By Randy Keck
The Community News
H. Jay Atwood was born on October 11, 1954. A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Monday, July 26, at Church of the Holy Apostles, 3900 Longvue in Fort Worth. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to local police and fire departments.
As Rector at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Willow Park for more than 25 years, members and non-members alike came to know H. Jay Atwood as “Father Jay.”
It is difficult to pin down a nutshell description of Father Jay. He was a pillar and foundation of the community for decades, pouring himself not only into his church, but into the community as well.
In all the years I knew him, I never heard him preach from the pulpit but I saw him preach every day as he lived his life in service to the community he loved.
Shortly after moving to east Parker County Father Jay became a chaplain for the Aledo Volunteer Fire Department after a tragic accident left firefighters looking for answers. One former volunteer said he provided needed support when first responders went to an accident scene where there was a fatality.
But don’t think Father Jay was there at the accident scene in his robes just for the purpose of counseling. He was there with his sleeves rolled up, ready to man a hose or do whatever needed to be done on the scene. After the department became more professionalized, he remained as chaplain and served on the Parker County Honor Guard.
Fred Knopp worked on the Aledo Volunteer Fire Department with Father Jay.
“Father Jay and I became close friends when we met at the Aledo Fire Department. We hit it off as if we were brothers. We got to know each other through the years driving back and forth and rooming together at the A&M TEX Fire School.”
Knopp said there was nothing he and Father Jay couldn’t tell each other.
“Father Jay and I also shared many moments together as co-signers on the AVFD account, which required us to meet regularly to sign checks and share much time together. My wife and I had the privilege of Father Jay marrying our oldest daughter and I believe to this day he put extra effort into it because of our relationship — it was a wonderful evening. Father Jay and Kathy truly have servant hearts from God, they give and give and never expect anything in return. I will never really understand why Father Jay was taken from us so soon, but I believe that God has a very important position in heaven for him that needed to be filled.”
Father Jay earned the rank of Eagle Scout in his youth. As an adult, he was an active supporter of Boy Scouts, working with Pack 1099 and Troop 2001.
“He had a unique connection to our boys through the years. I served as Pack 1099 Chaplain for two years, and I remember how Fr. Jay encouraged me to lead our opening prayer each Monday night at St Francis,” said Courtney Clayton. “He led the ‘God and Me’ and ‘God and Family’ programs so the boys could earn their BSA Religious Knots. My oldest son went on to earn ‘God and Church’ and ‘God and Life’ with the guidance of Fr Jay. We had to postpone his Eagle Court of Honor due to Covid and the Pandemic, but Fr. Jay graciously accepted our request to present my son with his last two achievements. Unfortunately, this never happened. It was an honor to have known Fr. Jay. I am so sad at our loss on Earth, but Heaven welcomed an amazing man.”
His service to scouting was not just local.
“Fr. Jay was passionate about the scouting movement and helped numerous scouts earn merit badges,” said Debbie Kerrigan. “He loved Philmont Scout Ranch and made two trips over the past few years participating and staffing Wood Badge (leadership training for adults). He was a man full of wisdom and yet so down to earth. He did not know the word ‘no’ and was a true servant leader. He touched so many hearts and will be deeply missed. Troop 2001 loved him dearly and we are better for knowing him.”
As a former police officer, he provided support to the Willow Park Police Department (see letter).
He helped Aledo students in their UIL and other activities.
“Father Jay was always there for our kids at Aledo High School,” said former principal Dan Peterson. “He was a huge supporter of the Shattered Dreams program every two years when it was created by the kids and counselors. Baccalaureate was another point of pride for him each year to support our seniors as they moved on to their next phase of life after graduation. He embodied all that made Aledo such a special place. I will miss his huge smile and caring heart.”
School board member Forrest Collins echoed the sentiment: “Father Jay was a great man who had an incredible heart for kids. He was a huge supporter of our school district and will be greatly missed.”
Just as his service to scouting wasn’t just local, so his religious service was not limited to members of his parish.
Several members of Holy Redeemer Catholic Church commented on his help to their congregation.
“He was so kind and generous in helping our Holy Redeemer Catholic Church get up and running 20-plus years ago,” said Sheila Hill. “He graciously allowed us to have weekly Mass there until we outgrew the church and had to find another location. He allowed us to rent some classroom space for our offices until we found land and built our own building. I remember that he would often come in and check on me late on Wednesday nights when I was working alone late into the evenings doing the bookkeeping as a volunteer, after my real day job. Such a great man of God.”
Just saying a few nice things about Father Jay will not work. The newspaper does not have enough room for Father Jay’s heart. In my many years with the Willow Park Police Department, I have never known Father Jay to deny someone his time, compassion, or laughter. He was always there for us first responders and made sure we knew how to find him, especially if we ever needed him. Father Jay was one of us, so he understood us very well. He knew and experienced the stressors of our profession and never stopped offering his compassion and brotherhood.
The Willow Park Police Department started its first CAPA program this year (Clergy and Police Alliance). Six clergy members from several churches joined and of course, Father Jay was front and center. He told me without hesitation he would find the time to help us with the program, along with becoming one of the founding members. Father Jay assisted us with various aspects of the program to ensure its success, since he had prior experience with CAPA programs. His latest project was creating location maps for the other members, which would assist them during times of crisis call-outs. The five-remaining founding clergy members will surely make Father Jay proud and keep the program moving forward in his memory.
It is going to be very hard to not hear Father Jay’s laughter, listen to his voice speak to us without hesitation and judgment, joking with us, his love, and his complete understanding. It will be very difficult to see his empty seat during CAPA meetings, to not see him walk into our Police Department lobby, and to look at the gifts he has given us over the years. Father Jay helped me through some very hard times of loss in my life and I am forever grateful. He was currently helping me with some projects he and I were discussing, and I know I must continue his work.
Although my heart is broken and I cannot write this without tears, I know that Father Jay must continue his journey. Father Jay was an honest and good man and us officers were very proud of him.
God bless you Father Jay, we love you, and thank you for everything. You are forever in our hearts.
– Sergeant Jaclin Ramirez
Willow Park Police Dept.
Jack Hunt, pastor at The Well, also has fond memories of Fr. Jay’s example.
“It was a lunch with our mayor and community pastors that I first met Father Jay,” Hunt said. “As a newbie pastor to the community and the ministerial alliance, I sat quietly and listened. Jay, as I called him at first, referring to him as Father Jay later, I quickly knew that I wanted to be in his wake of wisdom, experience, and love of God and this community. To be honest, I was personally ‘hung up’ on the title of ‘Father’ to another man. But Father Jay Atwood loved his family, his family of God, this community, its first responders the way a good father would—devoted, serving, complete. I’ll never forget the way he concluded the prayer at that lunch when I first met him. Father Jay said ‘…and give us grace to continue your work in our community, because our churches are not full, so we need to do a better job.’ Body of Christ, let us champion this legacy of faith, hope and love left in the absence of this great man of God. We are all in the wake left by Father Jay’s life.”
Ron Johns, pastor at Oak Ridge Church of Christ, explained his relationship with Atwood this way:
“Many stories will be told of the tireless service, positive community influence, and attentive heart of this man of God. Father Jay’s life and legacy improves the reputation of clergy in our community.
“From a personal perspective, when this Church of Christ preacher wanted to expand my experience and understanding of life with Jesus, Father Jay became a gentle and generous guide. I will never forget his kindness, his positive feedback after listening to my sermons, his insights into loving the people of God. I already mourn his absence from this community. But I celebrate his ongoing contributions to our work. Rest peacefully my mentor.”
Ride for Heroes
Back in the days when we were doing the Ride for Heroes, we depended on Father Jay’s connections to insure good weather on the day of the ride. Up at the crack of dawn, Jay gained the title of “Cone Man” because he put down the safety cones along the 100-mile route, and then went back and picked them up after the ride.
Bobby Rigues, one of the founders of the ride, expressed his feelings about Father Jay.
“Looking back to 2001 when I moved to East Parker County, I can’t think of a more influential person to the communities we share than Father Jay Atwood” Rigues said. “His support, wisdom, and efforts touch every community endeavor I’ve ever been associated with. His influence is found in the East Parker County Chamber of Commerce early years, the Ride For Heroes events, the Aledo Volunteer Fire Department, the Aledo ISD and countless of other organizations and committees he participated in. I can’t think of a better person to be considered a cornerstone to the foundation of community involvement. Father Jay’s passion for a better community is an example for all to share and his sincere friendship for us to cherish.”
In my years of covering events for this newspaper, it was difficult to go anywhere without seeing Father Jay there. He served on boards and commissions in addition to all of the above, and somehow he also found time to the the chaplain at Texas Motor Speedway.
I never saw him without a smile.
Father Jay will leave shoes too big to fill. But I take comfort in the fact that every time I see him in my mind’s eye, he is smiling or laughing. Sherry McKenzie summed that up: “I’ll miss that smile and chuckle! A life well lived!”