Eulogy for James Hedrick
April 8, 2016
by Rev. John Partridge
So who was he?
That’s the question that we all have when we hear that someone died isn’t it? Either we didn’t know them at all, or we knew who they were in general, but, if we weren’t really good friends we are often left wondering who a person really was.
So who was James Hedrick?
I knew James (who went by “Jimmy” far more often than he went by James) from his time at church and from our visits at home and at the nursing home after his cancer made him too sick to come anymore. But then last week I sat down with a room full of family and friends and they told me all sorts of stories about Jimmy that he never would have told me himself.
James Hedrick was born in Canton, Ohio in 1960 to Garland and Martha Hedrick but he lost his Mom in 1968 when he was only eight years old. James had one older brother and two younger sisters but his father remarried and so he really had more than that. There never was any emphasis on remembering who was a “step” sibling, they were all just brothers and sisters, but the younger ones were quick to remember that James was “like a father” to them. James was often the babysitter for his younger siblings and, when it was cold out, James used to button Cindy inside his coat and carry her around that way.
James’ dad said that he was a good kid that didn’t get into trouble, but his brother Kevin told me that being a good kid didn’t mean that he didn’t do things that occasionally got his dad so mad that he would throw things at him. But Jimmy was so long-legged that he would run away from his dad and leap over fences as he went. And sometimes when his dad sent him in the house to get a tool they needed, James would go in the house and go to bed instead.
When James was born, he had a cleft lip and palate and had surgery to correct it. He was always self-conscious about the scar that it left behind, and for many years he grew a mustache and a beard to cover it up (Annette’s parents said that he looked like Jesus). But the funny thing is, no one else seemed to notice. I don’t think that anyone at church ever noticed that he had a scar at all, and among his family and friends, if anyone noticed, absolutely no one cared.
In 1984 Jimmy met Annette at the Massillon Community Hospital (which is now Affinity Hospital). He was 23 years old and she was a 15 year old candy striper. They dated for a year and a half before Annette’s parents found out how old he was and made them stop seeing one another. That worked for a while, but when she turned 18, Annette moved in with James and, not surprisingly, her parents were not happy. But they were together for 30 years so it’s obvious that, even if its beginning was a little unconventional, something about their relationship must have worked.
Together, James and Annette had two kids, but raised a lot more than that. Elizabeth and Adam were theirs by birth, but over the years, there were a lot more who needed a home, or parents that cared, and they found both with James and Annette. This family that they built, some related by blood and others by invitation, was a big part of what held everything together. Kevin and Jim were best friends as well as brothers and talked on the phone almost every day. Kevin helped James to fix his cars and they did almost everything together. Elizabeth could share anything and everything with Jim, and the last few years Adam could as well. Since James was a night owl, he often stayed up late to play Dungeons and Dragons, or video games, or tell jokes, or just talk with Adam, or Steven, or Toad, or Shorty, Goldie, or whoever wanted to hang around. And, this might be a good time to point out that James gave all of the kids that came to his house nicknames… like Toad, and Shorty. When Adam got the game Resident Evil for his game system, it scared him so much that he couldn’t play it himself and so instead of playing, he had James play the game while he watched. When Annette’s Grandma Fannie had dementia and was in the psych unit in the hospital and got upset, they asked James to calm her down. Somehow he did, and then he sat for hours and played cards with her.
We don’t have the time to tell you all of the stories that James’ family shared with me last week, but every one of them was about being connected, being a friend, sharing hearts, and being a family. James was one of those people who opened their family, and opened their heart to become a friend to people who needed a friend, a father who needed a father, and gave a family to people who needed a family.
And that’s why I want to share with you my part of James’s story.
Last fall, although Annette had been coming to church for quite a while, James started to come with her. He listened intently but usually didn’t have much to say. But then one day Annette asked if I could come over to their house because James wanted to know more about whom Jesus was and why he was important to what we were talking about at church. And so I did. We talked for a while about how Jesus came to be perfect for all of us who could never be perfect on our own so that he could invite us to be a part of his family, to be adopted by his father, and to live in his house forever. This all seemed to make sense to James and so he wanted to know how to be a part of that. Before I left that afternoon, James decided that being a part of Jesus’ family sounded like a good idea and he asked God to make that happen.
And all of that reminded me of a story that Jesus told. It’s called the parable of the vineyard owner found in Matthew 20 and it goes like this.
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
3 “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5 So they went.
“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. 6 About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
9 “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius.11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner.12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Moments before Jesus told this story, Jesus’ disciples were talking about how much they had given up to follow him and so we know that Jesus intended this to be a story about the people who will come to follow him long after the disciples did. Jesus tells us that there are those people who joined his family, joined the church, and worked for him all day long. Some of us have been a part of the church for nearly all of our lives. But others wouldn’t get there until the day was almost over. Even so, God chooses to be generous and give everyone the same reward. And so, whenever I meet people like James, who discover Jesus at the end of their lives, I think of this parable.
And now that I had the chance to learn more about James Hedrick and discover a little more about who he really was, I think that James and Jesus understand each other. In fact, I think James and Jesus have a lot in common because they share a love for other people and offer a home to the homeless, become a father to the fatherless, and a family to people who need one.
And so whenever someone asks, “Who was James Hedrick?” Knowing that he was even a little bit like Jesus is a good thing.
A Letter to My Dad
April 8, 2016
by Elizabeth Hedrick
To my Dad,
This is really hard to write because you were the only one who could help me figure out how to explain how I’m feeling. But what I do feel, I do feel scared because I didn’t just lose a dad, I lost a best friend who I could talk to for hours. I remember how my friends, and my brother’s friends, used to sit and talk to him for hours. I also remember all of us in my kitchen just goofing off with him. He was always really good at making us all lugh ans sometimes it wasn’t on purpose. That’s what made him so great. He was a big kid at heart. He will be deeply missed by all of his friends and family.
Your beloved daughter,
James A. Hedrick 1960 – 2016 age 55, of Massillon, passed away in his residence on Wednesday, March 30, 2016, following a long illness. He was born in Canton, Ohio, on June 26, 1960, to Garland and Martha (Barnes) Hedrick. James was a member of Trinity United Methodist Church.
He is preceded in death by his mother, Martha Hedrick; step-mother, Therese (Reihle) Hedrick; sisters, Linda Baus, Cynthia Pamer, and Dawn Alexander; and nephew, Joey Hedrick. James is survived by his wife of thirty years, Annette (Sturgill) Hedrick; children, Elizabeth Hedrick and Adam Hedrick; grandson, Aiden Bowman; and siblings, Bill (Kelly) Hedrick, Michelle McCauley, Gary Alexander, and Kevin (Patti) Hedrick.
A service will be held at a later date at Trinity United Methodist Church, Perry Township, with Pastor John Partridge officiating. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made in his memory to Akron General Hospital, Genetics Department for the BRCA1 Cancer Gene Research.