On Friday, November 9th 2018 in the afternoon, a truly great man passed from this temporal realm into the eternal home promised by his savior. While napping in the comfort of his bed, Willard Morton McCrone quietly breathed his last. He was my maternal grandfather, Grandpa, and a man to whom I owe much of who I am today.
He lived over 97 years on this earth, more than 70 of them with his beloved wife Pat who survives him. Born in 1921, he was exemplary of The Greatest Generation. He grew up during The Great Depression in a small town in eastern Ohio. He joined the U.S. Navy to do his part in the South Pacific during World War II. Upon returning home, he met and married my grandmother. They soon had two children, my mother and uncle. With a high school education, he worked hard year after year in factories to provide a good life for his family. While I know he wasn’t perfect, “greatness” seems a word too small for him. True character just seemed more common back then.
Every step of his life, he placed his faith in Jesus. He studied the Bible. He faithfully served in his church. He humbled himself before God and thanked him for every blessing. He passed his love of the Lord on to his children, training them up in the ways of scripture. Because of that, I had the privilege of growing up in a home which honored Christ. In that way, Willard surely laid the foundation for the faith I have today.
My youngest memories of my grandfather are that he was fun. He was always ready to joke around or play with me as a young boy, even though I came along quite late in his life. (He was 65 when I was born.) I imagine that we had a kind of special bond, and maybe we did since I was his only grandson among five grandchildren. Despite his age, he was always up for an adventure. He loved to take me fishing, whether at the Tuscarawas River across the road from their house or Salt Fork State Park a short drive away. Even into my middle school years, my mom would scold him for tramping around the woods with me and swinging on vines. Looking back, she was probably right to be concerned; he must have been in his mid-seventies by then. Several times he rode roller coasters with me at Geauga Lake theme park – after he previously survived a heart attack. Of course, at the time I didn’t realize how risky these things were; he was just my Grandpa, being ornery and pushing the limits.
As I moved from high school through college into adulthood, I’m ashamed to say that I did not stay close to him as I could have. We still looked forward to holidays together year after year, even as my visits to the Buckeye State became less frequent with the demands of life. During this time, he eclipsed 90 years old and began to slow down, as anyone would be expected to. As a proud man, he was frustrated that he couldn’t do all the things he used to do. (I’m sure I’ll be the same way.) His vision and hearing especially began to fade, but he still loved sitting and listening to the radio, whether sports or big band music. I would call when I could to discuss the Cleveland Indians or the Buckeyes, or even just the weather, and he always had a riddle or joke ready for me.
Shortly after his 97th birthday in May, he fell and hurt himself at home. (I failed to mention that he and my grandmother lived in the same house for over sixty years, up until just a few months ago, a testament to their resilience.) That injury began a few hard months as he recovered and my parents helped move them to an assisted living apartment just down the street. Through many ups and downs, my parents worked tirelessly to care for and honor them. In September, amid the hospital visits and doctor appointments, he and my grandmother quietly celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary, a symbol of their humble and steadfast love if ever there was one.
I was reflecting with Dolly yesterday how remarkable his life was by today’s standards. To my knowledge, he was born, largely lived, married, worked, worshiped, retired, and died within about a ten mile radius. I believe his primary workplace was even less than a mile from their longtime home, as is the assisted living apartment to which they moved. Sure, he traveled and saw the world at times, but his life was anchored in eastern Ohio. Such constancy and contentment are scarce resources in the world today, and especially in my self-absorbed generation.
While there are so many verses my grandfather embodied, perhaps 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 describes him best. “Do all you can to live a peaceful life. Take care of your own business, and do your own work as we have already told you. If you do, then people who are not believers will respect you, and you will not have to depend on others for what you need.” He loved his family deeply and led them well. He sought to follow scripture wholeheartedly, which was a peculiar lifestyle even in a small town in mid-1900s Ohio. His devotion to God surely drew some questions, and with each one he was eager to give a reason for the hope that he had.
As I sat on the edge of my bed on Friday night, processing the news from just a few hours earlier, I thought of the hymn quoted below. I thought of Grandpa’s faithfulness year after year for nearly a century, even as his earthly body began to fade. Tears filled my eyes as I recalled the transition from the final verse to the chorus. Life had been a toil for Willard, certainly toward the end, but awaiting he had the promise of a new body, a new Heaven, a new Earth. Most importantly awaited the presence of his creator and savior whom he had honored and served for so long.
Let us then be true and faithful
Trusting serving every day
Just one glimpse of Him in glory
Will the toils of life repay
When we all get to Heaven
What a day of rejoicing that will be
When we all see Jesus
We’ll sing and shout the victory
I love you, Grandpa, and I will surely miss you. I’m sad that there will be no more holidays with you solemnly blessing the meal. I’m sad for Grandma who has lost the companion she knew for so long. I’m sad for my mom who has lost the loving father who raised her. I’m especially sad that you won’t get to meet my firstborn son who will be here any day now. Yet… I rejoice knowing that you are fully restored, your vision and hearing taking in wonders we can’t yet imagine, your body more fit and able than even your prime football years, your heart more full of love than we can understand.
Scripture reminds us that this life is but a mist. Today that feels especially true. From that eternal perspective, I’ll be there soon, Grandpa.