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Rev. William Hand, civic activist, dies

While pastor of Beverly Hills Community Church, he was involved in numerous civic groups and causes.

Published January 13, 2006

Road trips with the Rev. William Peter Hand Sr. were always an experience.

"He would sing from the minute we got in the car to the minute we got out," said his daughter, Karen Hand Mason of Largo. "Old hymns, World War II-era songs."

Mr. Hand, who served as pastor of Beverly Hills Community Church from 1984 to 1999, died Wednesday (Jan. 11, 2006) at 78. His children said they will miss his good works, playful teasing and passion for music, even though "he couldn't read a note," Mason said.

Born to Leon and Helen Marie (Lingelbach) Hand in Baltimore, Md., Mr. Hand was not raised particularly religious. But after returning home from service during World War II and the Korean conflict, his aunt coaxed him to church.

A week of fire and brimstone revival meetings followed.

"My father had been mocking them," Mason said.

Then, the unexpected.

"The last day, the minister came up to him and said, "God loves you,' " she said. "He had never realized that until then."

Within the next few months, Mr. Hand decided to become a minister and married Thola DeWitt, whom he met at church. He sang to her at their wedding.

The couple then embarked on a life of ministering and child-rearing together. The reverend studied theology in Indiana and Pennsylvania and received a master of divinity from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

In the meantime, he continued to make use of his full, baritone voice.

"He really could project," Mason said. "If he'd wanted to in church, he could have gotten away with not using a mike."

During the holidays, Mr. Hand usually performed classics such as O, Holy Night. At home, he would often gather around the piano with his family to sing old gospel songs.

In the mid 1980s, Mr. and Mrs. Hand moved to Beverly Hills, where Mr. Hand participated in a variety of community groups as well as ministered in the church.

"He was really a people person," Mason said. "He even had a group of people he met with for breakfast at a restaurant each morning - kind of like Cheers."

While living in Beverly Hills, Mr. Hand was commander of Harry F. Nesbitt VFW Post No. 10087 and a member of Ridge Masonic Lodge No. 398. He also was a Shriner and volunteered for Hospice of Citrus County.

When he wasn't busy with his numerous civic activities, the reverend performed songs like Get Me to the Church on Time with the Bluebird Entertainment Club, a group that visited nursing homes.

And there was always time for joking.

"He was a big teaser," Mason said. "He loved to say things to get me going."

Zack, the family's cat, was a constant source of amusement. After Mr. and Mrs. Hand moved to St. Petersburg in 2001, Mason took care of the pet, an unusually macho feline.

"Whenever the cat beat up on other cats - or dogs - he loved hearing about it," Mason said of her father.

Though his pace slowed some, Mr. Hand became involved with his community at the St. Petersburg Masonic Home.

"Everyone seemed to know who he was," Mason said. "He was a leader right up to the end."

A memorial service for Mr. Hand will be at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Fero Funeral Home Beverly Hills chapel.

Mason plans to sing My Father's Eyes as a tribute to her dad.

"If I can get through it," she said.

Mr. Hand is survived by his wife of 52 years, Thola (DeWitt) Hand of St. Petersburg; sons William Peter Hand Jr. of New Bern, N.C., and John Hand of Greenville, Pa.; daughters Karen Hand Mason of Largo and DeAnna Snodgrass, also of Greenville; brother, Leon Hand of Key Largo, sisters Dea Mullins and Helen Thompson, both of Beverly Hills; and three grandchildren.

[Last modified January 13, 2006, 01:45:18]

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