|To the grassy blanket of souls buried Thursday at the Camden County potter’s field, George Williams lent some panache.|
A friend in life, death - Window washer, others buried in potter's field: To the grassy blanket of souls buried Thursday at the Camden County potter’s field, George Williams lent some panache. The singing window washer who was found dead March 11 was laid to rest by the county along with six other indigents at Lakewood Memorial Park in Gloucester Township. But while the other graves were mostly devoid of color or sentiment, No. 2044 was graced with a floral tribute to Williams containing an inset photo of the 69-year-old from a Courier-Post story earlier this month reporting his death. It shows Williams in front of a colorful Haddon Township wall mural with the tools of his trade: a bike with a black bag slung over its handlebars and a white bucket of soapy water. See initial story here.
But along with county workers and representatives of the medical examiner’s office, there were also guests in attendance at Williams’ grave, including musician friend Bill Roccia of Mount Ephraim and Audubon florist Renee Mettinger. The latter has overseen unsolicited donations from businesses and residents that followed publication of the Courier-Post story. The funds will buy a grave plaque for Williams expected to be placed in the next two months. “No human being should be a number,” Mettinger said. “And I’m very thankful that the county has done this.” Williams was known by business owners along White and Black Horse pikes from Pennsauken to Deptford. According to the story, he supported himself with window washing but lived in an abandoned Audubon house. According to Roccia, he died of natural causes.
Friends and acquaintances said Williams claimed to be a long-ago member of the singing group “The Tymes,” whose major hit was 1963’s “So Much in Love.” But the newspaper reported in its April 6 story that the only George Williams known to have been a member of the group died in 2004. At graveside Thursday, Roccia carried an iPad loaded with songs, including one he wrote called “Don’t Know Why.” The sparkling harmony on the song, Roccia says, is George’s. “I met him a few years ago when I was riding my motorcycle and I saw him working,” recalls Roccia, 57. “He would come over my house and we’d grab the guitars and make up songs.” The Rev. Vincent McDonald of Immanuel Baptist Church of Maple Shade donated his time to conduct Thursday’s service at the site, behind a complex of athletic fields. Seven mounds of brown dirt were piled in neat formation. In front of six of them was a plain, blue-gray casket; the other casket was covered with a flower print. All of them were donated by P&J Cooper Funeral Supplies in Barrington.
The potter’s field contains the remains of about 2,600 people from Camden and Gloucester counties whose bodies were never claimed. McDonald quoted Matthew 10:42 and evoked the essence of Williams’ life when he said, “And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded.” Because of the friends he made, Williams’ cup was fuller than the others who went to their graves Thursday at a cost to the county of about $250, according to spokesman Dan Keashen. But Williams also had Roccia and Mettinger. To the latter, the sound of two geese squawking overheard was a fitting backdrop for George Williams’ burial. “It just reminded me of what a free spirit he was,” Mettinger said.
Regional medical examiner's office buries seven unclaimed bodies: Rev. Vincent McDonald’s heart broke Thursday as he walked toward the seven open graves at Potter’s Field in Camden County, where he would officiate the mass funeral service for Gloucester, Camden and Salem County indigents whose remains were claimed by next of kin. McDonald, pastor of Maple Shade’s Immanuel Baptist Church, realized quickly that his morning funeral service for seven would be before more caskets than there were mourners. “As a pastor, it’s usually such a time to give care to the family. To not have any family around is shocking,” said McDonald, whose Potter’s Field burial service was the first he has ever officiated.
The regional medical examiner’s office holds two burials a year in which about a half-dozen indigents are buried at Potter’s Field, a graveyard behind the Gloucester Township Lions Football Fields. Children who play there don’t notice the grave markers under their feet during pick-up soccer, Frisbee and football games. The seven unclaimed bodies of Michael McGovern, Charles Rudder, Colista Saleh, Arthur Dougherty, John Gaughan Jr., Stephen Cohen, and George Williams — a well-known Camden County window washer — were laid to rest among the more than 2,000 other recorded individuals buried there. The bodies, which have gone unclaimed by next of kin for several months, were strangers to each other, all being buried alone.
Each person interred in the open field behind the Gloucester Township Lions Football Field had a favorite food, a history and someone who recognized their lives as precious, McDonald told those who gathered. “I don’t know all of the days of these lives here,” McDonald said in his 10-minute service, before praying over each casket. “Every one of these lives is one that had days of laughter, had someone in their life who knew their laugh and could pick out it. Each one of these individuals all had personal aspects that were cherished by others ... these are personal lives here that we stand here to remember.”
Only workers with the Gloucester-Camden-Salem Medical Examiner’s Office and Camden County’s public works department, plus a few of Williams’ friends, showed for the short service. “I do truly believe — even though my heart breaks that they don’t have family around them — that what we did in this moment was real,” McDonald said. Of the seven plots, only Williams’ site will have a plaque that marks his grave. The others will get military gravesite markers, flat white stone with a number carved in it. “I always saw him as a just another street person washing windows,” said Bill Roccia, of Mt. Ephraim, who stood beside his daughter Kate looks at Williams’ casket. “Then, I saw him one day, and decided this man had a story, and I wanted to know what it was.”
The Roccias, and a handful of others, were the only attendees not affiliated with the medical examiner’s office. While the small crowd of friends stood around Williams’ casket, the other six caskets sat alone beside the designated graves and the mounds of dirt that would cover them over. “For a minute, I wished I knew all of them,” said Roccia, who played a song on his iPad that he and Williams had recorded together. “They weren’t as lucky as George to have touched so many lives.”