'A Celebration of Life'
3 inseparable friends memorialized at funeral
MADISON - The three knew no separation in this life as the best of friends and they are in eternity together now, which was the tone of a "A Celebration of Life" worship service here memorializing three young men Wednesday that drew thousands.
Sam Clayton Kelly, Jr., 18, Walker Kelly, 19, and Mason Wilbanks, 19, all Madison Central graduates and freshmen at the University of Mississippi, died in a traffic accident Sunday morning returning to Oxford for church with the fraternity they were pledging after a surprise visit home to see their parents.
The wreck occurred at about 8:30 a.m. on Interstate 55 at the Vaiden exit after the 2009 Infiniti Samuel Kelly was driving northbound veered off the left side of the roadway and ended up overturned on Mississippi 35, according to the Mississippi Highway Patrol.
There were no witnesses and all three died on impact, the authorities said. Willbanks was the front passenger and Walker Kelly was in the back seat.
Their lives were celebrated at Broadmoor Baptist Church on the Highland Colony Parkway where they were members.
University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones invoked the Apostle Paul, using words the disciple wrote to "those he loved in the Church at Corinth."
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles...," he said. (See the Chancellor's full remarks on page A10.)
One of the fathers of the men said as the service closed: "God is absolutely real."
Expressing how all three professed a love for and belief in Jesus Christ, he said: "Don't let their lives be naught."
The bond was so strong among the three that the families said it was only appropriate to combine the visitations and funerals.
The service lasted nearly two hours with several fraternity brothers from Kappa Alpha Order speaking as well as others who knew them well.
All three avid Ole Miss fans, a recorded version of 'From Dixie with Love" or "Slow Dixie" by the University's marching band was played as the families exited the church. Some of those attending, including even the senior minister, carried or had in their back suit pockets red Ole Miss pom poms.
Several charter buses and vans were used to transport the overflow crowd of family, friends, Ole Miss students and other well-wishers to the grave site.
Hundreds of Madison Central students lined the Highland Colony in front of the school waiting for the funeral procession to pass.
Students and teachers wept as the three black hearses passed slowly.
Some drivers in the northbound lane stopped, got out of their vehicles and bowed their heads.
Broadmoor Baptist Church Pastor Rob Futral said that "Sunday morning changed our lives forever" and commented on the outpouring of support the families have received from the community.
In trying to minister to the families, though, so many have been ministered to by them, he said.
"Then and now we need to be together," he said. "The awesome outpouring of love from you has been amazing."
In explaining the title for the service "A Celebration of Life," Futral said anyone who looks at the pictures of Sam Clayton, Walker or Mason can see how they loved life.
"It's a celebration of the life that they lived," Futral said. "It's a celebration because of where they are today."
KA Pledge Trainer Trey Carroll spoke and told the parents that the brothers of Kappa Alpha "absolutely loved your boys."
He pointed out how poignant it was that the three died together, saying they were a model of what true friendship is.
Their lives showed what it meant to be friends and their deaths shows what it means to be friends, brothers in Christ, he said.
"These three young men did not know separation in life or death and they leave together into eternity.
"They were a model of what true friendship is," he continued. "We were so blessed and thankful to have had them in our lives."
Like many remembering the three friends, fellow Broadmoor member and KA brother Brent Chancellor said he'll always remember their smiles.
"You always saw them with each other and they always had a smile on their faces," he said.
KA member Matt McDonald also spoke, telling the family they always put smiles on everyone's faces.
"Each family told me how much they looked up to us and how much we were going to teach them," McDonald said. "I'd like to completely disagree. I'd like to say they have taught us more than we could have ever taught them."
Madison Central High School Principal Edith Mitchell said what impressed her the most is how the community at large has rallied behind the three families.
"I think the outpouring of love and support for these three families has been amazing," Mitchell said. "It's truly a testament to this community.
"These three fine young men, these three fine young Christian men, touched so many lives in just a short time on this earth," she added.
Chancellor Jones told the parents: "We were fortunate to have your sons in our lives - in the Ole Miss family - and are profoundly grateful for the joy they brought to us. In a large university, there is not the opportunity for us to know all of our students on a personal level. But in the last four days, through the voice and words of those in the Ole Miss family who knew and loved your sons, I've had the privilege to come to know them very well. Just as you are, we are very proud of them."
The Chancellor went on: "A line in the University's alma mater reads: 'There Ole Miss is calling, calling, To our hearts' fond memories.'
"It is comforting to know that in the days ahead, whenever the KA's, the Madison Central Ole Miss students, or any of the Ole Miss family who knew and loved your sons gather in the Grove or anywhere on our campus, they'll carry in their hearts fond memories of your sons."
Thursday, November 3
I have wanted to write something about this since it happened, but couldn't really put into words what I was thinking. At any point during my years at the KA house, this could have happened to me and my friends. I can only imagine what these guys are going through. The Madison Country Journal has written a great article on these guys and just how close the Ole Miss community really is. You may leave Oxford, but you never leave Ole Miss. God bless these guys, their families, KA, and Ole Miss.