|Birth: ||Aug. 19, 1971|
|Death: ||Dec. 31, 1998|
Hundreds mourn fallen Banks County firefighter
ALTO -- A Banks County firefighter who died in the line of duty was laid to rest Sunday afternoon as hundreds of North Georgia firefighters stood at attention, shivering in a cold wind.
As 27-year-old Loy Williams was buried, investigators continued their search for the person or persons responsible for the young man's
death, and members of Banks County's New Salem United Methodist Church, burned to the ground by an arsonist Thursday night, vowed to rebuild.
Williams, who volunteered for two fire companies in Banks County, died trying to save the church after it was set afire.
Authorities believe a blaze that slightly damaged the Johnson United Methodist Church in Oconee County early Friday morning may have been the work of the same hand that destroyed New Salem.
On the two days before Christmas, arsonists set fire to one and perhaps two Murray County churches, both Baptist and just a few miles apart, according to investigators.
While state Insurance and Fire Commissioner John Oxendine has offered a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for any of the fires, Oconee and Banks
County investigators said Sunday there was nothing new to report.
In Banks County on Sunday morning, the wreckage of the New Salem sanctuary still smoldered as just over 100 people met in the church's fellowship hall. The charred ruins had first been built in about 1860, but the church itself was founded about 160 years ago -- records go back to at least 1831, according to church members.
''This is probably the hardest day to stand in the pulpit in the four-and-a-half years of my life here,'' said the Rev. Luis Ortiz, New Salem's pastor. ''God has definitely removed every one of us from our comfort zone this week.''
The church had only $87,000 in insurance, and it will cost $400,000 to $500,000 to rebuild the sanctuary, he said. But Ortiz and other church members vowed to rebuild.
''It was like a bad dream. There's things in that church we can never replace, but we can build a church,'' said Alan Purcell, a church lay leader.
Ortiz said he had tried all Saturday night to figure out what to say to the congregation of the burned-out church, but nothing came to him until barely an hour before the time of the morning worship service.
''Let light shine out of darkness,'' he said. ''Those are probably the most fitting words we can say today.''
Ortiz paid tribute to Williams, killed when the burning church roof collapsed on him Thursday night.
''If you think Michael Jordan and some of those other professional ballplayers who are getting paid millions are heroes, take another look,'' he said. The ballplayers are just doing their jobs, and are well-paid for it, he said.
The real heroes are people like Loy Williams, ''the people in the communities who are doing the work for nothing,'' the minister said.
Church members met again Sunday evening to consider future plans.
Ortiz said Williams will be memorialized in the new church building.
Williams, who left a wife and a 9-year-old daughter, was memorialized again Sunday afternoon in a service at his own church, the Alto Congregational Holiness Church, where some 500 mourners crammed the light-filled church while hundreds more shivered in the cold outside.
Williams' body was brought to the church in a flag-draped coffin on the back of a fire truck driven by his brother, also a volunteer firefighter with the Bold Springs community of Banks County. That truck was part of a procession that included more than 100 fire trucks and other official vehicles from all over North Georgia.
They came in a slow cortege down U.S. Highway 23 under an arch formed by the high ladders of two big trucks parked on either side of the highway, one from Fayette County, one from Fulton County.
In the procession were vehicles and firefighters from seemingly every fire company in the northern part of the state -- from Fulton, White, Hart, Fayette, Barrow, Banks, Stephens, Oconee and DeKalb counties -- among others; from Sandy Cross and Bold Springs, Carnesville and Red Hill, Five Area and Double Churches, Shiloh, Social Circle and Arcade, among many others.
Athens-Clarke County sent no engine, but off-duty Athens-Clarke officers formed an honor guard, one of many uniformed honor guards that came to pay respects to a fallen comrade.
Hundreds of officers stood at attention in bright sunshine as winds that gusted up to 20 mph whipped around their legs, and a bagpiper wailed as members of Williams' volunteer fire companies bore the coffin into the church. Firefighters and other tearful mourners also lined the long path down to the church cemetery as the piper led the
pallbearers down a long winding path on Williams' final journey after the services.
The temperature was a few degrees above freezing at the time, but the 15 mph to 20 mph winds made it feel more like it was 15 degrees, according to the National Weather Service's Peachtree City station.
The Rev. Russell Cash, who had been a friend of the young firefighter, quoted Proverbs 17:22: ''A merry heart does good, like medicine.''
Williams was like that, Cash said. ''He had a loving heart and a merry heart.''.
And Williams' heart was like good medicine, he said.
''Medicine is used to bring healing and make people feel better,'' he said. ''Through his fire work, he brought healing and made many people feel good.''
The Rev. Leon Brown, pastor at Alto Congregational Holiness Church, gave honor not just to Williams but all the firefighters gathered there.
''These good men should be applauded for the work they do. I think it would be appropriate that you give applause to these men,'' he said, and the mourners responded with an ovation of more than a
Brown recalled Williams as a musically talented man who could play piano, guitar ''or anything else he put his mind to,'' and though short, ''a stout man who could pull his own weight.''
And he asked those gathered to take a lesson from Williams' tragic death -- life is short, and no one knows when the end will come.
''It is ever a vapor that appears for a little time and then it vanishes away,'' he said, quoting the Biblical book of James. ''Plans, dreams and good intentions -- please don't make your plans and dreams without having God,'' he said.
Alto Congregational Holiness Church Cemetery
Created by: Elizabeth Olmstead
Record added: Nov 25, 2008
Find A Grave Memorial# 31716358