Funeral Homily

John 10:11-18

A Salty Saint

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A Salty Saint
John 10:11-18

By The Rev. Charles Hoffacker

We’ve heard much this afternoon about that extraordinary man Greydon Tolson, and during the reception after this service, there will be opportunity to tell and hear still other stories from his life.

There are three things I want to say about him now, three ways in which I see how the light shone through him, and no doubt how it continues to shine even more brightly.

The first thing is that Greydon Tolson was the sort of person that the Yiddish language refers to as a mensch.  A mensch is a particularly good person, a stand-up guy.  According to Leo Rosten, author of The Joys of Yiddish, a “mensch is someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character.  The key to being ‘a real mensch’ is nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, decorous.”

Greydon was a man of strong opinions and absolute integrity.  He had a powerful presence, he was remarkably smart, and he loved to laugh.  He would do anything for anybody; people in the community knew they could count on him.

I doubt that Greydon was fluent in Yiddish, but from all I have heard, he was fluent in living life as a mensch, a true stand-up guy.

The second thing I’d like to say about Greydon was that he was a shepherd.  “No,” some of you may be thinking, “he was not a shepherd, tending flocks, he was a forester, an arborist, who cared for trees and woodlands.”

But I have it on the authority of one of his grown children that he was indeed a shepherd, not of sheep, but of people.  He took wonderful joy in his family.  He was a leader of the men he worked with.  All who knew him respected him.

Have you ever met a real shepherd?  They are not fastidious, but rough and earthy and for real.  Some of the best men in the Bible, such as Moses and David, once tended sheep.

Greydon took care of trees and forests, but he was a shepherd of people, caring in his own way not only for those close to him, but for all the citizens of this county.  Our common life is far better for the shepherding he provided.

The third thing I’d like to say about Greydon is that he was a servant leader.  This term was coined by Robert Greenleaf, a man with a rather arboreal name, but the concept is ancient.  We never have enough servant leaders in this world, people who exercise authority well because they know it’s not about them.  That’s where true greatness lies.

Greydon was a servant leader to his nation and his fellow soldiers when he swam through the freezing waters of the Moselle River carrying vital communications during the Battle of the Bulge.

Greydon was a servant leader, reorganizing the forestry boards of this state, and hanging in there during tough times when other people walked away.  As both leader and servant, he felt comfortable with people of all backgrounds.  He was at home everywhere.

In one of his poems, R.S. Thomas describes the country clergy of Wales:

“Venerable men, their black cloth
A little dusty, a little green
With holy mildew”
who did not author books,

but “rather they wrote
On men’s hearts and in the minds
Of young children sublime words
Too soon forgotten.”

I would say that Greydon Tolson, dressed comfortably for forestry or hunting, exercised his own sort of priesthood.  He wrote on the hearts of children and adults sublime words that deserve to be remembered.  He taught those of us here and others also what it means to be human.

We can honor his memory best by living out in our lives imperatives such as these.  I quote from an article entitled “How to Be a Mensch.”

  • Help people who cannot help you.
  • Help without the expectation of return.
  • Help many people.
  • Do the right thing the right way.
  • Pay back society.

Greydon Tolson lived this way.  There was in him a rugged holiness.  He turned out to be a salty saint.  And I believe that even now he gladdens the heart of God.

  • Copyright 2008, Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission. Fr. Hoffacker is the author of A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals (Cowley Publications), a book devoted to helping clergy prepare funeral homilies that are faithful, pastoral, and personal.