Eulogy for James H. Williams
February 18, 2023
By Rev. Chris Martin
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ: we gather in this sacred space to worship the all-powerful and compassionate Creator of the universe and his only begotten Son, our Lord, and Savior Jesus Christ, in loving memory of James H. Williams.
There is no other place on the face of the earth more appropriate for us to gather than in this House of Worship, where Jim and his beloved wife of 67 years Peg, first came to worship in 1961. A celebration of Peg’s life was held in this room on the twenty-sixth of August last year. Jim continued to be active in both the Sunday School and worship of this congregation through Sunday, February fifth – just two weeks ago tomorrow.
Jim served in every lay leadership capacity that this church had to offer, including over 40 years as an adult Sunday School teacher, a position he entrusted to me about twelve years ago. On several occasions since his retirement from teaching, I asked him back to teach when I had to be away. He never once said “no” and taught the class as recently as eight weeks ago. Jim Williams was, without exception, one of the godliest, righteous, friendly, intelligent, noble, dignified, strong (in a gentle way), serious (in a fun-loving way), faithful, and committed Christian gentleman I have ever met in 52 years in ministry and 75 years of living in this world. Jim was as “genuine” a person as God ever created. There was nothing timid about Jim’s faith or Christian witness. Jim knew clearly what he believed and modeled his faith daily in the life he lived.
Each of the scripture passages you have heard read today speak eloquently about Jim Williams and the profound faith in Jesus Christ he lived each day of his life. The depth of Jim’s faith was universal – it showed through every aspect of his life, not just those parts of his life related to the church. The list of his accomplishments related to his legal profession and the list of his many activities and leadership positions within the community of Alliance both before and after his formal retirement in the year 2000 indicate that Jim was a person willing to invest his time, energy, expertise, strength and leadership capabilities in a wide variety of activities and organizations that sought to make life better for large numbers of people.
There is another passage of scripture that eloquently describes a man of God like Jim Williams. In the first chapter of the book of Psalms it reads: “Happy indeed is the man who follows not the counsel of the wicked; nor lingers in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers, whose delight is in the law of the Lord and who ponders that law both day and night.” Not only did Jim fulfill the words of this passage of scripture in his professional life as a highly esteemed member of the legal profession, where his colleagues in the law respected his opinions and valued his wisdom; he lived his life following a code of ethics that reached far beyond the law of the land. Jim lived his life according to the rule of God, giving himself and his expertise to those in need.
In the one hundred and twenty-first chapter of Psalms, the psalmist writes: “I will lift my eyes to the hills: from where shall my help come? My help shall come from the Lord who made both heaven and earth. He will not allow me to stumble. He will guard me from all evil; he will protect my soul. The Lord will guard my going and coming both now and forever.” This psalm offers comfort to each of us for a variety of reasons. It was especially a comfort for Jim and Peg after Peg’s diagnosis of multiple myeloma. Jim and Peg took such sweet and loving care of each other when times of sickness came. When Jim underwent procedures with his heart and when Peg underwent chemotherapy – they leaned into one another and cared for one another, along with the ever-vigilant care of their children, Jim Jr., and his wife Lynda, and Sue, and her husband Steve, and the words of encouragement they received from their grandsons.
Let me stop right here to say: your parents and grandparents deeply loved each of you and took pride in every one of your accomplishments. They also knew and felt keenly the love and support of a compassionate and healing God, who would protect them, walk with them, and love them every step of the journey. They also felt deeply the support of their church and the always caring members of the Searcher’s Class. The folks in the class have been together for decades and genuinely feel the loss of their dear friends. Through the times of illness and the struggles that come with aging, Jim and Peg knew that God was always with them. When I was serving a recent three-month interim for a pastor on renewal leave, my wife taught the class. She reminded me that, in a discussion of the afterlife, Jim asked: “What kind of a job will God have for me in heaven?” Given all of Jim’s many talents and abilities, I am certain there will be a job for him in heaven. I am equally certain that if God doesn’t have an immediate job for Jim, I bet Peg will think of one.
In the apostle Paul’s second letter to his youthful friend Timothy, Paul writes: “Timothy, my son, I am nearly at the point of my departure from this life. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. There is awaiting me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me. Not only will that crown be mine; it is reserved for all who love God without measure.” Well, dear friends, I can tell you with complete certainty that Jim and Peg Williams have received those crowns of righteousness in the Kingdom of God because I know that both “fought bravely, and without complaint, the good fight; that they both finished the race with God’s grace and peace; and that they both kept the faith in genuine and concrete ways.”
Before we consider the lesson from John’s gospel, permit me a moment to lift up a brief passage of scripture that reflects the beauty and strength of the life we celebrate here today. In the Old Testament prophetic book that bears his name, Micah makes the following inquiry: “What does the Lord require of us?” Having asked the question, Micah provides the answer, saying: “To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” I cannot think of anyone I have ever known that more honestly fulfills the requirements of the God of our Fathers than Judge James Williams. His personal and professional life demonstrated his intense concern for justice. The way he related to individuals on a day-to-day basis revealed his kindness to all people. Walking humbly with his God was how Jim lived his days on this earth.
Finally, what does Jesus have to say to us today from the gospel of John? He says this: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, you may be also.” I submit to you that Jim believed and lived those words throughout his life and the truth of the Lord’s Word sustained him, and those surrounding him, at the moment of his death and passage into eternal life.
In the final moments of his life, Jim was embraced by his loving daughter Sue, his son Jim Jr. and his daughter-in-law Lynda. What more needs to be said? Only this: the greatest memorial, the greatest tribute any one of us can give to the life of this wise and strong man will not be achieved by engraving his name on a bronze plaque, although that may well be done. The greatest memorial and tribute we can make to his life is to live our lives, to the very best of our abilities, the way Jim Williams lived his life: “Seeking justice, loving kindness, and doing everything in our power, to WALK HUMBLY WITH GOD.”
Judge James H. Williams – “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the Kingdom of your Father forever and forever” – where there is no suffering, no sickness, no pain – only unutterable JOY in the presence of a loving God and your beloved wife, Peg, who was waiting for you at the gates of Paradise. Amen!
L. Chris Martin
Christ United Methodist Church
February 18, 2023
Remembrances of Jim Williams from Family and Friends
Jim Williams, Jr. (Son)
We heard through the years of Dad’s career as a judge that in his quiet and stern way he ran a very smooth and efficient Bankruptcy Court. It was well known, if you were a lawyer, and you appeared in front of Judge Williams unprepared, you only did it once!
I too was the recipient of these quiet lessons, but one story in particular defines Dad’s style:
As a teenager with a new driver’s license, I had a midnight curfew. Our folks usually retired early, but Dad had an ingenious way of getting me home on time. He had an alarm clock, set for midnight, on the night stand next to the bed. I was to return home on time and shut off that alarm clock before it woke him up. One Saturday night I was out with friends and got home in time to turn off the alarm. Feeling safe, as if I beat the system, I sneaked back out to join my friends again, and returned home a second time well after 2AM.
Tiptoeing quietly in the back door, I thought I’d pulled off my little caper, only to come face to face with Dad standing in the dark hallway, arms folded with that terrifying stare. He only said these words: “Sunrise service at church starts at 6:30 … you’re going.” He turned and walked away. I went to church. Lesson learned.
Stern but fair…dignified and persistent…loving, generous, faithful, and devoted: These are the qualities that shaped Dad’s life. He was my most impactful example of how to live – and love – and to be remembered as a good man. He is my hero.
Sue Zempke (Daughter)
“Our dad…faithful, honest, compassionate, generous, loving, always present. All these words describe who he was. He was a man who carved his name on the hearts of all who knew him.
And he was so funny…a new restaurant came to town and all the city dignitaries were going to the grand opening. I asked him if he was going, and he said he didn’t even get an invitation because he was pretty sure new businesses weren’t likely to invite the local bankruptcy judge!
And speaking of that, I admit I used his title to my advantage as a young girl whenever the need arose. If I was in a situation where someone wasn’t in agreement with a point I was trying to make I had no problem saying, “I’ll ask my dad. He’s a judge!” Funny how that remark settled many arguments for me!
I will sure miss his wit, his charm, his unwavering faith, and most importantly the fierce love he had for his family. I love you, Dad. You will live on in our hearts forever.”
David Williams (Grandson)
“Never has a man been more deserving of the title “honorable.” Granddad was the epitome of honor, integrity, and stability. He was a man of few words, but those words were always poignant, always considerate, and sometimes, downright hilarious. That sharp wit has permeated through the generations, and any time my dad, my brother or I make a smart remark, we all know where we got it. As the patriarch of the family, I could not think of a better example of work ethic, fairness, and of course, great comic timing. I love you, Granddad.”
Matthew Williams (Grandson)
Granddad was a man I admired. Not only because he was my granddad, but because he was a man worthy of admiration. His and Grandma’s life together was an inspirational love story. He was generous. He was a man of outstanding principles. A man full of love for his career, his community, and above all, his family.
As a kid I used to challenge Granddad to staring contests because “The Judge” was unbreakable. He was intimidating, if you didn’t know he was as nice and gentle as a man could be. As I grew older, I became astounded at his quick wit. He was hilarious, with a dry delivery that frequently offered a sarcasm that I’m told is hereditary.
Our time together was special. Our annual family vacations are something I will not only remember for the rest of my life, but something I would love to carry on in the future. Granddad showed us the things that truly matter, and he lived a life anyone would be proud of. A man to be admired.
Grandsons Andrew and Kevin Zempke
“Never in our lives have we met someone who is more steadfast and devoted as our grandfather. He was a very serious man but also very family-oriented and cherished the finer things in life. He made sure we all got together for a big family vacation every year and some of our fondest memories came from those trips. Regardless of where we were, he made sure everyone was having a good time. As long as we were having fun, he was having fun.
Seeing him speed off in his brand-new Porsche Boxster was a sight to behold. He was such a cool dude. It’s hard to not admire someone like that. I, Andrew, remember looking over at him sitting on a couch at my cousin Matthew’s wedding in a nice suit, drinking his drink, and thinking to myself, ‘I aspire to be that cool one day!’ I, Kevin, often look back on all the family vacations we would go on, none of which would have been possible without him. Whether we spent our vacations on the Outer Banks, or in the Rocky Mountains, the time spent with Granddad and the rest of the family are moments I will remember for the rest of my life.
We will miss you deeply.”
Andrew and Kevin
The Honorable Ann Womer Benjamin
Mayor of Aurora, Ohio
“I was a new lawyer at Black McCuskey in Canton in 1978. My expertise was probate law, and I had no bankruptcy experience, nor was I admitted to practice before the Federal Court. Nevertheless, as a young associate at the firm, I remember being sent to Judge Williams’ court at the last minute on a matter. I was quite terrified because I had to ask the court’s permission to appear, then had to present on behalf of my firm’s client before a room full of people. Judge Williams couldn’t have been more gracious and helped this amateur navigate the proceeding successfully. I will never forget Judge Williams’ patience and understanding during that challenging first experience for me in Federal Bankruptcy Court.”
Obituary for Judge James H. Williams
Judge James H. Williams, age 88, passed away on February 12, 2023 surrounded by his family.
He was born on February 20, 1934, in Salem, to Howard H. and Lucy Williams.
Jim was raised in Berlin Center, Ohio and graduated from Berlin Center High School in 1952. He earned his B.A. degree in pre-law studies at Kent State University followed by a Juris Doctor Degree from The Ohio State University Law School in 1957. Jim began working as a Staff Attorney with the Ohio Depart of Highways and as an Assistant US Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio in Columbus. In 1961 he joined what became the law firm of Blumenstiel, Williams and Blumenstiel in Alliance. He was appointed one of eight United States Bankruptcy Judges for the Northern District of Ohio in 1972. He remained in that position until his retirement in April 2000. Judge Williams served the Court as its Chief Judge from 1988-1997.
Active in his community, Judge Williams was a past President of the Alliance Jaycees, a past National Director of the US Jaycees, a JCI Senator, a member and past director of the Alliance Rotary Club, a Paul Harris Fellow, campaign chairman and past president of the Alliance Area United Way, chairman of the Republican Party in Alliance, member of the Stark County Board of Elections, past president of the Stark County Bar Association, and was a life member of the Ohio State Bar Association and Fellow of Ohio Bar Association.
Following his retirement, he served as board president of Copeland Oaks Retirement Community, to which he and his wife relocated in 2013, board member of the Alliance-Minerva Chapter of the American Red Cross, president of the Alliance Family YMCA and a founding trustee of the Greater Alliance Foundation. He was also formerly active on the District level of the Buckeye Council, Boy Scouts of America and was a former member of Fillibusters and the Alliance Country Club. Judge Williams became a member of First Methodist Church in Alliance, now Christ United Methodist, in 1961 and served in most of the lay leadership roles of the church. For more than 40 years he was an adult Sunday School teacher.
Those left to cherish his memory are his children, James H., Jr. (Lynda) of Franklin, PA and Susan M. Zempke (Steve) of Mt. Vernon, TX; and four grandsons, Matthew J. Williams (Kelsey) of North Hollywood, CA, David Edwin Williams (Racheal Kimeu) of Jersey City, NJ, Andrew S. Zempke (Kimberley) of Arlington, TX, and Kevin W. Zempke of Plano, TX.
He was preceded in death by his parents and his wife, Margaret Williams, whom he married August 27, 1955 and who passed on August 21, 2022.
A celebration of life will be held at Christ United Methodist Church on Saturday, February 18th at 11:30 a.m. with a visitation from 10:00-11:30 a.m. Pastors John Partridge and Chris Martin will officiate. A private family committal service and entombment will be held at Highland Memorial Park later that afternoon.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 E. Broadway, Alliance, Ohio 44601 or The Oaks Foundation, 715 S. Johnson Rd, Sebring, Ohio 44672.
Arrangements are entrusted to Cassaday-Turkle-Christian Funeral Home 75 South Union Ave Alliance, Ohio 44601.