Top of the Valley

MILFORD – Gary Williams was recently named the area’s “humanitarian” in The Cabinet’s “Best of Souhegan” contest.

But Williams, who is pastor of the Burns Hill Christian Fellowship church in Milford, talks as if members of his congregation and the local fire, police and EMT personnel should have the award instead.

During an interview in the old Talarico dealership building on Elm Street – which houses the church, as well as Gurney’s Automotive Repair – he said his church members are unusually compassionate.

After living all over the world and ministering to hundreds of churches, he said, “I have never known any so loving.”

“They see a need and they fill it,” Williams said, usually before he even finds out about it, and they don’t confine their charity works to fellow church members.

For example, there was a widow whose roof was leaking, he said. One man organized a work crew, and “they just showed up” and repaired the roof, Williams said.

Williams, 45, who was born and raised in Nashua, has been on Christian missions to Africa, the Dominican Republic, Greece and all over the United States.

He has been married to Stephanie – “an amazing lady,” he calls her – for 22 years, and they have nine children who range from 3 to 21.

“Best of Souhegan” is based on reader nominations, and the winners – there were more than 120 in a wide variety of categories – will be honored Tuesday, Sept. 30, at LaBelle Winery in Amherst.

There also are firefighter and police humanitarian awards that will go to Milford Police Capt. Chris Nervik and to Scott Knowles, of the Brookline Fire Department.

For Williams, the award came as a bit of a shock, and he said he almost deleted the email from the Chamber of Commerce.

He became the chaplain for local emergency departments after the Cates home invasion tragedy in 2009 at the request of then-Police Chief Fred Douglas. Within a week, the fire and ambulance departments also asked him.

But he found emergency departments are tight-knit
fellowships and hard for outsiders to break into.

So Williams became a firefighter.

“I absolutely fell in love with the fire service,” said Williams, who said he’s glad to be on hand when members need support and advice.

“Being on the inside,” he said, “I can recognize the stress … that comes from seeing things on a daily basis that people shouldn’t have to see.”

Williams said he can also recognize how the work affects marriages, calling emergency service “a very unique environment with unique stresses.”

He calls Milford’s police, EMTs and firefighters “the best of the best, the greatest group of people you will ever work with.”

But emergency workers can be a challenge to help because most have Type A personalities, he said, and will say they’re fine when they really aren’t.

“Don’t tell me you are all right,” he has to say to them. “I know you’re not.”

One part of Williams’ role as chaplain that he always wishes he didn’t have to do is visiting the home of someone who has died.

On the other hand, he said it’s extremely rewarding to “give a glimmer of hope, of comfort.” Doing so is “an opportunity I would never have had without the leaders in the departments I work for. As hard as it is, I wouldn’t change a thing. I love this town.”

Where does his compassion come from? From the Lord, he said: “Jesus came as a servant, and he is the example I follow.”

“That’s why an award is hard for me to swallow,” Williams said. “I don’t do it for recognition. My life is just a steppingstone for another generation – to help it prosper.”

That is “the reason I get up in the morning,” he said.

About seven years ago, Williams founded Royal Rangers for children in kindergarten through 12th grade – basically a Christian scouting group.

He also visits the state prison at least once a month. And a few years ago, he started a home tool repair business as a way to teach life skills to the many people in the community who struggle with alcohol and drug addictions.

“It not only gives them a job, it gives me one-on-one time to be an influence on their lives,” Williams said.

Milford Fire Chief Jack Kelly called Williams “a great firefighter” who is always willing to help in any situation.

“He really is a special guy,” Kelly said.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 304, or kcleveland@cabinet.com.