My father in-law Reverend Finis Wayne Foster was born March 23, 1921 and died February 16, 2015. He is survived by Bebe, “the most beautiful woman in the world”, his wife of 71 years 9 months, his elder daughter “Fayzzy,” his younger daughter Patti, “the most responsible and capable person I know,” me–his son-in-law, Layla “Charlie Brown,” his granddaughter, and “Alvin” his beloved Bichon Frise.
Wayne loved history and geography. He traveled the world. Each night he would lie in bed and recite the names of each state in the U.S. and their capitals. Places that left an influence on him included: Arkansas, North Carolina, Florida, Bryce Canyon, the coast of Maine, Israel and Palestine and Peru. He took groups of teachers on tours to Europe, South America and the Holy Land.
Wayne had a passion for garlic, onions, hearty bread, pinto beans and potatoes, but not much for haute cuisine. When doctors took his medical history and wanted to know if he smoked, he’d say yes. How often they asked, “one day when I was six” he’d answer. When asked if he drank alcohol, he’d answer, “Yes, I prefer Jack” or as he’d say, John Daniels. Being a teetotaler for 93 years he didn’t know if he was talking about Whisky, Bourbon or Scotch.
He had an affinity for rocks, collecting them to build rock walls, fireplace façades, and sculptures. During the last year of his life he and Layla, his granddaughter, collected a selection of beautiful smooth rocks of various colors and balanced them in an arrangement to create a cairn. Each morning I would take him outside so he could check on his rock formation
He loved letterpress printing; particularly hand setting lead type. Wayne worked his way through college as a master letterpress printer. He considered a career as a printer but stayed focused on his core commitment, education and youth ministry.
Wayne Foster was a “big brain person,” erudite, insightful, a lover of humor, and a master wordsmith. He was compassionate and generous. When he saw someone in need he would help him or her if he could. He had a warrior’s spirit when he encountered injustice. He had zero tolerance for anyone who harmed an animal. The pattern of his actions revealed that he was a practical and good man. These characteristics surrounded his family then spilled over into his professional life.
He loved dogs and a few days before his passing he looked around his bedroom,smiled when he saw Alvin, “his dog” and declared “the smartest one in the room.”
Over a long career as a superintendent of education he left a positive mark on teachers, school board members and most importantly students. He was a passionate advocate for teachers. Countless teachers remembered how his love of language, wise advice, generosity and compassion enriched their personal and professional lives. Before opening an envelope from Wayne Foster they would reach for their dictionary, sure to encounter new words in his letter. When he turned 90 dozens of them sent him letters of respect, admiration and appreciation.
In 1953 he founded Camp Kulaqua in High Springs, Florida. Some thought building a camp in a Florida swamp was foolish and one person nailed up a plank declaring the camp “Fosters Folly.” Wayne loved to recount this story. He considered establishing the camp one of his most significant accomplishments. Sixty years later the camp has become one of the leading camps in America. Each year thousands of young people discover the wonder of nature at Camp Kulaqua. The camp conducts a remarkably successful camp for the blind. It serves people of all faiths and is a successful retreat center.
My memories of a good and loyal friend, a man of honor and compassion, an exemplarily Patriarch will always be a source of joy and comfort to me our family and his friends. The loss of his witty presence and love is a source of our grief. His countless gestures of caring and practical advice will be the salve to our aching hearts. His memory will live within us as a source of joy.
I invite you to make a contribution to the Southeastern Guide Dogs in honor of Finis Wayne Foster.