GOD WILL BE GOOD TO KAYS
Eulogy for Kays Gary
By Harold K. Bales
First United Methodist Church, Charlotte, N.C.
September 16, 1997
Betty, Bill, Debbie, friends, Kays Gary has met his last deadline. He never wrote a dead line and we will have none here today. Betty, it hardly seems possible that it has been almost eleven years since we gathered in this place and I heard you say, “I Betty take thee Kays,” and Kays say, “I Kays take thee Betty, until death us do part.” That was a wonderful day. It began in elegance as you drove your limousine by the takeout window at Bojangles for breakfast. Now, although we stand in the presence of death we will speak not of separation, only of life!
I loved Kays Gary! You did too. We did; we do! I first met Kays the week I moved to Charlotte to be the pastor of this church. I read an article by Kays in The Charlotte Observer. I was so impressed by it, I walked down to The Observer and asked to see the writer. My first words to him were, “I have come to meet the best preacher in Charlotte.”
Kays greeted me warmly and invited me down to the cafeteria for a cup of coffee. We sat down and Kays began pouring his heart out to me. It caught me by surprise but I played it cool. When I returned to the church I checked and found that he was a member of the church. He thought I had come to pay a pastoral call. I had not known that I was his pastor!
We had also and instantly become good friends.
I called him a preacher, yes, but Kays was a writer—ah what a writer! In his writing, we knew him as a compassionate crusader. How can we ever forget his columns about Maria and Holy Angels? His writer’s life was about angles and angels. Once we had an art exhibition here at the church and Kays let us hang a photo he had taken while on assignment in the Caribbean. It was a shot of a flight of stairs on the outside of a building. The tropical light played beautifully with highlights and shadows on the angles of the stairs. He named it “A Choir of Angles.”
We also knew him as a feisty social commentator. He was a fighter. We loved him as a public confessor talking about his own and our human foibles. And who could resist Kays, the romantic sentimentalist?
Kays was a people’s writer and a writer’s writer. He was a writer who spoke in poetry and he was a poet’s writer. I love the note from Carl Sandburg:
Dear Kay’s Gary–
Swell, elegant reporting–your story July 12…
keen & strong on the meaning of America. I read it to
Steichen at lunch: we’ve had it typed. I’ll read all or
parts of it in Moscow, Stockholm, Paris & London.
Ain’t it sweet to be a reporter & real writer when you’ve
got a story like your July 12?
Long may you wave, Kays Gary….
How do you explain a “real writer” like Kays Gary? He was the kind of writer he was because of the kind of person he was. If you want to know why he could so connect with a reader’s heart, as his pastor, confessor and friend, I can tell you. It was because he was so acutely aware of his own humanity–that’s why.
For several years this church had a tradition of presenting a drama during Holy Week in which a tableau of the Last Supper was offered on this platform. It was reminiscent of Leonardo’s famous painting. We watched year after year, Kays in the role of Peter. Jesus had just announced that one of his companions at the table would soon betray him. And Kays as the apostle asked, in a dramatic speech, “Is it I? Is it I?” Again and again we witnessed it as Kays uncannily became that most complex, memorable and convincingly human saint. Kays’ power as a writer grew out of his own complex, transparent humanity. He was Peter–sinner and saint. It was–that role–real for him.
But there was more to this than that. There was also his great love for people–and all else bright and beautiful. He was interested in everyone. And he was a curious and consummate chronicler of lives in our town.
But there was something more important than that. Kays was the kind of person he was because he placed himself in close proximity to a particularly unique manifestation of the mystery of the presence of Jesus. In the 25th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel we read the only extended comment by Jesus about the ultimate basis on which we will finally be evaluated. It is the passage about the Last Judgment when the sheep are separated from the goats.
This is a passage as intriguing for what it does not say as for what it does say. It does not say anything about what we must believe, although belief is obviously important. We are believers. Kays was a believer. It does not say anything about how we must organize our churches or do our worship, as important as those things are. Jesus says we will finally be judged in terms of how responded to the suffering, lonely, sick, hurting people in our world. That is when you meet him. “When you have ministered to the least of these, you ministered to me.”
Kays put himself in the position to be where this mysterious presence was. This closeness to those who hurt caused him to fashion his vocation from the irrepressible energy that emanates from a state-of-the-art heart. With his own health as fragile as a flower, Maria, a deeply worried Kays once told me you were very ill–and he wept.
This connection to hurting persons brought him into close encounters with the mysterious presence of Jesus. And it brought a kind of apostolic power to his life and work.
Is it any wonder that, when I once engaged that marvelously superior mother Benignus–Mother B–in a long conversation about Kays and Holy Angels, she said repeatedly: “God will be good to Kays.” It is true. God and Kays have often kept company together, and God will be good to Kays.
In December 1978, Kays wrote a touching column in which he told how, on Thanksgiving Eve at a service in this church, the pastor reminded the worshipers that, “No matter what struggles humanity endures, each person has something to be thankful for. Each can recall some person who, at some time had made his or her life more meaningful and each of us has always meant to express appreciation, except that somehow we never found the time or the proper occasion.”
So stationery was provided and time that night. And each person wrote a note of gratitude to someone he or she loved. The letters were sealed in envelopes and left at the altar. They were stamped and mailed from the church office the next day. Kays’ account of the experience was vintage Gary. What he did not include in his account, however, was mention of the letter he himself wrote that night to Bonnie Caldwell:
Thanksgiving Eve, 1978
Dear Bonnie–At 7:26 p.m. here in our “Cathedral” our Thanksgiving service included this opportunity to write to someone we sincerely appreciate.
I do not need the now-ringing chimes echoing through our Lord’s house to remind me that you and Dee have meant so much to me for so many years and to us–my second family–in more recent years.
Certainly, no one demonstrates the Christian faith more. You celebrate it in the manner that makes religion a joyful experience of true strength.
For this example, for this friendship, we are truly thankful.
Sincerely, Kays Gary
Unpublished, behind the scenes, isn’t this also vintage Gary? Gratitude and joy! Sent with simple, uncomplicated love from a state-of-the-art heart.
So, there you have it. Here we are; filled with gratitude and love for one whom we now commend to God forever. Long may you wave Kays Gary! This commendation we do with confidence in the character of our beloved friend and more–we do what we do because of our confidence in the character of God. God will be good to Kays Gary.
We thank you, God, that though we stand in the presence of death, we think now only of life. And, God, answer us this: What will life mean in the short or long term unless it is filled with love? So be good to Kays. Immerse him in beauty. Let him sing and dance and spin yarns. Until we also meet you face-to-face with him, give him Momma, Daddy and Miss Boo. But also make a place for Ed the Squatter and Old Blue too. Bless him with infinite reporter’s angles among the angels. He’ll be in Heaven then. Jubilate Deo!