William “Billy” Edwards, the homeless man found slain in his Columbus tent a week ago, was remembered Saturday as one who loved the outdoors, his pet dog Sassy and life itself.
Nearly 100 people gathered at Rose Hill United Methodist Church for the 4 p.m. memorial service where friends, ministers, some homeless and former health care workers remembered the man who lived by his own rules. Edwards, 56, died after he was struck in the head early July 26 in the area known as Tent City near Second Avenue.
Billy Bob Henderson said he had known Edwards practically all of his life. They both attended Baker High School but Henderson said he worked with Edwards over the last six years as part of his Billy Bob Ministries to the homeless. “If he tells you something, you could take it to the bank,” Henderson said. “I was a troublemaker and he helped me out. I know he was happy when I left Baker.”
Farah Halford, a volunteer at the church and organizer of the service, said Edwards grew up on a ranch and was a talented artist. He was married twice and both relationships ended in divorce. He was proud of working as a contract painter in Woodstock, Ga., where he led a crew of 10. Edwards also served in the Army and was an expert marksman.
Halford said she and her husband, Paul, were touched by words that came from Edwards after they met him in November. “He said to me, ‘I would rather have 20 minutes of your time than I would $50 out of your pocket,’” she said. “That hit me and my husband. We realized it’s not really money and food these people are looking for. They are looking for a connection and a relationship.”
Those words were enough to spark a change in how the volunteers helped Edwards and other homeless people. Instead of running and handing out food, Halford said they started focusing on relationships.
“We were able to value that other people don’t stop and get to know them,” she said. “That’s really what they want.”
Halford said Edwards was among 168 chronically homeless in the community living and depending on that area to survive every day. “My heart hurts for them,” she said.
Once a heavy smoker, Edwards had a terminal disease and was in Hospice care, said Steve Ellis, a former caregiver for Hospice. He would make sure that Edwards had inhalers and other medication even at his camp. Ellis also warned him about the dangers in the area.
“Billy was where he wanted to be,” he said. “Billy just didn’t see himself following the rules.”
Ellis recalled how Edwards could feed raccoons and other animals out of his hand. “He felt like he had to do something for them to survive,” Ellis said. “He was real and honest.”
Felissa Grissett said she would never forget a day in 2013 when she met Edwards at the Columbus Police Department while he was getting a free background check to get service at shelters. When she left, Grissett said she ended up dropping him off at the Salvation Army and inviting him later to dinner on special days at her home.
“He was very thankful no matter what somebody did for him,” said Grissett, a disabled Army veteran. “He didn’t want no more than what he needed. That is it.”
Although he had no children of his own, Edwards even took time to advise Grissett on discipline for her two children when her son, Joshua, would mistreat his sister Madison, she said. “It was fun having the company around,” she said.
Edwards’ death is the 10th homicide in Columbus this year and it remains under investigation. Grissett and others choked back tears while hearing memories about the homeless man. “It just hurts ’cause I hope justice is done,” she said.