Sonoma says goodbye to Lumpy
TOMMY THOMSEN is one of the musicians who performed Saturday at a celebration of life for David “Lumpy” Williams.
One measure of the esteem in which a Sonoma citizen is held when they die, may be the number of seats people fill in the Sebastiani Theatre to celebrate their life.
By that measure, David “Lumpy” Williams was a prince among men, an icon, a beloved figure almost on a par with … oh let’s just say Santa Claus.
Because on Saturday afternoon, the Sebastiani Theatre was packed, the stage was jammed with images and mementos from his life and career, and laughter punctuated the tears that flowed like water.
It was the kind of event Lumpy himself would have organized, had he been available, and a stream of happy/sad speakers remembered the many events he masterminded between his Christmas stints in the big red suit draped ceremoniously over a chair on stage.
And much as Lumpy was known and loved as the Sonoma Valley’s permanent and sole-legitimate Santa, there were so many other chapters to his life that the stories filled more than two hours of the afternoon and stretched far beyond the 2:30 p.m. close imagined by Master of Ceremonies Roger Rhoten.
Rhoten lauded Lumpy as an embodiment of “the spirit of Santa” who left some very big shoes to fill. Close friend and longtime helper Barbara McChestney, unveiled a pair of Lumpy’s size 14 gym shoes and held them aloft as testimony to the size of the man.
Lumpy stories unfolded in a series of laughs and a shower of tears. High school best friend Ricky Russo explained that while Lumpy was the most popular kid in his high school class, not all of his numerous organizing efforts succeeded, notably including a clandestine party the two planned to throw for students at a nearby girl’s school. The two conspirators had made all the arrangements for an under-the-radar bash, including chaperone letters forged with his parents’ names, when officials from the school called to verify the plans. Lumpy was summarily grounded.
Much more successful were Lumpy’s later efforts to organize a “Safe & Sane” Halloween event at the Boys & Girls Club where he was executive director. He came up with the idea of “Witchie Poo’s House” and then “sucked in” the Rhotens to help put it on. As Diana Rhoten reflected, Witchie Poo just celebrated its 32nd Halloween celebration.
Billy Philadelphia, a local musician and show biz veteran with whom Lumpy once bunked, relayed one of the highlights of his Lumpy relationship when he was able to introduce David “Lumpy” Williams to Frank Bank, the actor who played Clarence “Lumpy” Williams on the “Leave it to Beaver” TV show, and from whom Lumpy’s brother Gary borrowed the nickname and bestowed it for life.
While most of Lumpy’s friends (it appeared Saturday that everyone in the Sonoma Valley was Lumpy’s friend) knew of his involvement with professional cycling, it took the testimony of Don Hobbs, an executive with the Coors Classic bicycle race, to put Lumpy’s importance in the world of cycling into proper perspective.
Hobbs came to Sonoma looking for a venue in which to stage the Coors Classic. Somehow he found Lumpy, who helped found a group called FOCUS (Friends of Cycling United in Sonoma) and what followed, Hobbs described as magic.
“The event became a prototype for integrating bicycle racing in communities. That guy could press the flesh like nobody you now. Nothing could faze him … Donald Trump wanted to sponsor a bicycle race – the Tour de Trump. In was going to involve seven states, more than 100 communities, it involved working with state and local police forces. We couldn’t have pulled it off without Lumpy.
“If a major international bike race has taken place in the last 25 years, Lumpy was involved in it. And he made the Olympics rock.
“It’s his being. It’s his soul. Lumpy loved people, people loved Lumpy.”
Then Hobbs shared a final memory. “He called me the night before he died. He wanted to tell me a joke, a chicken joke. He said, ‘There’s a chicken and an egg in bed. They’ve just had sex. “Well,” the chicken says to the egg. “I guess that answers the question.”’”
Darryl Bellach, treasurer of the Sebastiani Theatre Foundation and a close friend of Lumpy’s, told the throng that, “Lumpy was a rock star, and he was Santa too. His heart was big and his love was so pure. We never saw selfishness from him. He always gave his love freely. He always knew what a child did not say. Lumpy once asked me if I could get Tommy Smothers to come and sit on his lap, and I was able to make it happen. He was so happy.
“Lumpy was one of the kindest, most incredible people I’ve ever known. He loved to give children a feeling of hope. Lumpy was the real deal. He made their dreams come true.”
Valley music legend Tommy Thomsen, who credited Lumpy with helping him get through a liver transplant, sang a lilting version of “Get Together,” the line “smile on your brother” having particular poignancy, and Bob Gossett opened the afternoon’s music with a sweet rendition of James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain.”
Billy Philadelphia worked the piano while Meg MacKay sang an obligatory round of “Santa Baby,” and the Bellefonte Brass closed the gathering with a work called, “Farewell.”