joined by other fine Thomson folk such as Judge Roger Dunaway, Dawn Swan, Laverne Melton, Clois Witt, Eva Newsome and Kathie Mogish, to name a few. Kathie, who taught both Scott and me in high school and now works for the First Baptist Church here in Thomson, when asked about her 180 degree change in faith since I knew her back in 1984 said, "I'm a slow learner ...". Obviously Thomson has taught Kathie some lessons too. This is a special town.
A man named Jerry Taylor at Curtis Funeral Home was soon involved in our grief. Jerry, with great patience, explained to us every detail of Ray's upcoming funeral, the visitations, the guest books, the flowers. We were in no shape to organize these details, but Jerry was ready to handle it all. He's a real pro. Curtis Funeral Home was a true blessing to our family during this time. Thanks Jerry and Curtis Funeral Home.
The outpouring of support continued through the coming days with deliveries to my mom's home from the wonderful people of this town, food, flowers, and visitations. Everyone had time to speak and genuinely wanted to make sure we were okay. After the funeral service, the fine women of the church served all of our guests a wonderful southern lunch in the parlor. What a wonderful way to show our guests the power of the Thomson community.
Please tell the fine folks of Thomson that the Willis family is doing fine. Ray Willis finally found peace this past Tuesday when he died. His surviving family members have found peace as well in large part due to the fine folks of Thomson.
You may have the opportunity to live somewhere larger, more sophisticated or more exciting than Thomson, but I'd recommend you learn all that you can from this place before you go.
Thanks Thomson for continuing to teach us all lessons!
(Editor's note: Phil Willis now lives in Duluth, Ga.)