Frank Witman, long time pastor of the United Methodist Church in Simi Valley, died this past week after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease. A few months ago, the Simi Valley Hospital named its new chapel The Witman Chapel in his honor. On that occassion, I made some remarks about Frank who was my mentor, friend, fellow pastor and fellow police chaplain:
I have the honor of introducing Frank Witman, my mentor, my colleague, my pastor, my friend—
These are roles that Frank as assumed not only for me, but for many, if not all of us, gathered here today. Frank came to Simi Valley in 1969 to be pastor of the United Methodist Church. While leading and pastoring this congregation and beyond, Frank became deeply involved in many aspects of our wider community as:
- a member of the Rotary Club of Simi Valley
- a board member for the Samaritan Center
- a chaplain with the Simi Valley Police Department
- a chaplain at Simi Valley Hospital
Through these activities Frank has touched our lives. We know Frank as a man of faith, as a person of integrity. He is a person of strong faith convictions, and a person whose mind and heart is open to people of many faiths.
Frank is selfless, compassionate and gracious. He is a person with open arms, concerned for others: concerned for us, the consummate chaplain. This doesn’t mean that he is a pushover. Frank has opinions…mercy the man has opinions. And if you get out of line, he will let you know. In my many years of association with him, on more than one occasion, Frank has pulled me aside, chided me for some error or misstep, and then quickly pulled me back, and we moved forward.
Frank would be a terrible poker player. I don’t think Methodists get to play poker. But… Spend anytime with Frank and you will notice his expressive eyes and his wide grin. Whether it is delight or dismay, the emotion is written all over Frank’s face. It is obvious, It is endearing and it can be frightening.
Frank has a wonderful family—His wife Elsie of 56 years; His sons, Mark and Paul and their wives, and children. His legacy is found not only in his ecclesial work and his community work, but most of all in the lives of his family.
Frank has a quiet strength, and a sense of dignity. Sometimes he is bigger than life. He exudes a sense of grace and hope. His presence still fills a room. One of my teaching colleagues says that a saint is someone who makes it easy to believe in God. Frank is a saint.
Frank is the most courageous man I know. While his body does not obey as well as it should, Frank refuses to quit; he does not complain. His focus remains outward, on us—making sure we are alright. With a stubborn tenacity, he fights against his disease. Perseverance has marked his life. It is still true now.
This is a glimpse of Frank Witman. I know that Frank is humbled by all this attention, and I bet he is also a bit embarrassed. Frank is a man who simply gives, without any expectation or desire for return. He is a hero in our community. He is a hero in our lives. He has touched our community and made it better. He touches our lives—and we will never be the same.