West Point Says Goodbye

Published 10:17 am Thursday, February 22, 2024

The late Mayor Willie T. Edmondson was laid the rest on Wednesday at Shadowlawn Cemetery in the heart of LaGrange. The fitting final resting place comes at the end of a nearly daylong celebration of the former minister, mayor, longtime councilman and mentor.

The beloved mayor passed away on Friday, Feb. 16. 2024, a few weeks short of the anniversary of his first year in office.

Edmondson was well-loved by the LaGrange community where he served as a councilman for more than 20 years and was elected the city’s first Black mayor in March 2023, along with his church community at Bethlehem Baptist Church in West Point.

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The day kicked off in LaGrange where the city invited residents to line the streets of downtown to send off Edmondson’s funeral procession from Lakes Dunson Robertson Funeral home, which he owned and operated, to Bethlehem Baptist Church, where a viewing and celebration of life service was held.

Hundreds attended the service to pay their final respects to Edmondson, with countless public officials, funeral director colleagues and church members attending the service. The crowd was more than standing room only with many filing into the entryway and outside. Some lined the walls in order to fit in the room. 

Dr. Titus Roberson of Mount Calvary Baptist Church officiated the service with Bishop Sherman Young providing the eulogy. 

While his passing obviously saddened those who cared for Edmondson, the service was more about celebrating his life than mourning his death, with praise music from the choir, dancing and worship.

“We didn’t come for no funeral. Anybody that knows Dr. W. T. Edmondson knows he was a happy person,” Roberson said. “Today we’re going to celebrate his life. But above all, we’re going to celebrate God.”

Prior to Bishop Young’s eulogy, reflections were offered by Edmondson’s colleagues: former mayor pro-tem Jim Arrington, David Campbell Sr, 1st Vice President of the Georgia Funeral Service Practitioner’s Association; and George Durham Jr, President of the National Funeral Director’s Association.

Arrington noted that while Edmondson and he ran against one another for mayor of LaGrange, they were good friends.

“I walked by and paid my respects just a minute ago. You know, I lost a friend. I lost a brother. I lost a mentor. I lost an encourager,” Arrington said. “He was my brother in Christ. I’m not here to say goodbye. I’m here to say so to you in the morning. And I know without a shadow of a doubt, there’s no doubt. I know our — my Mayor Edmondson — right now he’s in heaven.”

Arrington said Edmondson was always an encourager, even in his final days. Last week, Arrington filled in for Edmondson to deliver the State of the City address. Before that address, Edmondson called Arrington to give him encouragement.

“He’s lying there on his deathbed, and he’s concerned about our community, and he calls me to encourage me while he’s lying there. How can you be so many things to so many people?” Arrington said.

Colleagues Campbell and Durham also shared thoughts on what Funeral Director Edmondson meant to them.

Campbell said the best word to describe Edmondson is “faithful.”

“He was faithful to the calling as a funeral director. He was faithful to our association for over 45 years and served in every capacity in [Georgia Funeral Service Practitioner’s Association] except treasurer. He served in every aspect on the executive board, from being a district chairman, third vice president, and up to his death as chairman of the board,” Campbell said. 

“We, the members of GFSPA, have lost a notable man, an outstanding motivational speaker, a master teacher and a preacher,” he said.

“As a young man in funeral service, who came through the ranks, through my state, as well as to our National Association, Dr. Edmondson and his tall stature and always recognizable voice, would make sure that young licensees like myself had the tools, the trade, the knowledge and the education to make this industry what it was. He was a funeral director’s funeral director, Durham said.

Bishop Young said Edmondson was a trailblazer and one of the hardest workers he has known. He said he saw Edmondson’s work ethic when his church had hosted him as a guest minister.

“Rev. Edmondson came over, and he played every song for the choir. And then when I introduced him to preach, he went back over and played the sermonic hymn. He sang a song, and then preached and sang two more songs,” Young said.

Young said he spoke to Edmondson afterward at his car and he told him he had to go because he had to go to work. 

Edmondson then explained that he had to work 12 hours overnight at the hospital, which he had done the previous night as well before preaching and singing three songs.

“You never saw him stand still,” Young said. “He loved to preach. Oh, he loved to preach more than he loved to eat. That means a whole lot because Dr. W.T. Edmondson was what you call a foodie. He loved food and he could cook.”

“Understand that his heart in the ministry was so great. He’s gone to be with the Lord now in a better place,” Young said. “Oh, he’s not dead. He’s more alive now than he’s ever been.”