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OPENING ARGUMENT

Two Noble Young Men

A tribute to Stone and Holt Weeks.

An estimated 1,500 people filled Washington National Cathedral on Sunday to celebrate the lives of two happy, generous, remarkably accomplished young men, 24-year-old Stone Weeks and his 20-year-old brother, Holt, of North Bethesda, Md. It was the saddest, most moving, most beautiful memorial service I've ever seen.

To share some of that beauty, I devote this column to Stone, Holt, and their wonderful parents, Linton and Jan Taylor Weeks.

 

Speaker after speaker told of brothers who were also best friends, who exuded a truly extraordinary love for their parents, who threw themselves into academics, sports, and karaoke singing, and who were devoted to helping less fortunate people and fixing our troubled world.

Stone and Holt died in a July 23 traffic jam on Interstate 81 in Virginia when their car was crushed between two trucks and consumed by fire. They were headed from Texas to Washington, with Stone's beloved dog, Priam, to visit their parents and attend a book party for historian Douglas Brinkley, for whom Stone had been an assistant and researcher for two years at Rice University in Houston.

Following are fragments of the uncommonly eloquent personal reflections by six speakers at the service for Stone Taylor Weeks and William Holt Weeks. (You can find the video at http://video1.cathedral.org/wmv/weeksfuneral090802.wmv.)

 

Woody Turner: "I got to know Holt Weeks when he was about 12 years old ... in a junior high youth program at St. Columba's Episcopal Church.... In so many ways, he was already a full man.... He ... would take the new guys under his wing and would look after those on the fringe. He was ... a natural leader ... destined for great things. But probably more important, he was destined for good things -- those small, relatively or seemingly insignificant acts of kindness, inclusivity, caring, effort, work, responsibility, courage that ... hold us all together.... He knew that at 12 years old."

Al Hightower, teacher and basketball coach at St. Andrew's Episcopal School in Potomac, Md., where Stone was named basketball captain and most valuable player: "Stone ... combined social grace, mental awareness, and an ability to be true to who he was.... The two years that I coached Stone made me a better teacher and a better person.... Stone was so proud of Holt, [and] Holt lit up when he talked about Stone."

Christopher Garran, Holt's principal at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda: "In the Walter Johnson 2007 yearbook, you find Holt being recognized with the senior superlative for best personality.... It was as if he had a personal mission to make people happy.... He was dedicated to helping our school community and to helping others.... He sponsored our school's blood drive.... He believed in ... being goofy, helping others, caring about our world, leading by doing.... In high school it's rare to see kids bragging about their parents. Jan and Linton, he had so much respect and admiration for you. [We] heard it every day."

Drewry Fennell, executive director of the ACLU of Delaware: "Stone spent a summer as my intern just before his senior year.... He was wonderful company [and worked very hard].... One thing I heard over and over from Stone was, 'I can't wait for you to meet my parents.' And when I finally did meet them, I loved watching the three of them together, the sheer joy they took from one another's company." Fennell also told of how Stone inspired a feat of legislative jujitsu that helped the ACLU kill an English-only bill -- then took her on a "victory lap" around the Statehouse in his car, music blaring.

 

Erin Koenig: "I was Holt's tennis coach at Eckerd College [in Florida].... Holt epitomized what a coach looks for in an athlete--a good person, academic excellence, commitment to the sport, a team player, a great sense of humor, and last but not least, a never-quit attitude.... Holt always put his family, friends, and teammates ahead of himself.... This past season [he won] the Eckerd College ... award [that] goes to the student-athlete that exemplifies character on and off the court."

Douglas Brinkley: "Stone ... got so engaged in history and current events that he was literally kind of ablaze about life.... He was always for the underdog. He was always for the person that was out of luck. He was pulling for the little guy.... Through all this pain, I still find that I have lessons that I've learned from him, on how to act, on how to prioritize things.... I will never be the same. I hope I will be better. Somehow this last week my pride has vanished. I feel very humbled.... He will never be forgotten. But we have to face the fact that a major link in our chain of love has been terribly shortened."

The Rev. John Taliaferro Thomas, who knew Stone and Holt as a St. Columba's adjunct clergyman and St. Andrew's chaplain and now heads St. Andrew's-Sewanee School in Tennessee, gave the homily. Its poetic beauty and profundity can only be hinted here.

"On an uncharacteristically cool July evening, on the Cumberland plateau of Tennessee where I live, I stood at an expansive bluff overlook, gazing west toward an impressive sunset.... It was there that I received the call from Linton Weeks. The view changed instantly. The vast array of timeworn sandstone, hardwood forest, free-flowing streams--all morphed into a broad snapshot of chaotic disorder. The out-there that just moments before had seemed peaceful and pastoral and perfect now seemed dangerous and random and desolate. For those of us gathered here today, the landscape of our lives has changed forever....This is not an occasion to make neat or tidy sense of the death of innocents. This is not an occasion to defend God.... [At first] I let God have it. I could scream and yell and moan and question and curse.... I suspect many of you have done the same ... as we all ought. But in looking up, I found no solace in the swirling heavens. Rather, the process of railing just created an emptiness.... Look around, how many people are touched by these two young men.... You know that they would urge us here today to seize life as they did, to honor them and the God who made them. That is what we will do together."

What's especially striking is how both boys, from an early age, combined deep devotion to helping downtrodden people with academic and athletic excellence, personal kindness, fun, and occasional eruptions of what Thomas called "wildly creative ... mischief."

Both were active in Habitat for Humanity and other charity programs at St. Columba's. Through their respective schools, Stone worked at a Muscular Dystrophy Association camp, and Holt helped create a fundraising project for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Stone was also news and editorial editor of his school newspaper. Stone played varsity tennis as well as basketball at St. Andrew's. Both were involved in student government. Holt played four years of varsity tennis at Walter Johnson and was MVP as a senior. And both continued their community-oriented activities in college, where they were also "honor roll and dean's list guys," according to their parents.

At the University of Delaware, Stone helped to organize a statewide forum titled "Soldiers to Veterans, the Burdens of Conscience and a Careless Public" and to make a documentary about the My Lai massacre. He founded the university's chapter of Pi Kappa Phi fraternity and was a teaching assistant in history.

After graduating in 2007 with a degree in history, Stone worked intensively for Brinkley on projects, including The Wilderness Warrior, a book focusing on Theodore Roosevelt's path-breaking conservation work. In the book's acknowledgments, Brinkley's paragraph of praise for Stone ended thus: "The world can expect great things from him in the coming decades."

Holt focused on history during two years at Eckerd College, while spending a semester in London and winning the tennis team's award for character. He transferred to Rice this summer to be near Stone and spend a second summer as a research assistant to Christopher Bronk, fellow in technology, society, and public policy at Rice's Baker Institute. Holt's research was the basis for a graduate-level course on environmental technology and sustainability. He hoped to run for political office.

The brothers loved nature and loved that Stone was working on the history of the environmental movement while Holt was working on its future. On Sundays, they served food to the homeless.

Linton Weeks, a former Washington Post Style section writer who is now national correspondent for NPR Digital News, and Jan Taylor Weeks, an artist and teacher of art in Washington and Aix-en-Provence, have created a foundation to memorialize their sons and "to make the world a better place for all."

This article appears in the August 8, 2009 edition of National Journal Magazine.

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