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Honoring Andy Williams: My Huckleberry Friend

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Andy's friendship has brought so many other blessings to me. It is because of Andy and the encouragement of his brother, Don, and sister-in-law, Jeanne, that I, a priest, became a music producer, liner note author, and songwriter.

One of the most cherished traditions of the Catholic faith is to honor the lives and memories of those we love by accompanying them with our prayers and reflecting on the preciousness and impact of their lives. One of the greatest privileges of a priest is to celebrate Masses for the repose of the souls of our loved ones. I will do this with love on Sept. 25 for my dear friend Andy Williams.
Sept. 25, 2022, marks the 10-year anniversary of the passing to the Lord of this legendary entertainer. I thank God for the gifts of Andy, music, and friendship as I cherish his life and hold him close in prayer. I am a fan, who became his friend, who became his colleague.
In 1969, Andy created an NBC variety show that he designed for his own children to enjoy. The most famous of his colorful characters was the Cookie Bear, who was relentless in trying to finagle a cookie from Andy. As an 11-year-old, I loved Andy's performances and his comic goofiness. The first record I ever bought was The Andy Williams Show album (1970), and as a high school junior, I went to South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset to hear Andy in concert. I loved his vocals, his style, and what I perceived to be his kindness and gentleness from the stage.

In 1992, I traveled to Branson, Missouri, for the grand opening of the magnificent Andy Williams Moon River Theatre. The theater is a showcase for Andy's artistry. He loved building the theater and performing there for over 20 years. Andy first came to know me during his early Branson years as "the guy who knows more about my music than I do."
Because of this, in 1999, I was invited by Collectable/Sony Records to write the booklet for a box set of vintage Andy albums. I began working closely with Andy, and over the next 13 years, I would collaborate with him on over a dozen projects. I could not believe that I was now doing work as a hobby with the same superstar I had admired as a child. He was a perfectionist, and he challenged me in my budding musical profession to capture his vision in my writing for him. Andy was equally intrigued with my life, as a priest and as a military chaplain. He was especially caring when my mother passed to the Lord in 2003 and when I deployed to Iraq in 2004.
Andy's music is the soundtrack of our lives. He has brought joy and comfort to millions throughout the world. A very moving moment was when Andy sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" at the Funeral Mass of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. In 1960, he released his first collection of spiritual songs and often recorded songs of faith on his pop albums (e.g., "Day by Day" and "Amazing Grace"). In his last decades, he always included a gospel medley in his concerts, and he earned the title of "Mr. Christmas" for his heartwarming Christmas TV shows, albums, and concerts. All of this is ironic, since Andy did not consider himself to be a religious person. Yet, his spiritual songs and his musical proclaiming of Christ at Christmas have helped generations of people, including me, in their faith journeys.
Andy's friendship has brought so many other blessings to me. It is because of Andy and the encouragement of his brother, Don, and sister-in-law, Jeanne, that I, a priest, became a music producer, liner note author, and songwriter. I met some of my closest friends because they admired Andy's artistry, as well. In particular, the Gigliottis of Nebraska, the Reddens of Texas, and the Dalrymples of Ohio have become faithful friends for life. We are Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant and have traveled together to the Holy Land and to the Vatican. We have worshiped together for decades and they love me as a friend and as a priest.
As we had done so many times previously, the seven of us traveled to Branson to visit Andy on his 84th birthday in 2011. Unfortunately, he was in cancer treatment at the time, but with great generosity had a bottle of Dom Perignon waiting for us at his theater apartment. Amazingly, he called us from his hospital bed and brought us joy as he sang "Happy Birthday to Me." That is the type of man and friend he was.
Four months before Andy passed in 2012, he sent me a note saying: "Dear Richard, So proud of you! Love following your career. Keep it up! Love, Andy." I replied: "Andy, Thanks so much for your greeting. It means a lot to me. The feeling is mutual. I love following your career, too. Love, Richard."
Today, I invite you to join me in thanking God for your faithful friends, living and deceased. Please join me in praying for Andy's soul and for all of his loved ones. Andy is best known for his stunning rendition of "Moon River." Kathleen Nolan, the author of "The Meaning Behind Andy Williams' Moon River" describes the song as capturing "the youthful desire for a life of adventure." To quote a key lyric of the song, it has been a thrilling adventure to have Andy as a "Huckleberry Friend." I am so grateful for every blessing that has come my way because he embraced this fan as his friend. God bless the kind and gentle soul of my Huckleberry Friend.



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