Squabble demeaning to Williams

Posted: Tuesday, July 09, 2002

Ted Williams buried his dog with more dignity than his family is showing him.

The bizarre, ugly squabble between Williams' children over whether to cremate him or freeze his body and sell bits of his DNA is demeaning to his memory and contrary to how Williams conducted himself in life.

He cherished his privacy, his integrity, and didn't like to make a fuss. He was happiest fishing, alone or with friends, enjoying the beauty and peacefulness of the Florida Keys and the challenge of the sport.

He loved the quiet moments with his favorite dog, a handsome Dalmatian named Slugger that he had since the mid-1980s. When Slugger died, a brokenhearted Williams buried him with simple solemnity near his home in Florida.

''He once said he wanted to be cremated and buried next to Slugger. He just loved that dog,'' Williams' lifelong friend and fellow Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer, Bobby Doerr, said Monday from his home in Junction City, Ore. ''That's the way Ted was. He wouldn't have wanted any fancy stuff, no funeral or anything.''

Williams, who died last Friday at 83, surely would not have wanted his remains to be the center of a public dispute between his 33-year-old son, John Henry Williams, and his estranged 53-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, Bobby-Jo Ferrell.

Ferrell, who believes her father wanted to be cremated, contends her half brother wants to freeze Williams' body and preserve his DNA, perhaps to sell in the future. Ferrell's attorney said Monday her father's estate will ask a judge this week to decide if that should be done.

''It's sad to hear about all this,'' Doerr said. ''It takes away from Ted's dignity.''

Doerr and Williams spoke every couple of weeks on the telephone and saw each other whenever possible. The last time they spoke was about two weeks ago, and for the first time Doerr had trouble understanding him as Williams' health deteriorated.

Johnny Pesky, their former teammate and close friend, also is upset by the family feud.

''I hate to see this happening,'' Pesky said from his home in Swampscott, Mass., near Boston. ''He was a great baseball player and a war hero. He just doesn't deserve this. I just hope there are no repercussions and bad feelings in the family.''

Pesky thought, too, that Williams would have preferred to be cremated and have the ashes buried near his home or scattered in the Florida Keys.

George Carter, a certified nursing assistant who cared for Williams for 10 years and was with him as recently as 2001, told The Boston Globe: ''I knew Ted Williams like a book. He wanted to be cremated and have his ashes spread over the Florida Keys. He told me that many times. I would bet my life he wouldn't approve of this.''

John Henry Williams has not returned calls seeking comments on Ferrell's contention that the body has been flown to Arizona with representatives of Alcor Life Extension Foundation, a provider of cryonics services.

''I will rescue my father's body,'' Ferrell said. ''Me and my attorney are working on that.''

She told a television station that her father's body already was frozen.

''My dad's in a metal tube, on his head, so frozen that if I touched him it would crack him because of the warmth from my fingertips. It makes me so sick,'' Ferrell told Boston's WBZ-TV.

Even if scientists could someday revive the dead, the idea of freezing the body of an 83-year-old man who had been ravaged by strokes is whacky. It would be immoral to try to exploit Williams' fame by selling his DNA with the notion of producing clones.

And the family dispute, itself, is so unseemly, trivializing the death of an American icon.

For Williams' legion of fans, and as recognition for his service as a Marine Corps pilot in World War II and the Korean War, perhaps the most appropriate burial site would be Arlington National Cemetery.

''Nobody in the family has talked about that, but that would be wonderful,'' Pesky said.

Heavyweight champion Joe Louis is buried in Arlington, a few yards from actor Lee Marvin, also a Marine. Both were friends of Williams.

But as much as that might please the public, Williams' wishes should be honored and the dignity of the way he lived should be preserved.

Williams knew when it was time to quit baseball. He walked away and never had any regrets. He was not the kind of man to look back in life, much less the kind who would want to come back from the dead.

''It's a terrible thing when a man like Ted dies, but when your time comes everyone has to accept it,'' Pesky said. ''Ted lived a long life. He did everything a man could do. I hope everyone will just let him rest in peace and remember him for the way he was.''

Steve Wilstein is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at swilstein@ap.org



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