Memorial Service For William “Buddy” Nicely

 Memorial Service For William “Buddy” Nicely   –   June 25, 2014 – The Virginia Home

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”     –    Romans 12:12

As the pastor of the Patterson Avenue Baptist Church, I would like to express our congregation’s condolences to all of Buddy’s friends and family members.  Buddy was a member of our congregation for about 25 years, having been baptized right here at the Virginia Home.

We especially want to express our prayerful support and encouragement to his faithful mother whose grief we cannot even begin to imagine.  You’ll remain in our prayers for many days to come.

I also want to express my congregations appreciation for all the workers and caregivers of the Virginia Home who have labored for many years to make Buddy’s life – and all of those who are residents here – to be filled with warmth, loved, and meaning.  Thank you for the work you do.

Thank you especially for facilitating the possibility for Buddy and many others to share in the life and fellowship of our congregation. All of Patterson Avenue Baptist Church shares in the sorrow of this day.  Buddy was a well loved member of our congregation.  We will all miss Buddy a great deal.

I looked for a verse from the Bible to describe how many of us might remember Buddy.  I found these words from Romans 12:12, where Paul advises followers of Jesus to “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” That seems like an apt description of how Buddy lived his life.    Buddy spent a great deal of time in prayer.  Not in an overtly religious manner.  It was genuine conversation with God.  He spent lots of time talking with God. Perhaps this is the reasons Buddy has been so patient in affliction.  We all know that Buddy dealt with a great deal of adversity in his life.  Yet here’s the thing that impressed so many of us about Buddy.  Few of us have ever heard him complain.

I visited Buddy several weeks ago when he first became a patient in the Cardio Care Unit at St. Mary’s Hospital.  As I left, I stopped by the Nurse’s Station to give them my contact information. “Please take good care of my friend Buddy,” I said.  “He is one of the nicest people in my church.”

Every nurse on the unit had something positive to say in response.

“Buddy is a great guy,” said one

“He so warm and friendly,” said another

“He’s got such a great sense of humor,” said a third.

“Don’t you worry.  We are going to take good care of Buddy.  We just love Buddy!”

I turned to leave and one of them said:   “Buddy is such a great witness for your church.  He never complains about anything.” Before I left the hospital, I had to find a place to sit and pray.  Her comments was very moving and so true. I am a pastor, so I have people who come to me often with all sorts of complaints that seem so insignificant compared to the things Buddy dealt with in his life.  And as a human being I often find myself complaining about issues that seem so minor when compared to what Buddy was dealt with.

For about 40 years, Buddy has been confined to a bed or wheelchair.  His neurological and physical ailments have made even the most basic of necessities a tremendous chore.  He needed help to manage every aspect of daily life. Did Buddy ever complained?  I do not know.  But I was his pastor for almost seven years and I never heard him complain.  Previous pastors and church staff members I have spoke to cannot remember hearing Buddy complain.  People in our church who have known Buddy for 25 years cannot remember hearing him complain.  So if Buddy ever did complain, he got beyond it quickly.

That was the witness he gave to the nurses at St. Mary’s that day when I visited.  In the midst of caring for him in his tremendous discomfort and pain, his nurse said to me:  “Buddy is such a good witness for your church.  He never complains about anything.”

But it wasn’t really a witness to our church.  It was a witness to the loving God we worship and serve…a loving God we call “Father” (or to use Jesus’ word, PAPA) whom Buddy knew and love on a personal basis. It was Buddy’s intimacy with God, I believe, that gave him the resources of grace to be patient in affliction.

I also believe this prayerful intimacy with God also gave Buddy a joyful hope – a gift which he freely shared with others through his extraordinary, if not repetitive sense of humor. How often did we hear him explain that when his mother remarried a wonderfully loving man whose last name was Bright, that meant that he, Buddy Knicely, was now “half-bright.” I visited Buddy on more than one occasion over the last few weeks and said to him,  “How are you feeling?”  To which he replied, “With my nerves!”

Buddy was very willing to let people poke fun at him, provided he was allowed to poke back. One of our deacons, Brian Snead, who has known and loved Buddy for a long time, commented one day that the way Buddy was wearing his hair and mustache made him look like Hitler.  To this Buddy quickly responded, “Well you look like a horses ass!” Even Brian agrees that Buddy’s description was spot on accurate.

When people visited Buddy, either in the hospital or at the Virginia Home, they would often concluded  visit by saying something like, “I’ll come back and see you soon!”  To that Buddy would respond, “Is that a promise, or a threat.” I was visiting Buddy at St. Mary’s when a nurse came in the room.  He spoke to her saying,  “Do you know who this is?” as he threw his arm in my direction. “No, I do not know who that is, Buddy!” she said. “This is the guy who tries hard to preach in my church every Sunday!”

Buddy always had a smart-alecky comment to share, or a joke to tell.  Sure, it was the same set of jokes and many of us encouraged him to get new material, but let’s be honest, that was part of his charm.  We wouldn’t have had it any other way.  And if we could, we’d have Buddy comes back and tell us more of those bad jokes.

Sometimes Buddy has a hard time remembering people’s names.  He continually referred to my wife Jeana as Carole, who was the wife of my predecessor.  Jeana gave up a long time ago at trying to correct Buddy.  She was Jeana to everyone else at the church, but Carole whenever Buddy spoke up.

His inability to remember names was even more pronounced when he spoke to Lee Stevens, our Music Director.  For the longest time, Buddy referred to Lee as Daniel Boone (probably because Lee had longer hair and a beard at the time).  Lee finally decided to play along and started referring to Buddy as Davy Crockett.

Buddy shared his joyful outlook on life in other ways, too. One of the families in our church has a new baby.  His name is Jeremiah.  One Sunday Buddy wanted to hold the baby.  So Betsie, Jeremiah’s mom, help Buddy hold the baby gently on his lap.  Jeremiah was very comfortable and eventually fell asleep in Buddy’s embrace. I saw Buddy holding the baby.  He had the most content smile I have ever seen on his face.

A couple weeks ago I told Buddy I might miss a day or two visiting.  I explained to him that my son, Michael, would be graduating High School and we would be spending time as ceremonies and events. Buddy reached out his hand toward mine.  I grabbed it and held it.  Buddy then said, “Hey Bill, I would really like to go to his graduation.” I know that Buddy absolutely meant that from the bottom of his heart.  He loved all the kids and youth at the church and had always been kind and encouraging to my son.

I told Michael what Buddy had said and could tell my son was moved by Buddy’s well wishes.

About a week or so before Buddy’s passing, our family visited Buddy in the hospital.  There were a couple of church members with him already.  He received visits from dozens of folks from the congregation over the last couple of weeks. My daughter has a very tender heart.  She could not stay long in the room without bursting into tears.  But my son sat quietly and took it all in.  As we prepared to leave, Michael said, “Wait a minute, Dad.  He then went over to Buddy’s bedside, wrapped his arms around Buddy, and said, “I love you too, Buddy.”

We’ll all miss Buddy.  We all loved Buddy a great deal.  And Buddy loved all of us.  He loved his church family and was a great witness to the God we love and honor.  Buddy was “joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

This past Sunday when we gathered at worship, our congregation remember Buddy in our prayers.  We knew he had been in the dying process for ten days.  We thought it might only be a few days when he entered hospice care.  So as we met in worship, I invited the congregation to pray that Buddy might soon find the peace and healing of death.  That was our prayer.  God answered that prayer just moments later.  Buddy passed at 11:40AM that morning.

Here’s how I imagined it happening.  On the great day of resurrection, Buddy’s walks right into heaven gate by the strength healthy, mobile legs.  St. Peter greets Buddy at the gate and says, “How are you doing, Buddy?” And we all know how Buddy responded, don’t we?  Say it with me:  “Knicely!”

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