I was honored to be asked to say a few words at my grandfather's funeral on Thursday. He lived to be 99 years old and left quite a legacy. I thought you might be interested in reading the words I spoke. I am grateful to have had him in my life for so long.
Charles J. Whiston:
When I was 12 years old and in 7th grade, I had to give a speech about a famous person. The person I chose was my Grandpa, Charles J. Whiston.
You see, even if we had not been related, I would have been taken with his humble beginnings, as a teenager toiling in the coal mines to help support his family, a young husband and father living and working in a coal camp, and the way he established himself as a police officer, then as sheriff, mayor, county commissioner, insurance agent, and even a congressional candidate. In his life he received many well-deserved accolades.
When we went out together, people recognized Grandpa and would shout out, “Hey, Charlie!” “Sheriff!” and, “Hey, Mr. Whiston!” whether we were walking down High Street, popping into his office at the police department, at a WVU basketball game. or shaking hands at a local fair.
From his stories and pictures, I knew he had encounters with well-known people such as presidents.To me, that made him famous, but it was his interactions with everyday people that had the biggest impact on me. Grandpa’s dazzling smile, twinkling blue eyes, and warm heart were for everyone.
Grandpa loved to tell stories, and we loved to hear them, whether it was about busting up moonshine stills deep in the woods, or taking the local baseball team he coached to States. He held court in his chair, and Grandma would bustle around making sure he was comfortable, interjecting every once in a while, “Hey, Charlie, tell them the one about…” For as his bride of more than 77 years, they had not just grown old together but grown up together. His stories were her stories too.
Some of my favorite memories of Grandpa include going out to local restaurants like Ruby and Ketchy’s, admiring the beauty of Cooper’s Rock, and those days when he would tell John, Liz and me that we could sort the money in his massive spare change jar on the living room rug. We knew as we took an afternoon to spread out piles of nickels, dimes, pennies, quarters and the rare half dollar as the grown ups talked and laughed, we would go home with baggies full of treasure.
My sister Liz loved sharing music and faith with Grandpa, sitting together singing hymns as old as the hills. As Grandpa’s body aged, his light and faith did not dim, and that was ever so evident as the two of them would sing together.
My brother John had the pleasure of spending a lot of time with Grandpa and Grandma starting in college and all of these years since. He would go to their house for laundry and a nap on the couch, and he accompanied them to many, many WVU games. John tells the story of going to one game WITHOUT Grandpa and Grandpa and hoping they didn’t notice that the person being lifted over the heads of the spirited fans, body surfing through the crowd in the student section, was none other than their beloved grandson.
I am exceedingly and eternally grateful to have had a hands-on, loving grandpa who taught me much more than fame could ever do. He taught me by example the importance of knowing people’s names and stories, looking them in the eyes, and being generous with my smile. Because as much as I wanted to have a “famous” Grandfather whom I could brag about, I was much happier and more grateful to have a Grandpa with a twinkle in his baby blues, a lap for sitting on, a hearty laugh and a ready hug. When I think of words to describe Grandpa they are: gentle, generous, and genuine.
YOU have your own special memories about Charlie Whiston, Grandpa, “Uncle,” or “Pop,” and how he impacted you during a long life centered around: FAITH, FAMILY, AND FRIENDS.
His quiet FAITH grew in this church as he taught Sunday school decade after decade.
His FAMILY was his number one priority. He made frequent visits to our home, so my parents would never be too far from their WV roots. He loved the phone calls he shared each week with my dad when ringing up a big long distance bill was still a thing. He spent time each day enjoying the company of his son Charley Junior before his untimely death in 1997. And he loved his siblings mightily. I remember how he would get a tear in his eye just talking about the impact his sweet sister Eleanor had on him.
His FRIENDS were important to him from his first day to his last: intimate friends such as Coach Catlett whom you will hear from today, as well as the many people he encountered around Westover and Morgantown. Thank you for being his friend.
When we look at a life well lived, of almost 100 years, we see that, yes, some things do pass away: status, possessions, strength, and even this fragile tent we call the BODY.
But oh, what remains! From Grandpa it is a legacy of love evidenced throughout this church today, especially among his many children and great grandchildren. It is his lifelong commitment to serving others, and his complete love of GOD.
I think about one of the songs Grandpa and my sister Liz sung so beautifully together one of the last times we visited him. Of course Grandpa remembered all of the words because they had taken root in his heart many years ago.
1 I come to the garden alone,
2 While the dew is still on the roses,
3 And the voice I hear falling on my ear
4 The Son of God discloses.
◦ And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
◦ And He tells me I am His own;
◦ And the joy we share as we tarry there,
◦ None other has ever known.
In this life we are each able to spend time with a God who loves us and calls us His own. A God who gives us joy even when life is hard sometimes. And you don’t get to be 99 years old without experiencing hardship. We can’t stay in the garden with God at all times and the world tries to distract and keep us from going back because of work, worry, busy-ness, and petty concerns.
But TODAY, Charlie Whiston, Grandpa, gets to stay in the garden with Jesus. He was more than ready for this next stage of his eternal life. And the beauty is, now he’s not meeting with God ALONE, because he gets to be joined by his parents, siblings, many friends, his son Charley, his great grandson, and his wife.
And what a beautiful scene that must be!