Farren Williams and my path crossed in three distinctly different ways over the past 30 plus years.
Readers of the Courier may remember that Farren was the Courier’s sports and government reporter in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He also wrote editorials during that time, often pointing out how government was wasting our money.
Upon news of his death from cancer Monday morning, I spent some time revisiting the pages of our dusty bound editions of the Courier, starting in 1990 and working my way back. Flipping through the yellowing newsprint inked with news of the day and photos of people either are no longer living or changed vastly over the decades, I stopped on one his editorial pieces from December 1990. In it, Farren was reflecting on the first birthday of his son, Kevin, and how he resembled his mother and her side. His humor flashed in the last paragraphs when relating how I had asked if it upset him that his child looked nothing like him. Farren wrote: “Kevin can look like his mother’s side of the family all he wants. As long as he doesn’t look like the mailman, I’m happy.”
As I struggled to remember the remark 30 years later, I also struggled believing 30 years had passed since Farren and I worked together.
Farren came to the Courier in October 1988 with prior experience and a journalism degree he earned from Cal State Fresno in 1976. He was editor of the Firebaugh-Mendota Journal in 1978, general manager of the Gustine Standard, a wire editor for the Auburn Journal, sports editor of the Oakdale Leader and a political editor for Cycle News tabloid newspaper. His hiring at the Courier came about because he and then Courier general manager Doug Cox had worked together in Firebaugh. Farren had a great work ethic and was a great reporter and could pound out some quality stories of great length. He worked without complaining.
When he first set up his office, Farren had pinned up a small color photo of a toaster assembly line cut out from a magazine. I asked him what was up with the toaster photo and he replied in rather bleak fashion, “We’re just putting out toasters.” I got what he was saying; you get done with one issue and have to immediately start working on the next. Over and over and over.
If Farren had an ego it never surfaced. He also never seemed to get too excited about anything – except family. I remember how he’d stand there with both hands buried in his pockets while conversing with someone. If I came to him to share something that upset me he’d shrug his shoulders and respond, “What are you gonna do? There’s nothing you can do.”
Farren became restless, wanting to make more than the Courier could pay after he got married and he had kids to support. I believe he left the Courier to work for another paper but came back. In no time, however, Farren talked Doug into giving him enough time off to take classes to pursue a computer science degree. Farren left journalism for good in 1992 when hired by the late Police Chief Pete Peterson to build an IT department for the Ceres Police. Eventually he managed the IT Department for the entire city operation, with Williams overseeing three IT specialists who had offices at the Police Department Building.
I had fewer sightings of Farren after the Courier office moved in 2012 but I would occasionally see him at city functions and at council meetings. Each time our hair appeared a little grayer to one another. When the Courier was still headquartered at 2940 Fourth Street, I’d periodically spy him strolling down to the Shell station to buy his large soda, which supplemented his bagged lunch. His workplace changed but his habits remained the same.
I now found myself covering Farren on occasion as he gave council presentations about computers or telephone systems that he wanted the City Council to approve.
Meanwhile, Farren moved to the same community where I lived and began attending the same church. Once again our circles intersected. He married kind of late in life to Carol, the business manager of our sister newspaper the Oakdale Leader. He became an instant stepdad to Rebecca Hendry. I knew both of the children as they started attending our church where I was involved in youth ministries. Becca joined us on a mission trip to Mexico one summer. She was a sponge who absorbed the entire experience. A short time later, on a cruel Friday night, Rebecca was killed in a head-on collision on the Oakdale-Waterford Highway. Our church was stunned with grief. My wife and I felt compelled to do one of the hardest things we had ever done – but knew it needed to happen – to go over and cry with Farren and Carol in their grief. There’s no words to console any parent in that moment. Karen and I were struggling with the same age-old question, why, God, why? All we could do is share in their grief. I had a front row seat to the family’s grief as I helped carry Becca’s coffin to her grave at Lakewood Memorial Park.
Now the grief is ours as we learn that a member of the Courier – indeed the city of Ceres – family is gone. I went about thinking he had beat his cancer years ago for in our last conversation at his office at the Ceres Police Department headquarters, he freely shared with me the details of his cancer, his surgeries and the prognosis. And as the saying goes, no news is good news. But because we live in an out-of-sight-out-of-mind social media existence, Farren eventually faded out of my view after he retired from the city of Ceres in 2016.
Humor and grief are often neighbors and at time like this, it’s best to remember the laughter and the smiles and the wonderful times as grief, the rude and ever constant intruder, forces its way into our day. I never forgot the morning he came to work and explained that someone stole the hood off his pickup in the night. “Of all things they would steal – my hood!” he said, more amused than aggravated.
Farren was a wonderful coworker, acquaintance and friend. I shall never forget him.