In Memoriam: Hugh Hampton Weedon
November 16, 1927 - September 2, 2003
The program cover for the memorial service declared what we were to be about, "A Celebration of the Life and Ministry of Hugh Hampton Weedon." It was a celebration, and Hugh did have a life (what a wonderful life) and a ministry (let those he led in giving say, "Amen").
The Rev. David Hall, Rector of Christ Episcopal Church, Montpelier VT, Hugh's friend, golfing companion, and frequent conferee on all things spiritual and mundane at the Chef's Table Bar at the New England Culinary Institute, presided. Noting Hugh's fondness for the fruit of the vine, Mr. Hall quoted I Timothy 5:23: "No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments." Hugh's children, thinking along the same line, chose the picture at the top of the page, with a wine glass in Hugh's hand, as a most appropriate way to remember his conviviality and warmth. The rector offered his take on everlasting life, that it's all about relationships and self-giving; and on that score Hugh had already enjoyed a foretaste of the banquet feast of heaven.
Hugh's associate in The American Red Cross, Bill Markle, read a letter he had written this past summer to his friend and successor in leadership in Central Vermont for the Red Cross. He named Hugh "God's Lieutenant," a fellow whom heaven had anointed to do the good work of raising funds for causes that build community.
Daughter Sarah read from Isaiah. Sarah's daughter Amanda, Williams '07, spoke, as did daughter Kate and son Peter, about granddad's insistence on proper table manners. Amanda also reported Hugh's Thanksgiving antics, something of a tradition, according to which he would retreat into the kitchen when the family was gathered around the festive board and, with the loud voice with which many of us are very familiar, scared the children with a raucous "Gobble, gobble, gobble, gobble." (As if we didn't know full well Hugh's occasional wild and noisy antics!). Peter put it succinctly with a touch of loving sarcasm, that his dad was "not a subtle presence," but he was a fun guy. Kate observed that Hugh taught responsibility and discipline to them in their young lives even as he wonderfully spoiled them in their adult years. Throughout his children's lives he gave them unconditional support.
The children then divulged a family secret, that their Dad, when attending Williams football games, always, yes, always, wore purple underpants.
At Barbara's request I spoke on behalf of the Williams Class of 1953. Here is the text of that message (with all of the histrionics and ad libs omitted):
Hugh had many strong loyalties. Barbara, of course, first and foremost and for ever. Their children and their children. He told me twice in the past year of his involvement with the Red Cross and his admiration for you, Bill [Markle], whom he proudly declared was his role model. I know too (of course, I would know!) of his faithfulness to God through the ministry of the Episcopal Church. But I am here this morning at Barbara’s invitation to represent another of Hugh’s great loyalties, Williams College, a secular institution, true, but one that has commanded the lifelong commitment of thought and substance from many in the Class of 1953, including those here this morning: [Here I named those present, and their wives, always a dangerous practice, because one is likely to overlook someone or two. And I did, miss Bob Morrison, Dud and Gerry Baker, Bob Shorb, and Williams Alumni Office representatives, Alice Wilson, Joan Callahan, and Marilyn Ellingwood. Please forgive me. A complete listing (I hope) will be printed below]. Add to those present dozens of others from the Class of 1953, from whom Barbara and I have received Email messages sending their sympathy along with their personal remembrances filled with gratitude.
We loved Hugh, a sentiment safer to express in 2003 than in 1953. And we loved him because he brought out the best in us in service and generosity to our alma mater.
Hugh was a big guy. His last illness did not diminish his stature. Barely two weeks ago he visited our summer cabin in Corinth and I still had to look up to him. He had a big voice. To sit next to him at a Williams football game was to invite temporary deafness. More than once at a class reunion when it fell to me, the spiritual advisor, to offer a prayer, before I could say the name of God a voice would be raised above the others, “Okay, Rev, make it short.” Hugh. On our class trip to Oxford in July a year ago, I thought to cut Hugh off at the pass. Before offering my prayer, I went to him at his chair in the dining room, stood behind him, and held his shoulders… and he said nary a teasing word, just a slightly moist-eyed “thank you.” I remember that moment because I think he was aware then as the rest of us were not that his last illness might be gaining on him.
Hugh was a big guy, with a big heart. He would greet you by calling out your name and giving you a hug. That big heart, for the Red Cross and for the Episcopal Church, was generous to a glorious fault with Williams College. At our 50th Reunion this past June, the Class of 1953 presented Williams College with $8.3 million. Guess who was one of the four or five who led the way, together contributing nearly half of the final gift. Not bad for a fellow who by his own admission had a tough time meeting the college’s academic requirements. His Vermont license plate isn’t so much a vanity plate as an identity plate: “Funds” it reads, and Hugh spent a lifetime making sure that the goodness got passed around. One of my best sermons takes as its theme, “Giving is living.” If I ever rescue that sermon from the barrel, Hugh will be my chief illustration.
So, God and Barbara, we of the Class of 1953 want to say our thanks for a big guy, whose stature can best be measured by the consequences of his having been here among us, gladly embracing a vocation from above, to make the world, the church, the Red Cross, Montpelier and Adamant, and Williams College, especially Williams College, far better prepared to fulfill their temporal and eternal purposes.
The service was filled with glorious music, a string quartet (including 1953's own Granthia Preston), a trumpet voluntary, a cello and piano duet, two choir anthems, and rousing postlude during which I thought I could see Hugh dancing down the aisle, to "When the Saints Come Marching In," complete with trumpet and banjo and saxophone. In good Episcopal tradition, the Eucharist was celebrated and everyone present was invited to participate. Most of us did.
Earlier in the same morning a committal (of Hugh's ashes) service was conducted in the church's front garden along State Street across from the Vermont Capitol. That site was selected because it provided a front row seat on the comings and goings in Montpelier, a town very much Hugh's own, where he enjoyed greeting friends and catching up on the latest news.
The Times Argus, a local newspaper, carried a detailed obituary. You may want to look it up on the Internet. You can go directly there by clicking on the following hyperlink to the obit page: http://timesargus.com/Obits/Story/71061.html.
Barbara repeatedly expressed her gratitude for the way in which the Williams Class of 1953 surrounded Hugh and held him in his last illness, phoning him, sending him letters, and letting him know that his efforts with us and for us and for Williams College were deeply appreciated... that, as I said in my message, we loved him.
Those present from the class were: Dud and Gerry Baker, Pete and Susan Connolly, Dave Doheny, Don Goldstein, Barbara and Bob Howard, Paul Kronick, Jean and Mike Lazor, Bob Morrison, Anne and Charlie Mott, Fred and Granthia Preston, Seth Schapiro, Bob Shorb, and Bill Williams.
Following the service the family greeted friends at the Weedon home in Adamant. The splendid refreshments were prepared and served by students from The New England Culinary Institute. There we reminisced, shared our favorite stories about Hugh, got reacquainted with his family, and did all of those warm and encouraging things people do in the face of the mystery of death.
And we left with the quiet resolution we would continue to remember Hugh and continue to include Barbara in our gatherings in Williamstown and New York and Vermont... and any other venue where the Class of 1953 has a foothold.
Barre, Vermont, Times Argus Article