The Rev. Willard H. Durant, who was laid to rest this week in Pittsfield Cemetery, was one of them.
He cared deeply about others and gave selflessly throughout his entire life to whoever needed courage, a helping hand or reassurance that things would be okay.
The list to describe Rev. Durant’s contributions to the community in addition to his well-lived 78 years of life, seems endless.
He was the father of six sons and two daughters. He was a grandfather and great-grandfather.
He was husband of the late Rosemary J. Morehead Durant. Together, they ran the Christian Center for 18 years, helping hundreds of men, women and children.
He served as pastor emeritus of Price Memorial AME Zion Church on Linden Street in Pittsfield for 33 years.
He worked as chaplain at Soldier On and served as counselor for Berkshire Health Systems.
A native of Ansonia, Conn., Rev. Durant also served his country in the U.S. Air Force.
He earned undergraduate degrees as well as a master’s and a doctorate of divinity from Antioch Christian College.
Rev. Durant has been described as caring, a good role model and mentor, a good listener, kind, a pillar of the community and an impeccable, sharp dresser.
He’s also been called gentle, humble, selfless and wise, a person who brought hope and light as well as gave courage to those who needed it most.
Yvonne West will attest to Rev. Durant’s powerful influence. She’s known him since she was a little girl as her family attends Price Memorial Church.
“He’s done a tremendous touching of my heart and spirit,” she said. “He was a real inspiration for me to keep going during the dark as well as the joyful times of life.”
“He knew my family, my mother, all my siblings, aunts, and uncles,” she added. “And he buried many of my family members, including my husband.”
Ms. West, who runs the Women of Color Giving Circle, has worked as a registered nurse for more than 20 years. The mother of two children, she is also a breast cancer survivor.
She is president of the Price Memorial AME Zion Church’s Missionary Group and has also served on the Pittsfield Human Rights Commission.
Ms. West, along with Price Memorial AME Zion’s former Pastor Walter Davis, planned a huge celebration of Rev. Durant’s life last December. Held at the Salvation Army Chapel on West Street, more than 200 people attended.
Many gave glowing descriptions of how Rev. Durant touched their lives in very special ways.
“He always said, ‘Give people their flowers while they can still smell them,’” Ms. West said.
Rev. Durant had a series of mini strokes so she decided, with Pastor Davis, that it was time to honor him publicly. Even though he had his illnesses, he still bounced back and did whatever he could to help others, Ms. West said. “He’ll be missed, that’s for sure.”
Cindy Hand, intake referral specialist at the Christian Center, was a teenager when she first met Rev. Durant.
“He has been a pillar in the community for years,” she said.
Even when he and his wife no longer ran the Christian Center, Rev. Durant would stop in periodically and talk with people there.
“He had a very caring heart,” Ms. Hand said.
Barbara Kochapski of Pittsfield remembers Rev. Durant and his wife coming to prayer meetings at St. Mark’s Church in the 1970s and ’80s.
“He was a wonderful man,” she said. “He was very tender-hearted but strong in his convictions. He truly loved the Lord and lived what he preached.”
Willard H. Durant, a gentle servant of God, a strong and courageous leader among men who did more for others than anyone can ever begin to guess, now rests in eternal peace.