By Sherrie Norris
He was no stranger, most likely never met a stranger and the crowd that gathered in the pastoral valley outside Union Baptist Church to bid him farewell on Friday, August 27, was no surprise to anyone. Family, friends and associates came by the hundreds to the picturesque Zionville community to pay their final respects to a man who wore many hats in his lifetime, literally and figuratively. Bill Warren was a career military man, a retired Sergeant Major in the United States Army at that, but he was also a soldier of the cross and he bore both those titles well and for all the right reasons.
Warren’s life was not one lived in vain. He made an impact everywhere he went — and those places were many. Representatives from every walk of life came to honor Warren and to console his family who stood beneath a tent in the hot summer sun for about four hours receiving friends, and then sat for nearly two more hours for a fitting and final departure.
As we’ve often heard, and was repeated on Friday by Warren’s grandson, the Rev. Toby Oliver, a man preaches his own funeral —and that was especially true on Friday afternoon. Oliver was joined by three other ministers who participated in the celebration of life and memorial service for Warren; each one shared how “Papaw,” “Preacher Bill,” and “Brother Bill” had impacted his life and that of countless others.
Words shared by two who knew him best — Oliver, and Warren’s brother, the Rev. Edd Warren, were personal and poignant, highlighted by testimonials of Union Baptist Church Pastor, the Rev. Vernon Eller, who spoke of Warren’s leadership as a mentor and great encourager in the church and community, and fellow veteran, the Rev. Rick Cornejo, who represented Warren’s military affiliations and shared details of his career, which included a lengthy list of honors and commendations.
Those in attendance were given four different glimpses into the life of Bill Warren, yet each one who spoke agreed that three things their friend, comrade and hero loved most were his Lord and Savior, his family and his country.
Special recognition was given to all of Warren’s fellow preachers in attendance, as well as his fellow veterans, several of whom are members of the Watauga County American Legion and provided impressive military honors on his behalf.
Warren’s medals of honor were prominently displayed for all to see, as were photographs and other memorabilia that spoke of his life and all that mattered to him. An open Bible, his glasses and notes were reminiscent of the many hours he spent studying God’s word.
“Papaw taught us all to represent our flag, our freedom and our great nation, and we do that today in his honor,” said Toby Oliver, who pointed out that in addition to his grandfather’s many attributes, his highest calling was to be a spokesperson for God.
On behalf of the Warren family, Oliver expressed appreciation for all who had been a part of his papaw’s life — the relatives, friends, churches and medical teams who had been supportive, especially in recent months and weeks. He offered special recognition to his “Granny,” Libby Warren, and spoke of the couple’s lengthy marriage and commitment to each other and to God, sharing how, together and separately, they greatly influenced their family and all who knew them. And how their 40-plus descendants were blessed as they witnessed how the couple lived out God’s design for marriage.
Oliver pointed out that, for the funeral, each female in the family carried a single rose in Warren’s honor, sharing how he (Warren) had once worked in the funeral business and might’ve thought too many flowers were too many — and often said, “Just one rose will do.”
Oliver also noted that all the males in the family were wearing his Papaw’s ties, “and there were many.” Most notably, perhaps, was the fact that Oliver stood behind the same podium that his grandfather stood behind many times.
Oliver stressed that the service was not just to honor his grandfather, but to make sure that the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, was glorified through it.
Oliver described his grandfather as “a true warrior” with an amazing attitude —a country boy with a seventh-grade education who made a tough soldier. While in the service, Warren completed his high school education and reached the highest rank possible for an enlisted soldier — that of an E9 Sergeant Major.
Oliver remembered growing up in his Papaw’s shadow, referring to him as a great mentor, of Warren always being available for him as a young boy and was there for him when he was also ordained into the ministry.
“He was a great encourager to me, whether helping me with life issues, church issues, or whatever I needed. He was always there.”
And, Oliver said, his papaw loved to talk – whether about the church, military, politics, etc. “But lately, he was quieter as his mind was fixed on heaven and on that promise . . .” Among his greatest memories was that his Papaw read his Bible, day and night.
Oliver briefly mentioned a recent trip the family took together will be one they will all remember.
Just a little over a week before Warren’s death, his family traveled together on a chartered a coach to the long-awaited opening of The Army National Museum at Ft. Belvoir, Va., and took a ride together through Washington, DC to which some of the family had never been.
“It was a day none of us will never ever forget,” Warren’s daughter and Oliver’s mother, Lottie Oliver, had earlier shared. “A once- in- a- lifetime experience with the whole family.”
Warren’s brother, Edd, brought laughter to those gathered as he said he knew Bill was preparing to be a sergeant at the early age of 10 or 12 because “he was good at ordering all of us around.” But, he also credited him as having been a great soldier for the Lord.
As Cornejo pointed out, Warren was a highly decorated soldier and officer whose first military assignment was at Fort Jackson, SC, followed soon afterward at age 19 with his first tour in Korea. When he returned home, he met Libby, and they were married on August 9, 1954. Their four children Linda, Greg, Lottie, and Billy grew up on the road, described by the family in his obituary as “true military brats.”
Warren served an additional tour in Korea, one tour in Germany and one tour in Vietnam. His last assignment was Chief Enlisted Instructor to the Army Reserve Training Corps Senior Division and the Director of Administration for the ROTC Department at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Ga. Bill retired from the United States Army with high honors after 22 plus years of service in 1974.
Not only was Warren a soldier in the Army; his family shared, but most importantly, he was a soldier for Christ. Shortly after retiring from the Army, in 1976 he received what he considered the greatest calling of his life — to preach the gospel. He faithfully pastored Clarks Creek, Stony Fork, Gap Creek and Beech Valley Baptist Churches. He also supplied for Union Baptist Church in 2001. He served Beech Valley for 25 years.
In 2000, at the annual session of the Three Forks Baptist Association, Warren was presented “The Order of Caleb, based on the scripture found in Joshua 14:11-12, and was honored on several other occasions during his pastoral career.
According to his obituary, Warren was born on February 24, 1934, in the Mabel community, the fifth of eleven children to Raymond and Nora Thomas Warren. He died the age of 87 on Sunday morning, August 22, 2021, following several months of declining health.
Warren is survived by his dear wife of 67 years, Libby Oliver Warren, his four children: Linda Herman and husband Gary of Vilas, Greg Warren, and wife Loyce of Boone, Lottie Oliver, and husband Dewayn of Zionville, Billy Warren and wife Serena of Mountain City.
Nine grandchildren include Tonya Townsend and husband Tony of Mountain City, Melinda Eggers and husband Scott of Vilas, Rev. Toby Oliver and wife Hailey of Boone, Traci Hartley, and husband Ryan of Zionville, Justin Warren and wife Amy of Vilas, Brooke Hollar and husband John of Todd, Travis Oliver and wife Allie of Boone, Krista Osborne and husband Aaron of Trade and Ty Warren and wife Ashley of Boone. His sixteen great-grandchildren include Bailey, Marley and Kagen Townsend; Kaylee, Mason, and Mattie Eggers; Grant and Payton Oliver; Tessa and Ava Hartley; Addie Rose Warren, Henry, Jase, and Kaden Hollar; Tatum Oliver and Eston Osborne.
In addition to many nieces, nephews, and in-laws, he is also survived by his four siblings: Juanita Wilson of Boone, Elsie Winebarger of Zionville, Reverend Edd Warren of Granite Falls and Steve Warren of Hudson.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Raymond and Nora Thomas Warren; father and mother-in-law, Rev. Barney and June Oliver; sisters: Gaye Coffey, Catherine Gilbert, Karen Mask; brothers: Hal Warren, Dale Warren, and Jack Warren.
The service to celebrate Warren’s life was a fitting tribute to the life of a man who served his God, his family and his country. He was laid to rest high on the hill in the Union Baptist Church cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Union Baptist Church Cemetery Fund, Attn: Roxanna Miller, 6797 Old US Hwy 421, Zionville, NC 28698; Disabled American Veterans (https://www.dav.org/); the American Legion, Boone chapter (https://www.legion.org/) or the National Museum of the United States Army (https://www.thenmusa.org/).
Online condolences may be sent to the Warren family at www.hamptonfuneralnc.com.
Hampton Funeral and Cremation Service was in charge of the arrangements.