A train whistle blew its plaintive wail from the nearby tracks. Guys in water department trucks and sewer trucks and pothole-filling trucks rolled by the church. A few flashed their lights and honked their horns, and men inside tipped their work-soiled caps.
A firetruck filled with volunteers from rural Lando raised a giant American flag over the downtown hill of Chester at 4 p.m. Wednesday. The volunteers stood in a row and tried not to cry and saluted, so that all could see the procession.
The hearse for Chester County’s last political boss and biggest cheerleader – the late Carlisle Roddey – rolled under that flag. Roddey was to be buried down the street.
A part of the South was buried along with him Wednesday.
The funeral was covered live on the radio – WRBK-FM – the same station Roddey’s voice filled for almost 50 years on Friday nights. He was loved for his warble about a Chester High football great “wigglin’ through that line like an ol’ snake hungry for a mouse.”
Roddey died Monday. The city and county he loved has wept since then.
“Chester’s ZIP code is 29706,” said Robert Abell, who knew Roddey “all my life.” “But it really was Carlisle Roddey 29706. Chester and Carlisle Roddey are the same thing. He was Chester.”
Roddey, 79, was not just the top elected official, the county supervisor, for much of the past four decades. He was not just the radio voice of the Chester Cyclones football team.
Dwight Pearson, his longtime pastor at Chester Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church where the funeral was held right smack in the middle of downtown, put it like this at the funeral: “Carlisle Roddey was proud to be from Chester County.”
Simply, Roddey embraced, coddled, loved, his mainly rural, sometimes snubbed, home. The mainly blue-collar people he loved even more.
He loved the white and the black and helped the community get through integration because it was right. He started a rescue squad to help them all. He started a professional ambulance service to help them more. All sat together and sang together and wept together Wednesday in that church.
Those fire trucks, ambulances, rescue trucks, rigs and the tough, strong people who work on them stood outside the church.
Silent sentries. Monuments to Roddey.
Richburg Volunteer Fire Chief John Agee, who knew Roddey “all my life,” looked at the fire trucks and ambulances and people of all colors and economics and said: “Without Carlisle Roddey, this never happens.”
Then Agee did what Carlisle Roddey used to do at funerals: He stopped traffic and walked a lady across the busy street. The lady happened to be Chester County Council member Mary Guy, who proudly put her arm through Agee’s elbow.
Agee and Guy marched across that street.
“Carlisle Roddey was my friend,” a sad Mary Guy said. “He was everybody’s friend.”
In politics and economic development, Roddey plowed past the closure of textile mills that crippled Chester County’s economy with his drawl, charm and wit, attracting factories and plants to replace them. Carlisle Roddey just plain would not give up on his home county and the 30,000-plus people who call it home.
Tough, strong, resolute and resilient people – just like him.
Roddey was the last area Democratic Party political boss, an elected supervisor in charge of everything. His legacy is on every economic deal that built a plant that employed hundreds, every social program, every ball field and community center. Roddey was supervisor for Chester County from 1974 to 1999, and again from 2007 to 2015 when in his last election, the unthinkable happened.
Carlisle Roddey lost.
But what people said Wednesday in that church showed that Carlisle Roddey never lost them. He knew their daddies and mommas and kids and grandkids. He told them to walk tall.
“Carlisle Roddey is what being from Chester is all about,” said lawyer Bill Marion. “He knew everybody. Your whole life Carlisle Roddey was a part of your life. He was Chester County.”
Yet there was no doubt that people at the funeral were sad, because Carlisle Roddey was gone. Politics has moved on, in 2017, to an era of mistrust and cynicism and partisan yelling that should embarrass anyone with sense to come in from a hailstorm.
Carlisle Roddey to the end of his life had no use for any of that. To prove it, maybe the greatest tribute of all came out in that funeral when Pearson the preacher asked all in that packed church to “raise a hand if Carlisle Roddey was your friend.”
Every hand in the church went up.