When he saw a need, he went to work

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 16, 2013

We sat in silence at Faith Lutheran Church.
Funeral time. Brother Marcelle had died. The church was packed, even the balcony was groaning.
How do you define a brother who was four years older than you, had his own circle of friends in that little town of Faith, and they all ran around in one-galoused overalls?
Marcelle was smart, I thought. Big enough to smoke; smart enough to keep Mom and Pop from finding out.
Yeah, he was smart — smart enough to serve on the Rowan County School Board for 20 years, 12 years as chairman. And, along the way, he had worked his way through veterans’ affairs and served as state commander of the American Legion.
Add to that the fact that he had throttled his formal education after 10th grade because Pop asked him to get a job and help out. Eight kids, Grandma, Mom and Pop. Eleven, in all.
Accounts of what Clarence Marcelle Williams has done with his life sound almost made-up. He found a job at Cannon Mills, joined the Navy and lost an eye from an errant piece of machine-shop metal. Came home and spent 40 years as a mechanic and service manager for car dealerships in Salisbury and Kannapolis.
During that time, he and his wife, Binkie, were raising three children and seeing them through college and beyond.
With kids in school, his interest turned not only to education but to anything with a red-white-and-blue tint — his church, PTA, Masons, Shriners, American Legion, the Faith Fourth of July Parade that easily draws 30,000 each year, his church. That would be just the first line of his bio.
He had done so much with his life. He was 92 when he died, and he had a lot to say that he hadn’t yet said. When he died, he was still trying.
He’d just as soon have stayed around to help build another school or stand in the burning sun on the Fourth of July and sell tickets to make money for the American Legion or his church or some other endeavor that might have been churning through his mind at that time.
Last July 4, his town honored him as grand marshal of the parade. Being in the Faith parade was not new to Marcelle. He helped stage the first one in 1947, after returning home from the Navy. He was tending the barbecue pits when President George H. W. Bush came to visit and to play softball and address a crowd that numbered 50,000.
When I heard that Marcelle was so honored, it was my pleasure to be his driver. I asked for, and got, the job.
We eased along Faith’s Main Street, saw the thousands of watchers, most of them cheering, up close, for Marcelle.
Eventually, we drove by the old home place. The front yard was across the street from the schoolhouse — enlarged and updated. We had learned our ABCs there, played on the field most every game that came along.
At the funeral, my mind had time to reflect. What a loving, treasured life Marcelle had lived.
An effective and obliging life. Fair and undaunted. When he saw a need, he took off his coat and went to work. Said, come on, follow me. Sometimes, perhaps having to step on toes.
But, he was effective. Not only as a leader, but as a willing worker.
All of those certificates, citations, plaques and testimonials that hang silent on his walls bear witness to the patriotic, rock-solid citizen that Marcelle Williams was his entire life.
Yes, Marcelle died a few weeks ago. Along the way, he left many and large footprints to fill.

Faith native Darrell Williams is former editor of the Gaston Gazette.