In February 2013, 4 months before the Arizona Scottsdale Mission was to receive its first missionaries, President and Sister Sweeney went on a recruiting trip – to Florida. Their first stop was to visit Ross and Jerrie Williams of Lake Wales. Ross had served for 5 years as a counselor to President Sweeney when he served as the stake president there. Jerrie had served as the stake Relief Society president. To say that the feelings were deep between the 2 couples would have been an understatement. The Sweeneys regarded the Williams as Saints in the finest sense of the word and they offered the Williams an invitation to join them and work side-by-side for 18 months in the mission office.
Ross was a retired Florida Highway Patrol Trooper. He would be perfect for the mission fleet. Jerrie was a master at organizing and keeping the information flowing. She would be perfect for referrals. Without waiting for an answer, President Sweeney cleared their service with the missionary department so when their application arrived, they would be recommended for the ASM office. The application arrived in early April 2013 and they were called to serve just as proposed. It was a great fit!
Elder Williams endeared himself to the missionaries. He did his Florida University “gator” cheer (hold your hand out arms straight and pretend the arms are the jaws of a gator while you clap your hands). He’d have them sing the U of F fight song: “We are the boys of old Florida. Down where the old gators play. We’ll stick together in all kinds of weather….for F L O R I D A (sound each letter).” They loved his hat, his swagger, his Elvis lines (“thank you, thank you very muuCH) – and they kept their cars and trucks mighty clean hoping to win the coveted “golden plates” license holder.
Sister Williams accompanied him to zone conferences, interviews and on the late night calls for Elders and Sisters who were locked out of their cars or in accidents. She kept him focused and in good humor.
Just before their release, Elder Williams had some undiagnosed pains. He hurt where it wasn’t supposed to hurt. Feeling concerned, they left for home a few weeks early and promptly got examined by the local VA hospital. After a few visits, the diagnosis was confirmed, and as Elder Williams often said “it ain’t good.” It was cancer – and there was no real way to know what the prognosis was. Ross had often mentioned that he wanted to live longer than his Dad. And, he did. But early this morning, Jerrie called to deliver the unwelcome news, her partner of 51 years in mortality, and forever to come, had passed.
It’s a sad day for the mission. Lots of missionaries have been in the office today and have prayed for the Williams family. We all teach the great plan of happiness – and all of the mission knows that it’s real, but we still miss Elder Williams. We can only suppose he’s back at his post, name badge on, sharing the gospel – and telling the angels there to “slow down.”