AMERICUS, Ga. – Millard Fuller’s body was in a simple pine box under a cluster of white oak and Chinaberry trees at the edge of an expansive pecan orchard.
Atop the primitive casket, a hammer and single red rose formed the shape of a V, placed there minutes earlier by Fuller’s wife, Linda.
Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity, died Tuesday morning and before noon Wednesday was being buried in a simple service of song and praise.
As mourners prepared to cover the casket with rich, red, South Georgia clay, Fuller’s daughter Georgia broke into song.
She started the words to “How Great Thou Art,” and more than 600 people standing in the bitter wind of a 27-degree morning joined in.
It was like a Habitat for Humanity construction site. Hundreds of voices hammered away at the lyrics. Some were in tune, some were not. But they were getting the job done.
Minutes earlier Fuller’s son Chris, a Baptist minister, spoke about his father and the significance of the burial site on Koinonia Farm.
It was on this Christian compound under the leadership of minister Clarence Jordan that Fuller found the faith and direction to start Habitat for Humanity, an organization that has built more than 300,000 homes for the poor across the world.
Fuller was being buried not far from where Jordan was buried in much the same manner four decades ago.
“Clarence used to talk about preaching in hell,” Chris Fuller said. “I bet my daddy is trying to build houses for those people. And I am sure when we get there he will have air conditioning for those people.”
Fuller died of congestive heart failure.
“He died quick,” Chris Fuller said. “I can tell you with great confidence he wanted to go that way. He was sick, then within 12 hours he was moving on. He didn’t want to linger.”
The crowd consisted of rich and poor, black and white, old and young.
“I know all of you are Millard’s brothers and sisters, you are his family, as well,” Chris Fuller said at the start of the 35-minute service. “On a cold day, our hearts are warm because you are here.”
Among them was Hattie Pitts Butler of Americus, who still lives in a Habitat for Humanity home built 35 years ago.
“Millard and Linda both worked on my house,” Butler said. “He touched a lot of people’s lives.”