TAZEWELL, Va. — A long procession of vehicles passed by the Tazewell home of the late William (Will) Calfee on Monday afternoon, stopping briefly for riders to place flowers, cards, gifts, signs and flags in the front yard with the family watching on the front porch.
Waves and words of love were shouted back and forth as vehicle after vehicle passed by to show their respects to the family of Calfee, 18, a Graham High School senior who died Saturday after a “long and courageous” battle with cancer.
His parents are David Calfee, a teacher at GHS, and Kim Calfee, who also works at the school.
Will Calfee was a member and section leader of the Big G Marching Band and belonged to several school organizations and was a mentor to younger students.
The procession, which was a surprise for the family, started at Tazewell High School and was escorted by law enforcement.
Karen Ross, a Tazewell County School System Title I employee and friend of family, came up with the idea of a wake of sorts.
“We have known the Calfees since they (her kids) were little,” she said. “My son grew up with their oldest son and my daughter grew up with Will.”
Ross said she thought the community needed to do something because of the restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The only thing that came to my mind was when you go to a funeral home people parade through (and personally pay respects to family members) and my thought was, let’s go through and just drop off flowers in their yard and let them know we are loving them and supporting them, even though we can’t (person to person) because of the virus,” she said.
Ross said it’s a “show of support and love.”
“The Calfees have touched so many lives,” she said, “and we love them and we wanted them to know they are in our hearts and prayers, even though we can’t physically be there for them.”
Before the procession started, Ross said the crowd that was gathering at the high school was “amazing.”
“We got here about 5:10 p.m. (people were supposed to meet at 5:30 p.m.) and there were already about 10 cars here,” she said, and they kept pouring in from Tazewell High School, where Will had attended school until a couple of years ago, and from Graham High School.
“This is amazing,” she said.
Tazewell County Sheriff Brian Hieatt was there to organize the procession and keep participants safe.
“The Sheriff’s Office also wanted to let the family know they are in our hearts and prayers,” he said. “We are under the limits of the pandemic and you can’t have the funeral services like we would normally do, especially for someone who was in school and have a lot of classmates would come to the service.”
Hieatt said it was huge turnout, and even fire departments came.
Parker Hieatt attended elementary and middle school and up to the 10th grade with Will when he was attending school in Tazewell.
“He was one of the sweetest people you would ever meet,” he said. “He never had a bad word to say about anybody.”
Hieatt said he was not at all surprised at the number of people who turned out for the show of support from Tazewell and Bluefield.
“He touched a lot of people at both schools,” he said.
Hayley Sheets was also a classmate of Will’s in Tazewell schools.
“I grew up with Will,” she said. “If you ever needed a friend, he was there. Will was super kind to everybody. He was very loved. He shouldn’t have left…”
Sheets said that it was “mind-lowing that this is real.”
Delayni Belcher is a Graham High School rising junior who attended and a good friends of Will’s girlfriend.
“He was really sweet, he was kind,” she said. “No matter what he was going through he always made sure to put a smile on other people’s faces.”
Matt Dixon, the athletic director at Graham High School, said Will “was just an outstanding kid, always smiling.”
“He was a big part of our marching band,” he said. “The kids loved him, the teachers loved him.”
Dixon described the family as “outstanding people.”
Rita Justice is a neighbor of the Calfees and has known them for years.
“They are a great family,” she said, adding that her daughter Cassidy went to school with Will since elementary school. “They are excellent people.”
“It’s pretty devastating,” Cassidy Justice, who graduated from Tazewell last year, said. “I work at a funeral home and I know you can’t have big crowds like this to pay their respects.”
Cassidy said when she was around Will he “was always very kindhearted and a bubbly person.”
“He put a smile on everybody’s face,” she said. “He really did. He was one of those people you just enjoy their company.”
“He always had a smile on his face,” Rita Justice said. “He was such a kind-hearted kid. Everybody liked him. He just had one of those personalities that would win you over the first time you meet him.”
“This has been absolutely incredible,” said Will’s father, David Calfee, after the procession. “The support that we have received from the Bluefield and Tazewell communities and Southwest Virginia, it’s unreal. You don’t find this in a large city but you find it here. We are truly blessed here.”
Calfee said in a situation like this with the pandemic restrictions “people have to be innovative.”
“The days we live in, people are becoming inventive in how they celebrate life and visit one another,” he said. “It’s wonderful. It’s great.”
Calfee said he knew nothing about the procession ahead of time.
“We had no idea,” he said. “We were just told to be home at 6. We just saw people driving up and said we better step outside to see what’s going on. Then we suddenly recognized what was happening.”
Calfee said his son fought the battle with cancer hard.
“ He fought it to the very end,” he said
Responding to descriptions of his son always with a smile on his face, Calfee said, “That was our boy.”
— Contact Charles Boothe at email@example.com