In honor of my friend, Roger Watts


Every human life, including yours and mine, chronicles a story that is best told backwards. That is, the purpose and meaning of our life only becomes clear through remembrance.

We are here this afternoon to remember the life of Roger Watts. 

I, like many of you, only met Roger in the last chapter of his story—after he had retired, after he and Lois moved to New Hampshire, and long after Roger had achieved the esteem and respect as a highly successful and brilliant lawyer. 

In other words, many of us are here today for reasons other than what most people think makes a story worthy, or at least what most want their life to be measured by. 

We spend a lifetime trying to create our own story. But when life comes to an end we realize that our lives were never fully our own. We, all of us, were created in the image of God. So, our lives are entwined in a bigger drama. Our fingers may be on the keyboard, but God is the Author.

I do not say this to diminish anything Roger accomplished in his life. Many weeks ago, I had some time alone with Roger in hospital. I asked him questions about his life. He told me how he had grown up in New Jersey, as I did . . . how he played football in high school and moved to Australia where he lived for a year with his family, and took up boxing . . . how he entered military service. 

He told me the story of when he was called to account by a superior officer, how Roger argued that the real problem was systemic, therefore not his fault . . . convincing his senior officer! Afterward, the officer told Roger. “You need to be lawyer.” 

Roger went to Iowa for college, hitchhiking his way back and forth from New Jersey, working summers on a farm, earning tuition and getting his degree. Going on from college Roger earned a law degree and took up practice in Chicago, New York and Connecticut. Roger told me about the major case he argued, and won, that catapulted his career.

Yet to me, and perhaps for you, when I think of Roger I do not think of his career or success. I remember a friend, a man who loved his wife, Lois, a man who cared about others and, most importantly, a man of faith who believed in God.

It is not often you meet a man like Roger—capable, brilliant, an artist in wood carving, a lover of books and history, well read with a clear, logical mind, and a poet too—all this and a man devoted to his wife and devoted to faith in God.

We met Roger and Lois, of course, through this church. Imagine that, two Jersey boys meeting at Wilmot Flat Baptist Church! (By the way, it is the town that is flat, not the church . . . and I don’t know if any of us are actually Baptists!) But the name is appropriate, for it was here, in this church, that Roger was baptized. In this church we all became family—not because of what any of us had accomplished, or who we knew—quite the opposite—we became family because our hearts united around the shared conviction that we were broken people who needed a Savior . . . and the profound delight in discovering that God had provided one in His Son, Jesus. 

I remember, a year ago last September, when Roger was in the ICU at Dartmouth, Sharon and I drove up to visit on a Sunday afternoon . . 

We had not seen Roger in a couple of weeks, and were taken back by the severity of his condition. We all thought he was going to die. His son, Keith, was there along with Lois, of course. Keith asked that we pray. So we joined hands together and we prayed for God to extend Roger’s life. To the surprise of all his doctors, Roger recovered quickly and soon was home. God gave him 14 more months—time for Roger and Lois to complete their move and to have time to say good-bye.

Throughout his illness, Roger’s first concern was always for Lois. Until the very end, Roger kept hoping and praying that he would recover. “If I can walk,” he would say, “I can become stronger . . .” 

Roger wanted to live, but he was not afraid to die. In the last few weeks of his life, Roger told me that he was at peace. When we visited together, we read Scripture and prayed. One visit, we took Communion together, as we do every Sunday in this church, as Jesus told us to: “In remembrance of me.”

For Roger, and for us, remembering Jesus locates the meaning of our life in a much bigger story--that Jesus of Nazareth lived and walked this earth like you and me, but was unlike any other person who ever lived . . . for he was who he claimed to be, the Son of God, the Messiah who took our place on the cross that we might have peace with God.

Roger’s life, and his death, chronicles a story that tells us our hope is not for this world only . . . that this life is not all there is, and that death is not the end, but a new beginning.

About this time last Sunday afternoon, I spoke to Roger for the last time. 

Roger told me, “This is not how I thought it was going to end.” But then he said, “If it’s God’s plan, I am ready.” And he was.