Funeral was celebration of her extraordinary life

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 27, 2011

You’d be hard-pressed to find another woman in this town as beloved as Juanita Williams. The 94-year-old mother, grandmother and great-grandmother was buried Thursday. Many folks in Salisbury knew her as a caterer extraordinaire. If she catered your wedding reception or your cocktail party or made you a birthday cake, that made your day even more special.
The Bible passage Proverbs 31:10-31, about the virtuous woman, seemed written just for her. It came alive in the reading by Pastor David Nelson during her funeral at St. John’s Lutheran Church. Her family did rise up and call her blessed. Two of her great-grandsons, Tanner Hood and David Derrick, read other passages. David’s voice cracked just slightly as he read, “For everything there is a season … a time to be born, and a time to die.”
But, as Pastor Rhodes Woolly noted in his homily, Juanita did whatever it took to take care of her family. Her husband, Floyd, died in the summer of 1962. Juanita was left to care for their three children, Carolyn, Linda and Leon, who is developmentally disabled. So she turned out beef tenderloin and cakes and everything in between from her tiny Maupin Avenue kitchen. Her daughters remember 23 cakes on the kitchen table for a single family’s Christmas party.
But that didn’t keep her from being an active member of St. John’s, or from sewing her daughters’ wedding dresses, or from taking care of Leon full-time.
For as much as she loved her daughters, Leon was surely her heart. In the last several years, both of them had moved to the Lutheran Home. You never see Leon without his nametag and he always wants to know who you’re seeing on your visit.
Last weekend, Pastor Woolly was concerned whether Leon knew his mother was dying, so he took him aside and asked him. Yes, Leon told his pastor, he did understand. Leon then stepped over to a computer, and pulled up “Rock of Ages.”
While I draw this fleeting breath,
When my eyelids close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See thee on thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee.
On Monday, Leon was again at his mother’s bedside. He kissed her brow and said, “I love you, Mamma. And I like it here.”
Pastor Woolly continued, “Just two breaths later, she died. In that kiss, Juanita knew that all was cared for. There was nothing left to do. The kitchen was cleaned, the pots and pans put away, the floors swept, the light turned off. Now, it was time for a new journey — where she will be the special guest at a feast that has no end.
“Because, friends, God’s promise is true: weeping may come with the night; but joy will come with the dawn.”
And the congregation rose up and sang “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee.”
Susan Shinn is administrative/communications assistant at St. John’s Lutheran Church.