George Whittenburg died yesterday. His Amarillo memorial is Saturday and twenty churches can’t hold all who thank God for him. Twenty prison cells can’t hold everyone who will rejoice at his passing.
A family that drowned a young man in an Agatha Christie-esque middle-of-a-huge-lake horror will rejoice in cells. They fooled Texas Rangers and the F.B.I. but not George. He spent years taking ’em down.
A lawyer who “won” a paltry verdict for his client and then abused her, will smile from his prison way-station on his way to Dante’s 7th Inferno level. We can hope. Again, George spent years, itching to conclude her horror, he strategized with Job’s patience and Machiavelli’s genius to bring her justice.
He loved finding crooked lawyers in his sights, and loved scorching them even more.
Offenders hurt, killed or maimed the wrong people, if victims or surviving kin found George. It didn’t matter how hopeless survivors found George, he wrangled hope for the hopeless seemingly ex nihilo; spelling doom for those who smugly felt successfully incorrigible.
His full softball team of children, their umpteen grandchildren and great-grand-kids flourished in his and Ann’s high expectations. Shoot, you’d learn to bear up under great expectations if father and grandfather played on the state’s and nation’s stages.
He read voraciously, pursued ideas assiduously, loved conversation, worshipped deeply, and doted on children while gently, firmly pushing each to some greatness. The house’s washing machines and driers sat at opposite ends. “Learn to take care of yourself” was in the blueprints. The two sets of two hot water tanks were in series, so everyone played sports, showered, attacked evening schedules and studies to be fresh in an early morning. The sheer scale of life at the home boggled outsiders’ minds.
It was simply Whittenburg if you lived there.
Twenty hours won’t contain half the stories left untold at Saturday’s memorial, but that was George. He was always more than you could take in, more than you countered, and more than you appreciated in any conversation, kindness or advice. Complex and nuanced, merciless in logic: sitting in his complete focus spelled hope for many and disaster for fools.
When I was younger and my grandfather died, I felt as if one layer of protection between me and death, between me and disaster had been removed. I’ve not often felt that since, but George’s passing leaves a layer of protection to be replaced. If you have ears to hear, fill the layer.
I’ll miss him now, but if his faith’s correctly placed, we’ll continue conversations on writers, actors on the world’s stage, and intriguing ideas on the other side of the River. Notice I didn’t say “finish”. George can’t finish his thoughts, again, he enjoyed wrestling with far more than twenty volumes of deep conversations might skim the surface of.