Off the Porch: Character personified
I was probably no more than twenty or so when a friend and I were discussing what constituted a good man. It was one of those late night conversations young men often have about life and we were discussing goodness and just how few people seem to be incapable of doing something bad. I believe we’re all created by God to be capable of either good or bad and the life we lead is our opportunity to make decisions that lead us in either way. We agreed that the definition of that kind of person was character.
At one point, my friend asked if I could think of anyone in my life who seemed incapable of doing anything bad and my first thought was my Mama. Mama was a kind and gentle person who believed the true pleasure in life was to do things for other people. I’ve tried to adhere to that philosophy through my life but I think I got my Daddy’s temper and, like him, I get angry every once in a while and blow my mission. I only saw a time or two my whole life when Mama let her temper get the best of her; she was an exceptional person and I count myself lucky to be born into the family of Lewis and Alice Jones.
At this point in our late night conversation, I thought of someone I felt qualified as a truly good person who seemed to be incapable of being mean and as I was about to say the name, my friend said the same name that was on my mind. “Chester Westmoreland,” he said, and I was amazed that he would even know Chester. It seemed he knew Chester from working at the dye house of the Fremont Hosiery Mill and he’d seen the same peaceful goodness in Chester that I saw through the process of growing up with Chester as a family friend and a deacon at Victory Baptist Church, where I went while growing up.
Chester was a quiet man and from my first memory of him until the last time I saw him, he looked the same. He was a little heavy through the middle and balding. I don’t remember his hair being anything but almost white and he had the appearance of being older when he was a young man. When I first met Chester, he was in his early thirties yet he always seemed to look the same during his whole life. He was one of those people who never seem to change and that constancy was also reflected in the way he led his life.
His son, Doug was one of my best childhood friends and I spent many Sunday afternoons with the family. They were an Ozzie and Harriet kind of family, not that mine was much different. Like my family, there were two girls and two boys. They lived their lives simply with an ethic of faith, family and work. Besides working in the dye house, Chester raised minks and most days his day began before the sun came up and ended after it went down. He also raised a garden and somehow found time to be a true outdoorsman, hunting and fishing when he could and knowledgeable enough about the outdoors to impress me as a young man. As a young man, he’d done a bit of trapping, I suspect that was how he got into raising minks.
Doug and I shot BB guns and played Tarzan in the woods and occasionally crossed a line of discipline from time to time, but Chester never lost his patience. While he enforced the rules, he was the fairest and kindest man I have known in this life and I never heard him say anything bad about anyone. If someone had undesirable qualities, those qualities were more obvious when in the presence of Chester, but he wasn’t one to judge. He was truly an exemplary person and this world is a little less blessed this week because he is gone. He passed away last week at the age of 85.
I’m a firm believer that our purpose on this life is to influence those around us. From the time I was a small boy, Chester Westmoreland was an example of goodness, kindness, and grace. He wasn’t afraid to work, he loved his wife Kathleen and his family and it showed in everything he did. He knew how to enjoy life and he knew how to laugh. I think he was the nicest and most constant man I ever knew and my life is richer from knowing him.
Rest in Peace, Chester Westmoreland, you will be missed by many.
Dick Jones is an award winning freelance writer living in High Point. He’s a member of the board of directors of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association. If you’d like to have him speak to your group, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.