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A Statement as Much as a Remembrance

Jul 09, 2018 10:48AM

By Frederick Schultz Photo by Joshua McKerrow

The memorial service was for Wendi Winters—by all accounts a beloved and benevolent community friend and volunteer and now tragically best known nationwide as the Capital Gazette writer and editor slain with four others while since being credited with saving lives of other colleagues doing their jobs in the newsroom on June 28. The crowd spilled out the doors of the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis Saturday afternoon, July 7. 

Attendees numbered from 700 to upwards of 900, depending on which headcount was closest. For a memorial service, such large numbers are reserved for heads of state or national figures. This day the turnout was for Winters, and she was the national figure of the moment. 

The full list of presenters is too long to include here, but there was certainly one underlying theme: Winters lived life asking questions about how to make this journey on Earth better for everyone—and fighting to do it. 

Remarks from clergy featured remembrances from former pastor Rev. Fred Muir and a welcome and eulogy from Rev. John T. Crestwell Jr., her current pastor at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis. Rev. Crestwell told the city’s citizens gathered here that, after this latest in a string of mass murders, they were now “part of a fraternity and sorority” of violent-crime victims in this country, and it is time to “change the rising tide of apathy in our society.” He implored those assembled to “step up to the spirit of love, because Wendi stepped up for everyone, everywhere. And she was always there for you. . . . Wendi tended at times to be a name-dropper in our conversations,” he said. “Today, yours is the name we drop.”

On a stage adorned with a portrait of Winters surrounded by floral arrangements (one later acknowledged to be from the Baltimore Orioles), government representatives, colleagues, family members, and friends whose lives she touched offered their memories of this woman-about-town. Maryland First Lady Yumi Hogan remembered Winters interviewing her when Governor’s House on State Circle was the Capital’s “Home of the Week,” one of Winters’ regular and popular features. Annapolis Mayor Gavin Buckley recalled his amazement soon after moving to the city at how Winters could seemingly be in multiple places at once. Two of Winters’ former editors, Steve Gunne and her last one, Rick Hutzell, remembered her as a sometimes-unmanageable bundle of energy and ideas; Hutzell called her a “red-headed whirlwind.”

Also during the program, Winters received a posthumous “Black-Eyed Susan” award from the Girl Scouts of Central Maryland. Two subjects of the writer’s popular “Teen of the Week” column told what it was like to sit for an interview with someone who knew just how to put them at ease to tell their story. DeDe Duncan-White, 18-year member of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Board of Directors, told of her son Shelley’s being featured in both Winters’ “Teen of the Week” and “Where Are They Now” columns after graduating in 2016 from the U.S. Naval Academy. And several mentions were made of Winters’ tireless efforts in supporting Red Cross blood drives, serving as an example as a regular and frequent donor herself. 

Beyond all the testimonials and remembrances, this service was a revival, of sorts. While the musical selections for many such occasions often serve as window dressing for the heartfelt tributes made by family, friends, and colleagues, the music here carried its own subtle messages that served as reinforcement—even endorsement—of what was being said from the podium. The choices were obviously calculated either by Winters’ family, her church, perhaps Winters herself, or all of them together. Only they know for sure.

A stirring rendition of “Ave Maria” by Elissa Edwards, accompanied by Anastasia Pike on harp (the “Élan Ensemble), served as the opening of “Gathering Music” before the service commenced. 

Vocalist Sara Jones sat at a piano and offered her crystal renditions of Paul McCartney’s “Let It Be,” and later, Sammy Fain’s “I’ll Be Seeing You” and John Lennon’s “Imagine.”

Winters’ daughter, Montana Geimer, sang “How Can I Keep from Singing?” a hymn attributed to Robert Lowry and famously revised and revived in the 1960s by folk singer and political activist Pete Seeger.

A cellist and three violinists from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performed renditions of “Nimrod” from Elgar’s Enigma Variations and “Largo” from Dvorak’s Symphony #9.

And Nicole Rumeau and Sheree Queen, accompanied by Joshua Long at the piano, came close to proverbially “bringing the house down” with their version of “We Shall Overcome,” the rousing spiritual that became the clarion call for the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s and one that’s been sung ever since by people grown weary of the status quo. For the last verse, the audience stood and joined in. The trio returned to the stage for the closing song, Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me.”

But perhaps the most fitting musical interlude came from Winters’ former Unitarian Universalist Church minister in Montclair, New Jersey, Rev. Charles B. Ortman, who, after delivering his own thoughts and remembrances, strapped on his guitar and led those gathered in singing “Let It Be a Dance,” a hymn attributed to Ric Masten that includes the following verse, especially appropriate, the minister thought, to this celebration of life, and one of which Wendi Winters would have approved, he assured.

A child is born, we all must die.

A time for joy, a time to cry.

So, take it as it passes by,

And let it be a dance.