Saturday, April 13, 2019

The death of a great human being: Mac Wiseman was a friend of mine, and I loved him

Note: I published this on Facebook on February 27, 2019, the day after the funeral. I moved a copy here so others may read and reflect on the loss of a great man and a true friend. 

SPRING HILL CEMETERY – Mac Wiseman’s casket paused … or really the workmen did … a moment before it was pushed into the mausoleum wall at about rush hour Wednesday.
Most of those who had jammed the funeral home, down the hill in the historic cemetery, left after the service that even brought a bubble of a tear, at least, to this old writer who even in death considers Mac one of my best friends.
Malcolm Bell “Mac” Wiseman … or Dr. Mac Wiseman, according to a well-earned honorary degree ... was celebrated in a manner he would have liked. Humor, music, a few slightly off-kilter comments … and tears (he may have not liked that) filled the chapel for a bit more than an hour.
Most of those who came for the celebration got there early enough to offer condolences to Janie Boyd, his beloved companion and caretaker whose loving attention allowed him to live his years out at home rather than in a nursing facility. “I’ve got to see my baby one more time,” said Janie, after she hugged me and turned back to the open casket.
Mac’s other relatives and close friends filtered through the viewing room. Great radio voice, historian and great friend of Mac, Keith Bilbrey, turned to me and said “We’ve lost a great one, Tim. A great one. Thanks for what you do writing about these people.” Hell, I love these people. Mac especially.
I stood a few feet behind Ricky Skaggs at the casket as he said quiet words, probably about Jesus, knowing Ricky. We exchanged warm greetings. He’s a good guy.
I consider it an honor that I have had the opportunity to write about Mac, and others of his generation, most of whom are dead. But Mac was special. I didn’t just call him to get a story or visit him when the “press” or “media” or whatever they call the pack these days, descended on his tidy home in Lower Antioch to talk about one of his projects, generally recordings he worked on with my friends Peter Cooper and Thomm Jutz.
I often called just so I could feel better. Mac was like that. Also, he liked to talk with me. With everybody, I imagine.
This little note though is just to give those of you who weren’t there a taste of the funeral… or celebration of life as the kings of euphemisms call them these days. I doubt you’ll find it covered in newspapers, but they may prove me wrong. Still, I know 2-day-old funerals are about as worthless as 2-day-old ballgame scores in this new age, after the death of newspapers.
Inside the chapel, the service began with Les Leverett, the classic photographer, who offered his thoughts on his long friendship with Mac. Les, by the way, bookended the service by offering the closing prayer an hour or so later.
Next up was Mac himself, a recording of his classic “These Hands,” followed by prayer and scripture from Brother Kevin Rose.
Del McCoury, the gentleman of bluegrass music, performed “The Old Folks at Home,” drawing a rousing ovation.
Usually people don’t applaud at funerals, but I’ve got to admit the stuff this afternoon had me almost feel like whistling along with the clapping.
The most touching, funny at times, melancholy at times, portion was the segment called “Personal Reflections” by Peter Cooper, who I’m proud to call one of my loyal friends. Aren’t many, by the way, but that’s another story. Peter sang Mac verses to carry along his tribute. He also provoked laughter. And raised quiet tears all the way from the podium through the crowd. I’m booking him for my funeral now. I know it was hard for him. He really loved the guy. I was proud of him as a friend and as a Mac enthusiast myself.
One of our most magnificent artists, fiddler Laura Weber White, followed Peter with “Maiden’s Prayer.” If there is a nicer, gentler, more real and amazingly talented woman in Nashville music circles, perhaps I’ll meet her. Laura, by the way, went to the rehab center and performed solo concerts for Mac in his last, painful days of life. It is said he smiled. He smiled at me when I visited, as well, but I couldn’t play the fiddle or sing. I could just be a friend. Just a friend. That’s all I’ve got to offer.
Ronnie Reno followed with personal reflections of his own, laughs so hard you would have thought Mac was in the room. But I guess he was. Or at least that’s what we are taught to believe. Mac did. A benevolent God, open to all humankind, was awaiting him.
Ricky Skaggs & The Whites performed “I Heard My Mother Call My Name in Prayer.” Damn he’s good. Probably won’t like the “damn” there, but it’s the damn truth.
The final song was performed by the greatest singer, the heart with a voice -- or, I guess more properly, "the voice with a heart"... either way works -- the late Mac Wiseman singing lead on the Flatt & Scruggs number “Someday We’ll Meet Again Sweetheart.”
Leverett closed out the ceremony.
I was going to leave, not follow the small procession of mostly relatives and I imagine fans up to the mausoleum, but that’s the direction my old Saab ended up taking me, for the final prayer and to join in a soft-voiced choir of mourners singing Mac’s “Tis Sweet to be Remembered.”
Stepping outside, I watched as they raised the casket up to its resting place in the wall. I watched as they sealed the wall behind it.
He was a friend. I loved him. And I decided I’d better get home before I started crying. Or cursing the skies.