Bill

No one obituary could sum up my father-in-law, but I gave it a shot anyway. 


The Rev. William Joseph Maher, Sr., was born on July 5, 1941, in Oil City, Pennsylvania, and before long would be found riding his tricycle in circles until the wheel stuck therehaving gotten the point, and it would be the first in a long line of objects animate and inanimate that would both tire of Bill’s bullheadedness and give into it, out of sheer admiration for such a single-minded sense of purpose. Having bent the bike to his will, Bill would move on to conquer middle and high school bullies, raging war with the gangs that plagued the neighborhood. At 18, a priest told Bill he’d have to start tithing money, so Bill told him a thing or two back and never returned; he took to the bars, instead, where, for fun and maybe to face a demon or two, he'd pick fights and/or finish them. (His adult children never quite believed these stories until the day a man his age came up to them and said, “Man, could your dad ever clear a bar.”) Bill would race cars on the dirt track and the streets. Once, when policeman getting a haircut flew out of the barber’s chair and into his cruiser to chase them, he found his bumper chained to a tree; Bill knew this because he had something to do with the chain, but also because he sat in the barber’s chair days later and heard a story about delinquents speeding through town (to which he replied, “Those S-O-B kids”). This rambunctiousness, this fire, needed an outlet somewhere, and eventually hard manual labor could steal some of that energy and provide him a living. When his construction crew paused their work in Grove City, PA, for something to eat, Bill spotted Sarah (Sally) Anne Davies and announced to his friend, “I’m going to get a date with her and marry her.” Sally was a single mom with a two-year-old, Betsy, and Bill was right: theirs would be a great, singular love, filled with flowers, dancingnotes, nicknames, all-night throw-down arguments, and, above all, laughter. They married and moved to Longmont, Colorado, where Bill ran his own cleaning business until the day he climbed out of a manhole and said, “I’m done.” Bill and Sally moved back to western PA—with three children now, having added Anne and Joe to the mix—and Bill began studying history at Westminster College. With Bill's military background (time spent serving in the U.S. Air Force was cut short when degenerative joint disease stiffened his knee), the police coveted his help with security. Bill once caught a student stealing from the science department first by ramming him with his car door, then throwing him in the back seat (the front seat was already occupied by his young son). Believe it or not, Bill started back at church and would graduate from seminary, eventually preaching up to four sermons in different western PA churches on a Sunday morning. Bill was a straight-shooting sermonizer who never needed a microphone. He’d pace the aisles and jump past the obvious points to get to the underlying message. He liked to teach on the Bible characters who weren’t listened to, and he liked the parishioners who never thought they’d find themselves in a pew. man whose wife went to church every Sunday without him was working outside his house one day when Bill stopped and offered to help pour and pave cement. Only much later in the day would he realize that this stranger who’d been helping him for hours was a pastor andwould you believe it, the man found himself wanting to go to church with his wife after that. Twenty-two years of this and Bill decided to retire from running a church in order to open up a new one: Christ Community Church, whose purpose was to serve folk recovering from addictions. You see, back when Bill wanted to marry Sally, he found himself facing her father, who would later become one of his closest friends but right then was saying there was no way Bill would marry his daughter unless he stopped drinking. So Bill had a heart for these people in and out of recovery and would often advocate for them in court, where the judge respected his judgment. When Sally died in 2012, Bill took it hard and became a little less social, though he still had his friends, children, their spouses, and all of his dear grandchildren whose lives he followed mostly from afar. And his beloved Maggie, the Australian shepherd who shared Bill’s mix of intensity and deep kindness. Soon he’d also meet Pat, who would bring him an unexpected joy in his last years. Together they would enjoy the birds that flocked to their feeders, and the flowers that would bloom by their windows. Bill had lots of turns of phrases that will live on through his children, but his legacy shines more through what he did than what he said. He was a man of actiona fighter who loved fiercely, with a glorious white mane. And that laugh! A holy laugh born from a hell of a life that was well-lived and will be forever missed. 




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