At 6 feet 6, 350 pounds, Garlan Williams stood out.
His good friend Charlie Daniels, the country music legend, looked forward to meeting up with him each year, "getting a bear hug and spending time with one of my favorite people.''
What really impressed Daniels — and hundreds of mourners who squeezed into a standing-room-only funeral home Tuesday night — was the size of Williams' heart. He followed it without hesitation to ease the burden for some of Pasco County's most defenseless people.
And at the end of his life, after he could no longer fight the cancer, his friends and family honored him for that service. They comforted one another with tales of a man who never met a stranger but found his special calling by chance.
Twenty years ago, local attorney Steve Booth drove up to Williams' business in Hudson, Sunrise Propane. Booth was among the earliest and most ardent supporters of the Angelus, a residential facility for the severely handicapped that Pauline Shaver founded in 1983. Williams said he would gladly donate fuel for the annual fundraising barbecue, but he had never heard of the Angelus.
Booth asked if he wanted to go for a ride. They drove a few short miles to the 17 wooded acres off Hudson Avenue. Williams met Shaver and some of the residents with cerebral palsy and other disorders.
Which brings us back to that huge heart.
"He was hooked,'' said his wife, Tammy Williams. "Gar came back ready to do whatever they needed.''
The Williamses gave their money and time. When demand allowed for more homes, built by volunteers in the spirit of the old-fashioned barn-raisings, they gave their sweat.
About the same time Williams took that first ride to the Angelus, Daniels was learning about Shaver and her mission. He had been searching for such a charity to support and began coming to Hudson for annual concerts and golf tournaments. He recruited other country music stars and became a hero to the 30 residents. Daniels will return this winter for the 22nd time.
Gar Williams joined the Angelus board of directors and spent countless hours organizing events and lining up sponsors. He became close friends to celebrities like Tampa Bay Buccaneer stars Mike Alstott and Jerry Wunsch.
"Gar moved easily among football players,'' his wife said, "because he was one of them.'' He belonged to the NFL Alumni.
Williams briefly joined the Chicago Bears after college in Illinois, she said, but he broke both legs in a snow skiing accident before he could play a single down. People assumed he was a football player because of his size, but he really excelled in golf. He was a high school state champion in Illinois.
He followed his parents to Clearwater in the early 1970s and opened a gas station. Williams kept his eye out for rural property and bought 5 acres in Hudson. He drove a truck for Empire Gas and within five years was a regional vice president. He became co-owner of Sunrise Propane and Shore Commercial Services.
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He married Sherry, a teacher's aide for emotionally handicapped pupils at Moon Lake Elementary School. They had two children, Danielle and Jeffrey. As a hobby, Gar built motorcycles and Sherry raced them. In March 1989, she was killed during a race in South Carolina. Sherry was 29.
"Gar had a very interesting and at times tragic life,'' said Tammy, his wife the last 22 years. "He was just a wonderful person. He made a difference.''
After learning of Williams' death at age 61, Daniels wrote an essay to recount their friendship. He noted that "nobody has ever been more faithful and devoted'' to Angelus.
"I loved Gar Williams,'' Daniels wrote, "and the many good deeds he left behind will long be remembered.
"Rest in peace, Buddy.''