In Memoriam: Ed Newbury
Memories of Ed Newbury by Bill Graham
My first contact with Ed was a phone call in the late 1980’s. Ed had been ministering for the Episcopal Church in the Appalachian hills of Kentucky when the funding from his Diocese that had supported his work disappeared. One of his job options was to take a pair of yoked congregations in the Nebraska Sandhills (Hyannis and Mullen). Finding my name in our Franciscan Directory, he called to get my take on the churches and communities in which they were located. It wasn’t long afterwards that Ed became my neighbor (anyone within a hundred plus mile radius is an neighbor in rural NE).
Along with the time he had spent in KY hills, Ed brought quite a variety of experiences. He had been a Presbyterian clergyman in northern New Jersey, followed by a year or two living in New York City and working as a cab driver. During that time, he was active in a small group that included Dan Berrigan and some other Roman Catholic activists. It as also during that time when Ed discovered both the Episcopal Church and the Third Order. Ed was professed in 1986, so next summer would have been his 30th anniversary.
Ed later served as interim at churches near Rushville, NE (where I’ve been rector the last seven or eight years), Gordon and Hyannis. He then moved to Kimball (on I-80 about sixty miles east of Cheyenne, WY), where he served a church until his retirement about two years ago. He also had a small church in Harrisburg at the same time.
Ed had a love of nature. He planted a tree sent from NJ and which still stands next to the church in Mullen. One of his parishioners also told me of how at the passing of his mother, some land which the family owned near Coney Island, NY was set up as a nature walk.
Perhaps Ed’s greatest love was bird watching. In recent years, much of his free time was devoted to birding. He kept an active log of all the varieties he was able to view and he travelled a fair amount to participate in events. The Prairie Wind Fellowship, which came into existence after the profession of Bett Wood in 1993, used to have an annual picnic each summer. I remember that at one of those, we spent an hour or two hiking and viewing the bird with the binoculars Ed and brought for each of us. Ed was always the first one to spot a bird and tell us what it was.
Before the forming of the Prairie Wind Fellowship, Ed had been active with the Lilies of the Field Fellowship whose members mostly lived in the Denver area. For a number of years our two groups would have a joint meeting for renewing our vows close to the Feast of our Patron. Those gatherings were usually in the home of Bett Wood, who especially remembers Ed as an artist; one of his paintings hangs in her living room.
Another of Ed’s hobbies was ham radio, something recalled by a couple of his former parishioners. They remembered how excited Ed would get when he was able to contact someone who literally lived halfway around the world.
Many of us remember Ed for his gifts as a story teller, something apparent to all those who listened to his sermons and to our fellowship members when we spent time sharing things that had happened in our lives. Ed put that talent to use in writing short stories. A couple of years before he retired, Ed published a book he titled “Old Spies Tales.” Some of the characters were based on folks he knew in Kentucky. One of his Gordon parishioners remembered Ed telling about becoming friends with a “really nice guy” who lived in a shack down the hill from him and later finding out the man was a convicted murder. I remember him reading a selection to our TSSF fellowship just after the book was published in which a woman was constantly coming by to “borrow” something. Afterwards, Ed filled us in with stories of the actual person.
Something almost everyone remembers about Ed is his unique sense of humor, often making use of puns. Some were actually quite clever and showed the nimbleness in Ed’s thinking. Another of his parishioners said she especially appreciated Ed’s willingness to make fun of himself, a trait which often endeared him to others. I remember the name Ed gave to one of his pets – Charlie Magnificat.
One of my lasting memories comes from a sharing of our spiritual practices at a fellowship meeting. The one Ed said had become most important to him was to end each day with a couple of “gratitudes”, things for which he needed to be grateful. As I write this, my gratitude is that Ed Newbury was a part of my life.
Memories of Ed Newbury by Bett Wood
On first meeting Ed, he seemed a rather nice person who had no pretenses, along with a few curmudgeonly moments. Later I came to recognize and value his kindness — his love for people for what they were, his acceptance of differences.
I thought his love for Appalachia defined his taste in music, and I couldn’t have been more wrong — he bought standing room tickets at the Metropolitan Opera — especially for Wagner. He didn’t brag about that, of course — he showed a strong Franciscan Humility — never putting himself forward or looking down on those who were different. Just knowing him has helped make me a better person and a better Franciscan.