A COLOURFUL cowboy whose deep-seated Catholic values never wavered was given the farewell he had asked for on Tuesday.
Close to 1000 people overflowed St Michael’s Cathedral to send off Wagga’s longest-serving publican, the great Greg Williams.
Mr Williams died peacefully last Monday, aged 63, surrounded by family at Wagga Base Hospital.
Not one to shy away from making public what he believed in, Mr Williams requested his funeral include no eulogy and instead asked those closest to him to share stories over a beer at one of his great passions – the Murrumbidgee Turf Club.
“At Greg’s request, there is to be no eulogy at the church today,” the visiting Fr David Ryan told the congregation.
“He asked that everyone here pray for his soul’s eternal reward. You’re going to hear that a little bit today because they were great words of Greg’s.
“Greg didn’t fear death. He often said that we were on earth for one reason – to earn our eternal reward. We all know Greg was a colourful character and there are more than a few stories to share about him, which we will do over a few beers at the race course later on.”
The mass was a nod to his deep faith, but also celebrated his larger-than-life character. Before Fr Ryan broke the bread, Mr Williams’ hat was place atop his coffin. As people took communion, they were encouraged to touch his coffin as a sign of respect.
Prayers of the faithful read by those closest to him recognised friends and family who went before him, particularly Mr Williams’ parents and his beloved grandmother, Thomasina.
Read aloud to the church, Terry Ike Clayton’s poem, A Cowboy’s Last Request, rang true to the character of Mr Williams – a man of deep contrasts.
“Let me tell you folks, Who have gathered here today, That I’m a proud and thankful cowboy, Who has just passed away,” the poem read.
“I have lived a good life, A cowboy’s dream come true, Thank you Lord, For I’m now ready to ride into eternity, me, my horse and you.”
As the service closed, pallbearers carried his coffin through a guard of honour formed by his Astor Inn staff.
Mr Williams is remembered as a passionate – and often blunt – advocate for the local hotel industry, respected local horse racing figure and devoted family man.
Mr Williams returned to Wagga from the professional rodeo circuit in the US and Canada in his 20s to open a butcher shop. He later owned a service station in Edward Street and then started a restaurant in Peter Street. In the mid-1980s, he became the licencee of the Astor Inn and a powerful voice for the hotel industry as the Wagga spokesman for the Australian Hotels Association.
“He was born and bred here and had so many great friends here,” daughter Sally Williams told The Advertiser last week.
“He thrived here; you could never take him out of here. Most racing people dream of winning the Melbourne Cup, Dad dreamed about winning the Wagga Cup.”
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