Our father, retired Chief Master Sgt. William J. Cleary Jr., passed away gently in the loving arms of his family this day, Monday, Feb. 5, 2018, at noon.
He lived such a brave, adventurous and robust life. Which thread of his story to tell? It began in New York City on Feb. 20, 1930. Born to Irish immigrant parents, William and Bridget (Killilea) Cleary, he was the only boy in a family of five: twins, Mary and Winnie (deceased), Dorothy Burley of Sanford, North Carolina, and Pat Jordan (deceased). He attended Catholic schools in Manhattan and worked part time as an usher at Radio City Music Hall. His first big decision was to choose between being a priest (lucky for us he did not), a tug boat captain on the Hudson River, and what he chose, a career in the newly formed United States Air Force. He was stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City, South Dakota, when he met the love of his life, Marietta McFarland. Bill and Marietta married in New York City in 1951 and began their adventures together; including five children, all girls, it's a theme. Colleen was born in Kansas, Cathleen in California, Carolan in Alaska and Corrine and Christine in Colorado. Bill had four overseas tours of duty: Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines and Thailand. He rose quickly through the ranks and was dedicated to his troops.
We traveled this country from one side to the other, living in 13 different states. He finished his 30-year career at Shaw Air Force Base, 9th Tactical Intelligence Squadron, U.S. Air Force. He retired and made his home in Sumter, since 1978.
Next, he joined Metropolitan Insurance, where he continued to keep families safe, just in a different way. Then he found a new calling in volunteering. He worked with Habitat for Humanity for 10 years, finishing as regional director. He loved helping seniors with their taxes through Tax Aide with AARP, where he served 18 years, the last five as the Appalachian Regional Coordinator. He was a lifetime member of the Benevolent Order of the Elks; a forty-year member of the Sumter Newcomers Club and the Shaw Air Force Base Chiefs' Group. He loved to laugh, swim, dance, enjoy family and play games. Bridge became his favorite, he could remember every card played, much to the frustration of his daughters, wife and opponents. He had the most wonderful sense of humor, which he passed on to many members of his family. He taught us all to play Ping-Pong. He could beat most of us, but not always his wife Marietta. They won more medals from the Senior Olympics in Ping-Pong than we have tried to count. He had a true wanderlust, which was served beautifully through the military, then Habitat for Humanity, Tax Aide, and his yearly treks in the motor home with his wife, daughter and son-in-law. They visited 46 states, and Canada twice, in the 18 summers they traveled together. His most precious trip was to Ireland with his 90-year-old mother, who made her first return trip since immigrating at 22.
He lived everyday of his life as a practicing Catholic. He shared his love of God and country with his family and friends. He was a member of Ultreya, Cursillo, and served on the Parish Council of Saint Anne's Catholic Church. He was filled with faith, love, laughter, and an optimism that at times seemed to defy logic. He put all his faith in God.
It is with great sadness and joy for having known him that he will be survived by his family: sister, Dorothy Burley of Sanford; Colleen and Michael Spigner of Sumter and their children, Caroline (John) Ropp; Cathleen Cleary (John Clayton) of Columbia and her children, Kelly (Danny) McVey and Will Jordan; Carolan Hanson and her sons, Joseph and John (Kristall) Hanson of Sumter; Corrine Cleary (Kim Wood) of Monrovia, California; Christine Cleary (Patti Rodman) of Edmond, Oklahoma, and their children, Syd, Adam, Rachel, Shawn, Lindsey and Noah; and honorary daughter, Deb and Bill Denkler of Minden, Nevada. He also leaves behind many loving memories of his nine great-grandchildren, Elizabeth, Johnny, David, Marietta Grace and Sarah Catherine Ropp; Connor and Bryce Hanson; and Brody and Brianna McVey.
He is now reunited with his beloved wife of 67 years, Marietta; his parents; three sisters; and granddaughter, Michelle Spigner.
Our father's greatest legacy is that he modeled how to live, laugh, and love with great purpose and integrity. His loss is inestimable.
A funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. on Thursday at the Bullock Funeral Home Chapel. Interment will follow at noon at the Fort Jackson National Cemetery with full military honors.
The family will receive friends from 6 to 8 p.m. today at Bullock Funeral Home.
In lieu of flowers, the family respectfully requests donations to be made to Habitat for Humanity, United Ministries, Agape Hospice or Wounded Warriors.
You may go to www.bullockfuneralhome.com and sign the family's guest book.
The family has chosen Bullock Funeral Home for the arrangements.
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