Eugene’s street community lost one of its own when Philip James Williams — affectionately known by many as Pip — died Aug. 4 of a heroin overdose. He was 25.
An evening memorial service and public celebration of life was held Aug. 28 at Kesey Square in downtown Eugene, where upwards of 100 people gathered to share remembrances. Over a public address system set up on the red bricks, friends, family and members of the city’s transient population spoke with emotion into a single microphone, sharing their recollections and grief.
The common thread that stitched together the words spoken was that Pip Williams was a gentle soul who felt love for everyone. He was a musician. He was quick with a hug. Many gave testimony to his generous nature, mentioning that his tendency was to give away whatever he had — especially if someone needed it.
Pip Williams was born June 27, 1988, in Bend. He was preceded in death by his mother, Georgia Allyn Williams. His father, Jack Williams, organized the Aug. 28 memorial, which was followed by a private memorial Aug. 31.
“The response from his friends on Facebook was just so overwhelming that it seemed callous to not include them,” Jack Williams explained regarding the Kesey Square memorial. “It was just kind of an organic event.”
Pip Williams bounced around after hitting the streets at 16, playing music, hopping trains and crashing with friends. Eventually, he got strung out on heroin. Jack Williams remained close to Pip throughout, and he struggled to get his son into some form of treatment for his addiction. He says Pip Williams did succeed in kicking heroin, but continued living downtown on the streets “like a ghost.” He was back on heroin after being treated for pain following a stabbing during an assault just weeks before his death.
Jack Williams says that any doubts he had about organizing a street memorial for his son fell away when he realized how beloved Pip was among Eugene’s young homeless population. “I was nervous going into it,” he says. “I had expectation of it not being good, or of it being good. Just bringing out all the bad things and the tragedy and not any resolution. But I felt better afterward. I got to know some of the people that had loved him that I hadn’t been involved with.” — Rick Levin