by Jack McLean
February 24, 2014
Tribute written for the Memorial Gathering dedicated to Mr. William Lemmon, formerly of Farm Point (Chelsea), West Quebec.
Died, West Kelowna, British Columbia, February 23, 2014
All of us carry a certain sense of honour for the special friends whom we love and admire, and there is no doubt that William and Phoebe Anne Lemmon fall into that category. I say honour because I feel it is an honour to have been in the presence of such a noble soul as the one Bill manifested throughout his earthly life. For this reason, I feel it is a privilege to be able to participate in this tribute to Bill with all of you, and to recall the magnanimity that characterized Bill’s life.
We remember today especially Phoebe Anne, and grieve with her in her loss, such a patient and long-suffering lady who has had to bear by now the sorrow of watching two husbands leave the world before her. We also remember Gail, Roxanne and Dane at this time, Bill’s step-children, and share in their sadness. We remember also Bill’s first family, his daughter Mona, who is the reporter JC Kenny, and his son David.
Unlike some of you who may have served with Bill, perhaps on a Local Spiritual Assembly or a committee, or shared in the regular activities of Bahá’í community life, my memories of Bill and Phoebe Anne are based largely on our friendship, which started when Brigitte and I were living in Low, Quebec, at the time of the birth of our youngest daughter Leah (1975), who is by now 38 years old. The Lemmons were living in Farm Point, later the municipality of Chelsea, which was their long-time residence during the time they were living in West Quebec. Before leaving for Peachland, British Columbia, they spent their last year in a cottage in nearby La Pêche (2001-2002), where they had moved to strengthen the Local Spiritual Assembly.
When I think of Bill now, I think especially about what might be called his sober thoughtfulness. Bill was a serious man, but thankfully he wasn’t too serious, and, I must confess it was always a special delight to see him smile or hear him laugh. Bill had that subtle, understated, amusingly ironic sense of humour, and with him and me it sometimes took the form of friendly, occasional verbal rivalry. Bill knew that I respected him, and I always felt that he respected me, as he did his other friends.
Bill and Phoebe Anne are, of course, senior to those of my generation, and so we baby boomers looked up to them because of the wisdom of their years, as wise counsellors and loving mentors. They both helped me through more than one personal crisis, and they must have wondered at times what I was doing with my life, and why it was taking me so long to learn the lessons of sensible living. They never found fault; they always extended a listening, compassionate ear, and offered good sensible advice, based on wisdom, common sense, and the Bahá’í teachings. Even when I was plainly in the wrong, they were never judgmental.
But we don’t always love those whom we love because of what they do for us, as important as that may be. I feel that the love that we hold for our special friends exists simply because of their presence; simply because they are there, because they are being themselves: their most authentic, human and spiritual selves, who reflect back to us that love, caring and compassion that help to define genuine interpersonal relationships and Bahá’í community life.
I’ve mentioned Bill’s serious and sober side, but there was so much more to the man. Yes, Bill was rational in his approach to life, and to problem solving; he was an engineer by training. But although he followed reason and practical common sense, if you looked more closely, you discovered that love was the unspoken motivator in much of what he did. Bill did not speak much about love, as much as others do, but he certainly reflected it in the actions that he performed for Phoebe Anne, for his friends and family, and in the service of the Bahá’í Faith. I think it is true to say that Bill Lemmon was a rational lover, and I would be hard-pressed to say which faculty was the greater or the stronger in him—love or reason. He was wise enough to be restrained in his speech, so that when he spoke, what he had to say was worth listening to. Other qualities come to mind: Bill was patient, and quietly industrious, as he went about his tasks with a gentle but firm determination.
Those of us who were there remember clearly those well-attended, autumn corn roasts held in the village of Chelsea and Farm Point. It was an annual event that we all anticipated. We recall those great, heaped up piles of corn, waiting to be tossed into the enormous, black cauldrons that would soon come to a rolling boil to cook the yellow harvest of the season. What a great repast we had those many autumns, and what fun, love and fellowship we shared! We never had a doubt who deserved to be called our King and Queen of the harvest.
I have spoken about Bill’s qualities: his patience, his quiet determination, his industry, his fewness of words, his sober thoughtfulness, his reliance on love and reason, his spirit of service. But unsuspected to many, even to those who knew Bill well, was his mystical side. It’s an old saying but a true one that still waters run deep. Bill’s waters ran deep. What happened to Bill during his pilgrimage was no doubt a supernatural event which he has related in the book of elder stories published by my cousin Heather Cardin. But the gist of what Bill recounted was that in the Shrine of Bahá’u’lláh, the majesty and power of God’s Divine Manifestation took hold of him, and transported him to another place, which is not of this world, and held him there for some time. It brought him great joy and spiritual exaltation. What Bill experienced there cannot be fully described in words, but no doubt he has found that joy again, and other sublime and happy worlds that are as of yet beyond our finite, human imaginings.
Finally, I will speak of what was and is perhaps most evident in the spirituality of William Lemmon: his steadfastness and rock-solid faith. When the doctor announced to him that he had cancer, Bill responded simply but surely and without any embarrassment: “It’s the will of God.” It was in the full acceptance of that diagnosis as part of God’s unfolding, predetermined, plan for his life, and what eventually proves to be the ultimate plan for every life, that Phoebe Anne was able to find comfort and solace: comfort and solace in Bill’s steadfastness; comfort and solace in Bill’s ready submission to the will of God—the mature and appropriate response for every steadfast believer who has placed his trust and confidence in the Almighty. Bill was surely detached from the “changes and chances of this world,” as Bahá’u’lláh calls them, and surely detached from the vain imaginings of the people.
I would like to end this brief tribute to Mr. William Lemmon, consultant, counsellor, long-serving, steadfast Bahá’í, friend, helper, husband, and father with these words of hope that have come from the inspired pens of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:
“The movement of My Pen is stilled when it attempteth to befittingly describe the loftiness and glory of so exalted a station. The honor with which the Hand of Mercy will invest the soul is such as no tongue can adequately reveal, nor any other earthly agency describe. Blessed is the soul which, at the hour of its separation from the body, is sanctified from the vain imaginings of the peoples of the world. Such a soul liveth and moveth in accordance with the Will of its Creator, and entereth the all-highest Paradise.” (Bahá’u’lláh)
“When the human soul soareth out of this transient heap of dust and riseth into the world of God, then veils will fall away, and verities will come to light, and all things unknown before will be made clear, and hidden truths be understood.” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá)
Carleton Place, Ontario