Tranquil United Methodist Church was overflowing Sunday with a crowd of family, friends, co-workers and former co-workers who came to bid farewell to W. Earle Purkerson Jr.
The service should have been recorded, by hand of course, and reproduced as an addendum to Earle's collection of stories, mostly columns previously published in the Index-Journal, "The Boys of Phoenix Street." The service was a fitting tribute to the man who captured so many fond memories of growing up in Greenwood.
Earle was one of those people you would meet and immediately take a liking to. He was not one who wanted the focus and attention on himself; no, he would rather focus on others and their accomplishments. That's the journalist that was a deep and abiding part of his character. He was a story teller, a fact keeper. Those skills are what helped shape his life as a writer for this newspaper who served a stint as its sports editor and, eventually, became one of its most beloved guest columnists.
We will miss Earle and his visits to the newsroom. The one-time editor and long-time contributor to the sports and opinion pages throughout the years never walked into the newsroom with any expectation that his past works gave him a permanent visa for entry into the newspaper's pages. Earle was probably the most humble among journalists and columnists in a field that is often flowering with narcissism and arrogance.
Of course, we gladly published Earle's works. As more evidence of his humble nature, Earle knew the newspaper's rules and adhered to them, never asking they be bent for him simply because he had an inside line. He never asked that we set aside the publish-every-30-days rule, or that we treat him differently and allow him to exceed the 625-word limit on his guest columns. No, he was simply glad for the opportunity to write and be published, not because of some false pride, but rather because he found he had amassed quite a following of readers who appreciated not only his tales, but also his style of telling them.
Earle knew when he was beginning to lose the good fight he had waged against cancer. He pecked away on his typewriter and, as usual, hand-delivered a few columns. He reminisced in some, but focused a number of pieces on what any parent and grandparent could relate to: time spent with family. Oh, how Earle loved his family.
His final column for this newspaper was published in early December of last year. No doubt other columns were still coming to Earle's mind in his final days; his body was simply too weak to transfer them to paper. But friends and family can take comfort and find great joy in the newspaper clippings and books they have, all penned by Earle Purkerson Jr. We certainly do.
In the foreward to "The Boys of Phoenix Street," Earle wrote: "One day I hope to stand before St. Peter at Heaven's Gate. I can hear him telling me 'I know you. You're one of the boys of Phoenix Street. Come on in. Some of the boys are already here and perhaps you can join them in a game later on.'"
You won the game here on earth, Earle. Now it's time for you to grab your bat and glove, and enjoy the next game. With the other Boys of Phoenix Street. It's the top of the first inning and you're up.