Call her the alpha and omega.
Terry Grant was the first person the Rev. Ben Williams baptized on Hilton Head Island, and the last one he married.
She was a child when she stepped into Skull Creek for baptism, the congregation on the bank singing “Take Me to the Water.”
He was the brand new pastor at the church across the street, Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church on Squire Pope Road.
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Forty-one years later, Grant and Christopher Robinson of Ruffin exchanged vows in “The Rev’s” living room.
The wedding was last June. Williams died Nov. 14. He was 78. He had been unable to preach since August. He was buried Saturday in the Talbird Cemetery, on the banks of the same creek where he baptized so many.
“He was there for me from the baptism and through my nuptials,” Grant said, “but it is the time in between that defines his character.”
Williams was there for Grant as a 7-year-old when she first played the piano for the whole church — “pecking” she calls it today. She ran out in tears, thinking she’d messed up.
“Come on back in, Sister Terry,” the pastor said. “You’re doing a great job. We’re so proud of you.”
That role would never change, and “Sister Terry” wasn’t the only one to feel his warm prayers wash over her, day or night, no matter the circumstance, for a lifetime.
She wasn’t the only one to hear him gush, “God bless your heart.”
“He has been the Rock of Gibraltar to me, my family, church members and countless other people throughout the community,” Grant said Saturday morning, as she prepared to sing at his funeral.
Williams was in tune with Grant’s life as she grew to become the church pianist, choir director and piano teacher to children of the church and neighborhood.
He supported her through her three published CDs of jazz music, the first including “Amazing Grace,” and he even came to see her perform not long ago at Ruby Lee’s.
Then there was the time that Williams went to see her play the role of Billie Holiday in “Lady Day and Emerson’s Bar and Grill” at the South Carolina Repertory Theatre, and she struggled to change her lines because she didn’t want him to hear her swear.
He was a rock in her 17 years of teaching music at local schools and 19 years as a real estate professional. He adamantly supported her starting her own company, Hilton Head Island Real Estate Professionals.
“He was excited when I told him that I had written a series of children’s books, The Native Gal Series, telling the stories of the experiences of a little girl growing up on Hilton Head Island, learning to play the piano, going away to college and coming back to her roots and native home to share all that she had learned,” Grant said.
Williams told her that the successes, as well as the challenges and struggles, were heaven-sent.
God has a plan for you, he would say.
“I can remember him taking the time to point out the importance of understanding heirs property on Hilton Head,” Grant said of the Gullah tradition of passing down land without wills.
“He literally took me to the Talbird Cemetery and as we walked along, he pointed out the graves, he shared Bible verses from Leviticus and Deuteronomy, which helped me to understand how to identify intestate succession and thoroughly understand heirs property. He insisted it was imperative to track the birth dates, death dates and diligently compose the factual family tree of the real estate clients I represented.”
The next song
Williams cut a striking figure when he took young Grant’s hand to be baptized in Skull Creek.
He looked like Muhammad Ali when he married beautiful Elizabeth “Liz” Patterson of Hilton Head. But in 1975, her home community barely knew him.
Grant had publicly professed her faith at the end of a week of revival as Williams sang, “He Touched Me.” The move was a natural for the daughter of Deacon Abe and Charlie Mae Grant.
The date of the baptism was set by the tides. Deacon Eddie Bryan knew the tides as well as his strong hands, and when he told Williams it was time, the new pastor led his first group of five into the creek. He had Scriptures on his lips and a staff in his hand, but the country boy from North Carolina was himself a little shaky that day.
“The Deaconesses dressed you in a sheet and wrapped your head and put you in a white robe,” Grant recalled. Prayer, songs and Scriptures accompanied the slow walk from the church to what Williams called the “liquid grave.”
“I remember going into the water, turning to face the rising sun, as they call it, and ‘Rev’ said he baptized me in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, and he dipped me in the water.”
But her hair didn’t get wet, so she was baptized again. The hair had to be wet to symbolize the washing away of sin, she said.
“You go down into the ‘liquid grave’ and you come out a new person,” Grant said. “My full understanding of it wasn’t until later.”
For her wedding, the elderly pastor had white in his hair and the day before his song for the congregation was “I Feel Like Going On.”
He told the bride and groom to each bring a quarter. And as he counseled them, he gave them a 50-cent piece.
“He said we came in separate, but we would leave as a whole,” she said.
And she’d flash back to her days at the piano as Williams wound up one of his infamously long sermons.
“Do you know Him?” he boomed to the congregation, a Bible uplifted in his left hand.
“Have you tried Him?
“Ain’t He all right?
Williams would spin around and take his seat.
“That’s when I knew the message had ended,” Grant said, “and it was time for the next song.”