Dr. Ed Upton
A Eulogy Given at Northaven UMC
June 24, 2005
I cannot remember the first time I met Ed Upton. Which is to say that I was too young at the time to remember the first time I knew Ed Upton. You see, although I would not know it until years later, the man I met here at Northaven Church, who would be such a mentor to me here, had already been a mentor to me years before.
I found this out on the day I first do remember meeting Ed Upton. It was after I had been appointed here at Northaven Church, and Ed was a member of the staff parish committee. And before I actually got here, Ed called me up over at Highland Park, and invited me to go to lunch.
Ed was a member of Staff Parish, so this was not that unusual. But I would come to learn that Ed probably would have been that proactive anyway. He was a bit of a busy-body, as many of you know.
So, we met up the street at Mainstream Fish House, and Ed set about asking me some gentle, but probing questions, about who I was and where I had been. And in the process, I mentioned that as a kid I had attended Lovers Lane United Methodist.
To which Ed asked, “What years were you there?”
I told Ed the years, and he thought for half a second, and then asked,
“Where you confirmed there?”
And I said that, yes, I was confirmed there.
And Ed, with some astonishment in his voice, said “I was in charge of your confirmation.”
And so it was that I first learned that Ed Upton had been a spiritual mentor to me, long before the adult me would come to know the man I knew as Ed Upton. Ed would become a trusted advisor and friend to me, here at Northaven.
Like many of you, I came to call Ed my friend.
In fact, that very first re-meeting of Ed Upton at Mainstream Fish House taught me two very important things that I know you will all agree was true about Ed Upton’s life:
1) Ed lived an interesting life and did many fascinating things.
2) Ed knew just about everybody, and was a friend and mentor to many,
These past few years, as Ed has struggle with cancer, many of us who knew Ed have been astounded to find friends literally coming out of the woodwork.
Friends that Ed knew back in Mississipppi…
Friends from Lovers Lane…
Friends from Northaven…
Friends from the Dallas community…
Ed Upton was a man with an astounding number of friends. And Ed knew how to BE a good friend. We often say about people, “Oh yes, he had many friends,” but Ed REALLY DID!
One of my favorite memories of Ed was as a member of our church’s nominating committee. Ed knew everybody. I mean Ed knew everybody! And not only did he know everybody’s name, he knew something ABOUT everybody.
He would come to our nominating committee meetings with double-handfulls of handwritten notes about people…thoughts about who would be good to serve on what committee. And he was almost always right. He could size up a person’s strengths and weaknesses.
And if he didn’t know somebody, he would want to know them. Sometimes in those meetings, we’d come across a name of someone Ed didn’t know –perhaps a new member– and he’d say, almost as if it was a personal moral failing “Gee, I don’t know that person!”
He really did get dissapointed if he didn’t know someone. And so, then, if you’d start to describe the person, you could see the wheels turning inside Ed’s head…he would be making mental notes about this person you were describing…trying to remember them, in case he needed to know them later.
Ed was a person who made an effort to KNOW his friends, and to keep up with his friends. Sometimes, this was maddening for the friends. Because, let’s be honest, Ed could sometimes be a busy-body. Ed liked to get into other people’s business. Sometimes, Ed even liked to gossip…with that impish grin of his….
But he always did it out of care for a person….and his ability to make and keep friends knew no bounds.
If you were a friend of Ed’s, you had to be ready to have him tell you what he thought. Because he would. Ed would tell you his opinion on just about everything, whether you asked for it or not! Ed would, sometimes bluntly, tell you what you were doing right, and what you were doing wrong!
But you always appreciated his sincerity, and you always knew that behind it all, Ed cared.
Ed was always smiling, and always finding ways to relate to people. But, Ed could also be a curmudgeon. Ed could be one of the most stubborn people you will ever meet…and when he decided that things would be a certain way, it was sometime hard –no, it was sometimes IMPOSSIBLE– to get him to change his mind.
There is a set of folks who cared for Ed in these last two years who, I believe, merit mentioning here and now. They are folks in his family, and close friends from his life whose names we must raise up today.
— Lynn Daniels saw him through many trips to the hospital and brought him food and comfort when he was going through his chemotherapy.
— Kay Warrick and Sandra Washburn, from here at Northaven, stood with Ed for hours on hours during his last months, not only taking him to appointments, but being at his beck and call much of the time.
— Roger Dube, a good friend first to sister and brother-in-law, became his good friend, and would fly in from his home to spend weeks at a time with Ed.
Steve Leija, spent many nights with Ed, in his home, caring for him all through the nights, and sending emails to Ed’s large circle of friends about his condition.
I want to mention Ida Loise Noblin, who has been a fifty-year friend to Ed. Ed once described for me the pain and anguish of his leaving the ministry at Lovers Lane UMC. Both Ed and the world were discovering that he was a gay man. And this meant that he would be forced from his position at Lovers Lane. Several times, Ed told me the story of the horrible day when the news became public. And that Ed simply sat in his office, unable to move, unable to answer the doors. Person after person knocked on that door. But Ed simply sat at his desk.
He waited until late in the day when he assumed everyone had finally gone home. And only then did he open his office door, only to discover a woman patiently sitting on the steps, waiting for him.
It was Ida Loiuse Noblin. Ida Loise was a friend who stood by Ed, and waited outside the door, knowing that he needed her friendship.
Mike Upton, Ed’s son, made several trips to see his Dad in these last years, and the two of them shared a special bond. Ed was so proud of Mike and of all he accomplished, and bragged about him every chance he got.
And finally, there are two folks whose love and care for Ed were matched only by his love and care for them: Ed Poole and Dee Wylie. Ed Poole was Ed Upton’s brother-in-law. Ed, Ed’s sister, and Ed Poole have all known each other almost their entire lives.
When Ed Upton’s sister was dying of cancer just a few short months ago, Ed went to stay with Ed Poole and “sister” for six weeks.
Ed Poole has returned the favor. I don’t know that I’ve ever known a brother-in-law so committed to his brother-in-law than Ed Poole was to Ed Upton. Ed, your love and care for Ed Upton was truly remarkable and inspring to us all…and now many of us here in Dallas are now proud to call you our friend.
And Dee Wyly. Dee and Ed have also known each other almost their entire lives….since the first grade….that’s about as far back as you can go, really. Dee describes Ed Upton as the brother she never had. And I know that Ed loved her as a sister too. Ed used to brag about Dee…used talk about their friendship.
Well, I have seen it in action. I have seen it in action, as Dee has gone with Ed to the hospital, to the nursing home…and finally, has sat with him for hours and days in these last weeks.
Dee and Ed, you stood by Ed Upton in a way that truly moved me to see. Your care for him…your support of him, was truly remarkable. You three share a bond of experience and love that no one can truly know the depths of…and I know, because he told me, that Ed was extremely grateful to the two of you.
The question I got asked the most these past few months was “How is Ed doing, and can we go see him?”
The answer was often that he wasn’t doing very well, and that he really didn’t want to see people. I wish he had opened his doors to see more folks these past few months, but that was his choice, and we must always respect that kind of choice.
I think a lot of it came from the fact that Ed was a control freak at
heart. And when you have cancer you don’t really control very much. But it’s not to say he didn’t care for and love each and every one of you here in this room. But –and this is my own anaylsis– I think he wanted to be more in control than he could be when he saw folks.
Sometimes when folks die, we say that we can never replace them. And if we are honest, many times we don’t mean it. Of COURSE we’ll replace them…of course other leaders will come along in their place. That’s the humbling thing about life…that life goes on, and that new leaders emerge.
But friends, I truly do believe in Ed’s case, we’ll never replace him. I truly believe that the best thing we can do is to learn from Ed’s example and life…and to try our best to continue to live out the lessons he taught us…knowing full well that we’ll never replace him.
To that end, let me say a few of the remarkable things that I will take forward with me about Ed’s life…
First, Ed taught me how you can support the United Methodist Church, be a part of it, and still not accept all of it’s flaws and want it to change.
Based on stories Ed told me of his life, I think I am confident in saying this next thing: I don’t personally know anyone else who had more reason to be angry at the Methodist Church than Ed did. I know very FEW people with as much of a reason to be angry with God as Ed did.
I do not know anyone else who had more reason to –and I mean this next line theologically– tell the United Methodist Church to go to hell.
But, rather remarkably, Ed didn’t do that. It’s not to say he didn’t have a dark night of the soul, and years of struggling to come to terms with his connection to the church. He did have that.
But the Ed Upton I knew remained a committed Methodist to the day he died. He knew more about the Methodist Church 98 percent of the world. If we were planning to put someone on a committee here, or hire someone on the staff, it was Ed who always wanted to make sure they had a Methodist connection.
So, Ed taught me a lot about how someone who had every reason to leave the Methodist Church, to be mad at God, could remain a committed part of a Methodist Community of faith. It was a remarkable witness to his own ability to find peace, even in a church who caused him pain…and that witness is a gift to us all.
Ed taught me a lot about how to LOVE LIFE. Ed LOVED life. Ed didn’t want to die. Ed fought death with every fiber of his body. Ed, as you may know, outlived his initial cancer diagnosis by about a year and a half.
And that truly was a great achievement. But it wasn’t enough for Ed!!!
He was not happy about dying. He was not happy about it one bit. Ed didn’t have a lot of use for worrying about heaven, because Ed was too busy living life on earth.
And what a great lesson THIS is too: Would that all of us can love life the way Ed loved life. Would that all of us could LOVE LIFE with the PASSION AND EXUBERANCE that Ed loved life.
Even though Ed wanted much more time than simply two more years, these past two years have allowed Ed to do a lot of things he wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.
He got to see this new church. He got to see be here and worship here, and see us move in. Ed LOVED Northaven Church with all his being…and I am so grateful that he was able to see this new place.
He got to talk to his son, David, for the first time in years. Even though it was little more than a short conversation, I know Ed was grateful for that chance.
He got to spend some quality time with his son, Mike. Mike came to town with a copy of Mike’s new movie, “Akeela and the Bee,” and the two of them shared a special weekend. Ed was so proud of Mike and talked about him all the time. Ed never passed up a chance to brag about Mike.
He got a chance to see a whole host of grade-school friends from Mississippi, who made a special trip here to Dallas to see him. Dee was in on this one too. Lots of Ed’s old, dear, childhood friends, came to show their love for him…to brighten his day….and he was surprised and grateful for this time.
He got the chance to go back to Yazoo City one last time. Dee, Ed Poole, and Ed flew back there and made one last trip around. I know it was a powerful experience for all of them. And I know, because he told me, that it meant a lot to him.
In short, Ed continued to LOVE LIFE these past two years. He continue to love life right up until his final days too.
And would that we might ALL love life the way Ed did….
Because Ed loved life, Ed was not big on worrying about heaven. He did not talk a lot about heaven…he didn’t want to. He didn’t really want to think about it. My hunch is that it was because heaven is not something he could control. His life? At least until the cancer, he could control a lot of that. But heaven?
But I will say, on Ed’s behalf, that I do believe in the life that never ends. I do believe in a place where truly kind and generous souls like Ed reside forever….whether it’s anything more than in the mind of God, we may all never know until we’re there. But I think it’s a “somewhere.”
Life has a way of regenerating itself. Our deepest pains have way of becoming the breaking point where new life can be born.
I think it’s said quite well in the hymn that we will sing to close our sevice in just a moment. As you might imagine, control-freak that he was, Ed picked out the hymn. Ed had very specific instructions about this service, and we’ve tried to honor them.
But this last hymn, Hymn of Promise, says a lot about our hope for a life that never ends:
In our end, is our beginning,
In our time, infinity
In our doubt, there is believing
In our life, eternity
In our death, a resurrection
At the last, a victory
Unrevealed until it’s season,
Something God alone can see.
I believe that Ed is there in that place beyond death, where ever and what ever it is. I like to imagine that he’s already being a busybody. That he already knows the names of most of the angels, and has already given God a list of how they can be better employed.
And when I think of Ed being in that place –a place he didn’t want to go to because he didn’t want this life to end– I think back to that image of Ida Loiuse Noblin, waiting for Ed on the steps at Lovers Lane Church.
I think of her being that kind of friend to him in that moment, when he didn’t want to step out of that door.
You see, Ed was the kind of friend that waited on the steps for many of us too. He stood by us in our times of need.
So, Ed didn’t want to open the door of death. But I truly believe that when it opened for him, what he found was our loving God, sitting on the steps, waiting for him
….ready to love him
…ready to recieve him into the heavenly kingdom
…ready to guide Ed as they walked through that door together.
Thanks be to God for God’s goodness and grace. And life that never ends.