What’s In a Name
This past Sunday at just before 11:00 AM my grandfather, Warner J. Collier, Sr. passed from this life and went to meet his savior face to face. His obituary can be found here. My father has asked me to say a few words in tribute. This is what I plan to share.
When we are born into this world, our parents give us a name. On December 12, 1923 a son was born to John and Flossie Collier in Rhea County Tennessee. They named him Warner Johnson Collier. I don’t know if this part of the story is true or not, but it is what I was always told. Grandpa John and Grandma Flossie named him after the doctor who delivered him, Dr. Warner Johnson.
I did not have the privilege of knowing most of Pa-Pa’s brothers and sisters well, but I do know that his family was important to him. I do not recall hearing him ever speaking a negative word about his parents or siblings. He left a shining example as a son and a brother.
I think Pa-Pa would agree that his greatest accomplishment occurred on October 30, 1942. That is the day Elsie Moore became Mrs. Warner Collier. Together, they raised three children, Warner Jr., Joye, and Carol. They built a home. Most importantly, they demonstrated love for each other. If marrying Ma-Ma was his greatest accomplishment, his greatest loss was when, after sixty-five years together, she went to Heaven before him. While his loss was profound, his hope was secure. He knew without a shadow of a doubt they would spend eternity together. He was devoted to his family. In many ways, he was a textbook example of a husband and father.
I have heard it said that grandchildren are God’s reward for not killing your children. While this may or may not be true, I am sure I speak for all the grandchildren when I say that I am glad we had Pa-Pa for a grandfather. While I think I always appreciated him as my granddad, I did not understand how special this was until I had kids of my own. I have never seen a man whose spirit connected with children like his did. I am so proud that my children will have memories of their Pa-Pa.
After my grandparents were married in 1942, Pa-Pa had the opportunity to take a tour of Europe courtesy of the U.S. Army. He was part of “The Greatest Generation”, and truer words have never been spoken. While he did not speak much of his time in the service, he was a loyal and patriotic American who was proud to have been called a soldier.
After being discharged from the military, Pa-Pa began his career as a lineman with the Tupelo Water and Light Department. This was not easy work. I remember him describing when the department got its first bucket truck. No one ever accused Pa-Pa of being lazy. When he retired from his career with the city of Tupelo, he could not stay retired long and went to work for George Ruff Buick. He was also industrious at home. He even raised quail to sell. If I have ever known anyone to set an example of hard work, it was my grandfather.
While I called my granddad Pa-Pa, there are a great number of people who called him Bro. Warner or Bro. Collier. You see, he did not only work hard at his job and at home, he worked for the Lord and his church. In a day when people get upset at church and just change churches or quit attending altogether, he was an active and faithful member of Priceville Baptist Church for over fifty years. For about as long as I can remember, there has been a framed document hanging in the hallway of Pa-Pa’s home. It is his certificate of ordination as a Deacon at Priceville. Bro. Warner was an example of faithfulness to the church and its mission. We would do well to follow that example.
While some of us knew my grandfather through church or work, and a great many of us are relatives, one thing we all have in common is that he was our friend. He spoke often of friends from church and from work. And he spoke highly of these friends. A number of years ago, he was even able to reconnect with some friends from his time in the Army. I remember as a child spending time in town with Pa-Pa. It seemed as if he knew everybody. Everyone had to come and say hi to Mr. Warner. I was convinced he knew just about everyone in the city of Tupelo. Maybe he did. I also know he never met a stranger. Almost all my life we have lived away from here and my grandparents would come visit us. I was always amazed at how friendly he was to everyone. If there was ever an example of how to be a friend, my granddad was that example.
When I was thinking about the names my grandfather was known by – son, brother, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, hard worker, Christian servant, friend – there is one more that is particularly special to me. If you will allow me to be selfish for a moment, I want to share a name I did not like but have come to be very proud of. I go by the name of John Collier. When I was born, none of my granddad’s father, Grandpa John’s, grandchildren or great-grandchildren had been named after him. But John is not my name. My name is Warner Johnson Collier III. I have always loved my dad and granddad, but I did not like my name. It is three last names. A name like this should come attached to a large inheritance. It doesn’t. As I grew up, I realized that it is actually a pretty distinguished name. It is a strong name. I became proud of my name; proud enough that Cathy and I named our oldest son Warner Johnson Collier IV. And we call him Warner. He doesn’t like it much more than I did; but I am sure he will grow to be proud of his name. More importantly, I want him to be proud of the Warner Colliers before him as I am.