Monday, April 14, 2014

Eulogy for Bill Milstead

John 11:25-26
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.
 
Bill would have told you that he gained a love of photography from his father, who as an amateur photographer took loads of pictures of WW I. As a result Bill’s lifelong passion for taking and developing photographs started early, when he was a very young man. Photography was what brought him to Houston, and was the reason he chose to attend the University of Houston and their Vocational School of Photography.
 
One of the things for which Bill will always be remembered is a large body of photographic work that as time passes will only grow in significance as a true work of art. He chronicled in photographs the development of Houston, capturing the city in all its stages of growth. He’s left a pictorial history of all Houston’s major high-rise buildings and city-wide expansions, taken over half a century and more.
 
One day when all his work gets organized and hopefully curated, it will surely be a wonderful collection. I imagine that nothing else would make Bill happier than to know he gave such a gift to others.
 
Part of the reason he was so successful was because of a work ethic that would rival anyone’s. He was always on time; never late. He never missed a day of work in his life and thoroughly took pleasure in what he did. And he did what he did with excellence, effortlessly, because it was just his nature. Some of that, I sure, came because he was a product of the Depression and part of the Greatest Generation.
 
A large portion of his work was shooting the Houston Port Authority. In one place Bill himself wrote, “Around 1960 was my first shoot at the port authority. I started in business for myself in 1959. Then I did work for various contractors in the Houston area. I would bid for jobs and get selected to shoot progressive photos for contractors working at the port authority.”
 
It was there in the mid-1960s that Bill earned the respect and support of the port authority’s engineering department, which led to an 40 year relationship. Even into his 80s, Bill was still taking progressive photos of the Port of Houston. Not only was Bill sought after because he produced photos of the highest quality, but because he was dependable, and he would go to whatever lengths necessary to get the best shot.
 
Sometimes you can know a person by what others say about him. One person he worked with for years said of him, “There’s never anything too tough to shoot for Bill. Over the years, I have seen Bill wade in water up to his waist to take photos. Bill is a well-respected man around PHA and other businesses in the local community and is very dependable; he gets photos in on time.” He goes on to say about Bill, “He has the highest quality photos and is very skilled. He is a professional and most contractors use him again because of his quality of work and genuine kind heart.”
 
No doubt Bill loved his work, and loved to work; however, the other aspect of his life that meant so much to him was his children – his son and daughters. Bill was one of those dads who received a son’s unconditional loyalty (and if you listen to the way his son talks about him you hear that loyalty in every way). Bill was also one of those dads who enjoyed the unique relationships with his three daughters.
 
Each child had their own unique relationship with their dad, each their own kind of role with him, an individual relationship that he simply let develop in each their own way. He shared stories about his navy days. He enjoyed certain foods – mostly sweets which he loved – smoothies from one child, Reeses from another, rootbeer, and although not food, per se, he did love his Redman Chew. He would delve into more personal things like faith and God, including old love letters, or shared the experience of tinkering with the car in need of some repair.
 
His grandkids all shared at least one common experience with Bill, which was allowing them do a handprint and helping them develop the photo in the darkroom set up in his house. I wonder if any of you grandchildren still have one.
 
When I think about how Bill allowed for unique and individual relationships to simply develop with his children and grandchildren, I can’t help but think of the way Jesus did the same with his disciples.
 
Bill clearly loved his Navy experience. It stayed with him throughout all of his life, and to note, when he was rushed to the hospital with chest pains, he was wearing his Seabees hat. He enjoyed that experience, and I imagine drew from it throughout his life. He could remember the detail of being on his first ship – a polywog as they called the new initiates – and passing over the equator for the first time when he was promptly hazed mercilessly, which happened for all first-timers like him.
 
He shared about sleeping in a hammock, forward ship, and remembering the method for getting beer cold quickly. Out in the Pacific back then, you didn’t just go to the ice machine. You would fire up CO2 fire extinguisher, give it a good blast and instantly have ice cold beer (Bill made sure we all understood that, “the officers didn’t know about it.”)
 
Bill was highly patriotic and loved his time in the Navy. He kept everything he ever got from those days – his Pea coat, the hammock that he slept in, his uniforms … literally everything. The Navy never left Bill; he remained connected to it all his days. For instance, even though he had left the ship for dry land before any of his children were born, the family felt like they had their very own weatherman. Wherever each of them ended up living all across the state of Texas, Bill - the good sailor that he was - would make a habit of calling when he learned that some bad weather was coming their way.
 
Some things most may not know about Bill: He loved music and played the trumpet in the school band. As well, he played high school football.
 
He was an exceptional dancer – and could do the jitterbug; he and Mozelle would go square-dancing often with their friends.
 
He was often a hitchhiker – when Tom was being born, Bill was on base and hitchhiked to the hospital. They still have the picture of the three together after the birth, and Bill always like to tell the story that Tom only cost him $2.
 
Bill was involved in the Boy Scouts and the American Legion. He liked to take the family and friends on field-trips to see the Battleship Texas. He liked to hunt deer and duck, and often did so at their place in Wimberly, which he enjoyed immensely, sitting on the front porch in the evenings.
 
He was an avid sports fan, and supported all the major sports teams that Houston had to offer – though he did keep a special place in his heart for the St. Louis Cardinals.
 
We liked Bill. We loved Bill. And we will miss his tremendously.
 
Bill was incredibly dedicated to his church. He and Mozelle were married there. They both took a very active part in the life and ministry of the church and supported it with their prayers and presence and in every other way.  He had a strong faith, which wasn’t one he wore on his sleeves, but which was nonetheless deep and abiding and strong.
 
That is why we all can rest assured that even now – as God has received him into the arms of his mercy – Bill has heard the words we all long to hear ourselves one day, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
 
We will miss Bill tremendously, and so God does not forbid our tears. God does not demand that we cover over our grief – we have lost someone whom we loved and who loved us. When Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life,” he was speaking to Martha when he arrived to find that Lazarus her brother and Jesus’ good friend had died. Watch Jesus as warm tears fall from his eyes and drop in the warm heat of Palestine. Jesus, deeply moved in grief, instructs that the stone be rolled away. He prays. And then calls out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” And he who was dead came out of the tomb.
 
Toward the end of his life, especially after Mozelle passed away, Bill sadly began to experience dementia. It was hard. And yet, he was very much there as well in all the many ways that made Bill, Bill. Whenever Bill wanted to let you know that he was doing great, and all was well, he gave you the thumbs up and said, “Can do.” That awful day when he complained of chest pains, as they were taking him in the ambulance, he gave the thumbs up.
 
Even to the last he was still letting us know that he was okay. And indeed he is. For we was Christians know that the last word in this place may be death. But death is never the last word of God.
 
Death has been swallowed up in victory.
O Death, where is thy victory?
O Death, where is thy sting?
Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.