Pillars come in many shapes and forms. We are not referring to the pillars that hold up our porch roof. We are referring to the pillars of our community. Individuals whose presence, whose very existence makes our community a better place to live.
We have many in our town. First responders, people in positions of leadership, teachers, philanthropists, businessmen, artists, lawyers, nurses. They are pillars of strength, faith, success, patience. The list goes on. And that is what makes our community so great and unique. We have so many individuals that we can honestly say are pillars of our community. Recently we lost two of those pillars, two who seemed to stand a little taller, a little steadier than the rest.
To have known William “Lee” Hanley, even slightly was to know a man who thrived on wanting to improve his country, his community and his mind. A long-time resident of Greenwich, he was a classic businessman; successful, respected and responsible. He was a manufacturer and oilman. How many people do you know in town who have been inducted into the Petroleum Hall of Fame in Texas? His success allowed him to give back and give back he did. Greenwich Academy, Greenwich Hospital, the Boys and Girls Club all benefited mightily because of Lee’s success. Those are the bricks, the foundations that he helped build, literally. He worked in the family business, The Hanley Brick Company, which his grandfather founded in 1893. But there was more to Lee than just successful businessman and philanthropist.
Lee’s funeral at Christ Church was a standing room only affair. It was a lovely service that indeed celebrated a life very well lived. It was after, as people slowly left the church that you heard the stories of how Lee impacted people’s lives on a large scale and small. The most endearing were the most intimate; how Lee encouraged a young person to take that leap of faith, how he turned frustration into action, how he loved a good practical joke, how very deeply he loved his family.
The other pillar to slip away was Jerry Dumas, the comic strip creator whose work on “Beetle Baily” and “Sam and Silo” and others has reached the far corners on the world. In today’s hectic world, taking a few minutes to read the daily comics can be therapeutic. However, reading the Sunday comic is a family tradition going back 50 years or more. A successful comic strip has the ability to inform and enlighten. Great comic strips are also insightful. Jerry’s work was genius. However, he was more than just an ink-stained cartoonist. He was a keen observer and commentator of human nature, who did so with humor, grace and art. His medium was not limited to just the comic strip either. He was an essayist with a loyal following who would tune in each week to learn of the happenings between Jerry and his wife Gail, or the pure love and wonderment he demonstrated when writing about his granddaughter Emilie.
In our own hectic daily lives, Jerry’s work was a touchstone; something we could turn to for a few moments of respite and contemplation. Those moments were often a humorous break from a very serious world. They made the day a little more interesting as he shared the world he saw with its joys, heartbreaks and bafflements. A gentleman always, he was an incredibly well respected member of our community, as much for his voice as for his tomatoes. Heaven got a little funnier this week.
As we note the passing of these two pillars, there are many others still standing, still growing into pillars even. We should celebrate them in life as well as in death. And we should continually teach the importance of standing tall and strong. Lee and Jerry knew that. They showed it through their work and words and, most importantly, through their children.