Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, June 7, 2024

‘Cinderella story’ draws to close for an old friend


In 2012, I wrote of my high school classmate Truitt Williams, that he had “crossed over, passed on to glory, reached the promised land.” The use of death imagery was a joke. Truitt hadn’t died; he had retired.

As of May 15, the joke is a sad reality.

Truitt and I didn’t share a close history, but we did square off as opponents in the election for sophomore class president eons ago. His slogan was “Do It With Truitt.” Mine was “Go With Joe.” Clearly, neither one of us was destined to soar in political messaging circles.

But he was one of those guys everybody knew was going to succeed. I wrote that column in 2012 partly in tribute to Truitt for the career that he loved and from which he retired. He’d spent his last 30 years of employment as an engineer working on Navy ships for a major military contractor.

“Shoot, it was a Cinderella story, really,” he told me. “I’ve been real lucky, real lucky.

“What better ships can you work on than Navy ships?”

I wrote also about his post-retirement plans, which included continuing his decadeslong avocation as a singer/musician of considerable popularity. At age 12, he was playing in his first band, the Village Green, whose members also included a future attorney general of Mississippi.

I don’t know about the AG, but Truitt kept it up, playing in later years with friends at small venues and, as a solo act, at one of our class reunions.

“It will be my main pursuit while I can, for a while,” he told me. “You don’t stop; I learned that years ago. ... On several occasions I just said, ‘I’m not going to play anymore.’ But it’s just too big a void.”

I admired his engineering skills and his musical talents, both of which are entirely lacking in me. Now I also admire the send-off his wife of 43 years, Amy, has planned for him June 8.

She’s calling it a Sunset Celebration of Life, and the “Sunset” is both figurative and literal. The event will take place in the couple’s backyard in our shared hometown – Moss Point, Mississippi – looking westward over McInnis Bayou as dusk approaches and falls.

“Truitt and I both decided years ago we wanted something different,” Amy told me in an email.

“I chose to host this here at our house because of his love of the property and McInnis Bayou. Truitt and I have lived on a bayou since 1983 and in this location since 2012. He and the granddaughter went out at sunset every day when possible.”

His obituary lists one other ingredient for those sunsets with granddaughter: “a nice scotch on the rocks.”

The coming gathering of friends and family will all be informal. No speaker is scheduled, but anyone with something to say will be welcome to weigh in – “I want people to share stories and good memories,” Amy said.

“There will be music, pictures and videos if I have time to get them off my phone,” she said. “Musicians he’s played with since high school to a few months ago will be here.”

The whole “celebration of life” approach seems increasingly to be an alternative to the old, traditional services at churches or funeral homes. A preferable alternative, I would say. Amy noted that the increased use of cremation has made it more possible “to make choices based on the personality and interest of your loved one.”

 “You’re able to take your own time and not be rushed into a cookie cutter service that usually doesn’t fit the individual,” she said.

Sometimes the traditional way works. The pastor who delivered the service at my best friend’s funeral in 2009 was brilliant. I mean, standup comic hilarious, along with hitting all the appropriate spiritual notes.

But we’ve probably all seen funerals at which some poor preacher was pressed into duty for someone that he didn’t really know. It’s painful for all involved.

So, hurray to Amy for arranging what sounds like the perfect farewell. And hurray one last time to Truitt, for sailing true to his spirit, lifelong. On June 8, at the appropriate time of evening, I will lift a wee dram to him from afar.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville.