Eulogy I gave November 4th, 2017 at my father’s memorial service after his death October 25th, 2017
I want to thank everyone for being here: the people who spent hours making this service possible and all those who reached out to our family with prayers, condolences, flowers, and service these past couple weeks and who will yet reach out. Your presence, your kind words, and your support have been and will continue to be a support to us.
Bill was born on December 1, 1946 in Mesa, Arizona to Monte and Nan Jones. He was a wonderful blend of both of them. His mother, Nan, was an early baker for Harry and David and from her he gained his passion of cooking and his fun-loving approach to life. His father, Monte, faced great evils on Pacific Islands in WWII and from him Bill learned the value of hard work, discipline, and love of family.
He graduated from Brigham Young University in 1971 with a degree in Electrical Engineering. He often told stories about the pranks he would play — surprising others in the dorm, rigging radio transmitters to interfere with neighbors who blasted their radio too loudly, and starting a water fight in the dorms that got way out of hand before he abandoned it. I remember him telling me these stories with the stern warning that pranks and jokes are never to be made that harm another’s property, body, or feelings.
After graduating from college, he moved to the Seattle area with his brother Bryant to work at Boeing, which would be his lifelong career. He practiced Hung Ga martial arts at the Seattle Kung Fu Club, which (I’m sure) made him the stud in the LDS Single Adult Wards. At church institute classes he first saw my mother, Lorie. He tried to meet her but she would slip out after class with a friend before he had a chance to talk to her. Not knowing her address or phone number, he spoke with the teacher who made an excuse for everyone in the class to write down their phone number on an attendance roll — ensuring Bill would get the roll last. He called her that night. After a courtship, Bill married Lorie in 1974 in the Idaho Falls LDS temple.
Bill worked for Boeing for 40 years. Earlier in his career he worked on radar technology and I remember he once took me out on a field test where I got to ride inside a tank as a young boy. Another time he took me to a “bring your child to work” event but he then spent the whole day in meetings due to an emergency problem that arose. I used the day to master the art of Minesweeper. He felt bad, but I think the tank experience more than made up for it.
A former co-worker said:
Bill was the best manager I ever had at Boeing and very dear friend and mentor. We had some very good talks while traveling together and I often quote the principles and ideas he taught me about working with youth within the church and working with people within Boeing.
And an intern he hired remarked:
Bill … had a lasting impact in my career. …he was the first manager I met for an internal interview. I was so nervous I stuttered on many of the questions. At some point, I knew I wasn’t going to have this opportunity and somewhat accepted my fate. … he changed the topic of the interview to my hobbies and why I wanted to work for Boeing … it instantly changed the mood and I felt at ease with expressing myself as a person who loves to tinker with technology, learns fast, and is willing to work really hard. To my surprise, he chose me as his intern. During my time there, I learned so much from him and his team. Days I felt stuck, he would remind me that people are always there to help. Other times when I felt like I wanted to spend [extra time] in the office, he would be the first to remind me to spend time with my family … he encourage[d] me to talk with people, not just as coworkers, but for the personalities they are beyond the desk. I got into biking. I did a triathlon. I learned to give back to the community. Everything he did and said were so down to earth and reminded me that there was more to life than a job. … As my summer internship ended, it was his continued support that brought me back to the company after graduating college. On my last day as an intern, I remembered asking him why he chose me over other candidates … His response was simple: “You work hard, you learn fast, and you had that eager attitude that sounded like you were someone just looking for a chance and it spoke to me. That is what we’re all about.” If he had never given me that chance 5 years ago, I wouldn’t have learned so much about life or interacted with my coworkers in a way that created meaningful life-long connections. I still work with many of those people today and now when I meet new people I always think of his kind and humanistic approach. It never fails.
In addition to working at Boeing, Bill served as a Scoutmaster for over 30 years, volunteered actively in the Kent community, and ministered within the LDS church. He inspired and brightened the lives of many with his service. He spent countless hours to create positive, challenging, and unforgettable experiences for boy scouts and youth with their leaders and parents.
A boy scout I grew up with said:
I remember learning to tie knots with him. I still use those knots today. I remember camping under the stars with the troop; talking about physics while watching satellites and meteor showers. I still think of that moment every time I look at the night sky. I remember losing on a trail, the knife my father had given me. Bill went back, found it, returned it to me, and I still have it [to this day]. … Our lives only intersected briefly. But he has always been a prominent figure in my mind. His character was strong, and he was a role model that I am proud to have had.
In my own time as a scout I can remember week-long hikes and canoe trips, waking up to my boot frozen into the wall of my igloo, tying knots, dutch oven cobblers, and long conversations about nature, the universe, and God under a night sky untouched by city lights. With his love of food he had an encyclopedic knowledge of the best diners, burger joints, bakeries, and ice-cream parlors in the state. I was able to take my mother and him with our family last year on a trip to Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens. Along the way, he would still point out the best places for food — some of which were no longer there. It seems his love of food outlasted their ability to produce it.
As a father, he showed genuine interest, support, and encouragement in his children’s passions. For myself, he and I shared a passion for science, technology, and religion. I can remember him excitedly calling home from work to have me punch in a series of division operations on our brand new, state of the art Pentium computer to discover whether it suffered from the floating point division bug. He was surprisingly giddy when he found that it did — a demonstration of his optimism. He was a man of great knowledge and faith. I had many long conversations with him about science and religion and he pointed me to sources of truth including both the Stephen Hawkings and Saint Stephens of the world. He taught me that questions and information are never to be feared as long as I do not use them to become prideful or cynical. From him I learned that if questions or knowledge presented doubts, the solution was not ignorance but rather wisdom. And it is that wisdom that I have tried to carry with me into my own career and faith.
This kind of positive, welcoming environment extended into the lives of friends as well. Growing up, our home was often a place to hang out with music, movies, and video games fueled by egg rolls, eclairs, and cookies. A friend and I composed music together in high school and would spend hours in the den playing clips of songs over and over as we tweaked them. Bill mentioned to me how when he talked about this to coworkers they were amazed that he would put up with so much noise. He replied that he was more than happy that we had a positive, creative outlet in a safe environment.
He carried this same demeanor and applied it towards his grandchildren despite his declining health. He traveled long distances to attend their concerts, birthdays, and baptisms while also taking time to play video games, Pokemon, and dolls with them. I had the opportunity to be with him during his last few days. He talked about his love for his grandchildren, pointing out how different they all are and how he wouldn’t change a thing about that. He loved life; and his family was his life.
This is indeed a time for mourning and grief. Even with the hope of rebirth, resurrection, and salvation we still must grieve. In this life we have the privilege of getting to know one another’s hearts and souls; but we do so through bodies. While we celebrate Bill’s life and spirit, the loss of his body removes our ability to continue to get to know him for a time — something worthy of grief and mourning which complements, rather than opposes faith and hope.
In these circumstances we face the difficult, groaning questions of life. Why now? Why him? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why has evil and suffering broken into our lives? Why this void? How can we continue? There are many ways to respond to these existential questions: trials make us stronger, trials teach us, people have their own free will, it will be all right in the end, life is messy, or we may never know “why”. Each of these responses come with their own explanatory power, but also with their own weaknesses in thinking about and, more importantly, responding to evil and suffering.
These high-level responses, often stated as platitudes, are the blunt instruments in the toolbox of faith. And while they serve a purpose, they aren’t very good at addressing the specific, intimate evils and pains we all grapple with in life. But greater power to address the specific evils and pains that break into our lives is found in the finer instruments of grace we all have access to and which Bill modeled: a kind word, an open home, a heartfelt apology, a shared meal, a comforting hug, a listening ear, shoulders that prop others up, serving hands, and feet that walk the trail with others. It is in these finer, often unspoken, instruments of grace that the power to respond and overcome pain and suffering is found. And it is with these instruments that he faced his own pain and suffering.
Many of us here were blessed with these gifts from Bill. And I think these things are the very gifts of grace that can help us respond to the pain of his passing as well as the evil and suffering we face in our lives and in the world. Beyond the platitudes that endlessly debate evil and suffering, there is a life spent actively responding to it with grace. And that act, wrought with our bodies, rebuts evil and suffering in ways platitudes cannot. This is the Christian call to discipleship that is not merely about the teachings of Jesus, but which has the courage to embody them — even, and perhaps especially, in our own suffering. And as Bill sought to live life courageously loving others even while he faced his own trials and suffering, we can continue to connect with him as we reach back with that same courage and love.
In closing, I would like to read a meditation on death written by John Donne:
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
In Jesus’ name, amen.