‘They were not the same person’: Couple lost in murder-suicide laid to rest, victim’s family speaks out

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Buford and Sue Williams have been laid to rest – but the couple, married for over 60 years, are not side-by-side.

Two families are still reeling from the horrific news of the 81-year-old couple perishing in a murder-suicide tragedy Nov. 8. The speculation has been far and wide on what would make a pastor execute his wife, then fatally turn the gun on himself.

A line in Buford Williams’ obituary reads, “The most important decision a person will ever make is when they repent and by faith accept Jesus Christ as their Savior, a decision Buford made many, many years ago.”

That same obituary mentions Buford’s bride and the fact that they were wed their senior year of high school. But Grady Sue Pennington Williams’ obituary omits her husband among her abbreviated life story.

“She was first and foremost a believer in Christ and she lived her life that way every day,” said Rebecca Mattox, Grady Sue’s niece. “Her sincere desire is that others know Him the way she knew Him.”

High school sweethearts
Buford Williams and Grady Sue Pennington fell in love as teenagers and made their wedding vows before God before they even graduated.

Grady Sue was a senior in Ponce de Leon High’s Class of 1959. She played in the high school band and sang in her church, often accompanied by her older sister, Pauline, on the piano.

Over at Holmes County High, Buford was also a senior in the Class of 1959 and quite an athlete playing football, basketball and baseball and was an avid outdoorsman.

After high school, Buford later retired from the Florida Department of Transportation and served in the National Guard. Grady Sue was a telephone operator for Southern Bell in Pensacola, Fort Lauderdale and Chipley until she retired from the Engineering Department in Panama City.

Buford and Sue Williams had another passion outside of their careers – serving their church family. Buford became a pastor serving several churches, and Sue eagerly took on the role of being a devoted preacher’s wife and church pianist.

“She was totally and completely devoted to him,” Mattox said. “She was a wonderful wife and supported him in every way possible.”

‘Heaven is going to be bigger’
“These people have been my very close friends for 50 years. We go back a long ways, had a lot of good times,” Rev. John Chance said in Grady Sue’s memorial service Saturday.

Chance had officiated Buford’s service two days prior at Peel Funeral Home in Bonifay. On Saturday, Chance shared memories of the Williamses through the years with a packed chapel at Davis-Watkins Funeral Home in DeFuniak Springs. Some of the stories were touching, and some were funny.

“You’ve got to look at all of this from the spiritual side,” Chance said.

Chance described a moment in 2009 when he heard God speak to him at Grady Sue’s mother’s funeral service.

“The Lord spoke to me as I stood there with the family,” Chance said. “God told me and he said, ‘Heaven is going to be bigger for some people than it is for others’.”

Chance said he believes that when life left Grady Sue, she opened her eyes to a bigger Heaven.

Grady Sue lived much of her life in physical pain and had limited mobility due to crippling arthritis and a double hip replacement. She never said much about her pain and still put everyone else’s needs ahead of her own, according to her family.

“She never complained,” Mattox said.

Trouble behind closed doors
According to Grady Sue’s family, she harbored another type of pain in her life because there was another side of Buford that others did not get to see.

“We all need to be mindful of the domestic abuse that can happen right in front of us,” said Nancy Driscoll, Grady Sue’s niece. “Just because someone’s not overtly yelling or hitting someone doesn’t mean there isn’t abuse.”

Mattox said the family expressed concern to Grady Sue on many occasions about her husband’s controlling and sometimes cruel behavior that went on at home, but she always refused to leave the situation.

“She was old school. She would make excuses for him and tried to present him in the best light possible,” Mattox said. “She always put him before herself.”

Grady Sue’s nieces said their aunt did not want anyone to think poorly of the man behind the pulpit or face small town gossip.

“Let’s face it, in a small community it’s embarrassing,” Mattox said. “Everybody knows everybody. Everybody knows everything about everybody.”

Driscoll said she was in shock when she learned of her aunt’s demise but not entirely surprised.

“This went back their whole marriage,” Driscoll said. “But we never expected it to go this far.”

Their final days
On the morning of Nov. 8, a caretaker who had been unable to get the Williamses on the phone went out to their home on Highway 179 to check on them and made the gruesome discovery.

Holmes County Sheriff John Tate said the home was secure, and it was an apparent murder-suicide based on the way their bodies were discovered. Sue was found in a bedroom dead from a gunshot wound. Buford was found deceased in the living room from a self-inflicted gunshot. Tate said there was no note left behind before Buford carried out acts those closest to him are still trying to understand.

When it comes down to what precipitated the final moments, Grady Sue’s nieces said their uncle had known mental health issues. Others suspected Buford had not been properly taking important medication.

Grady Sue’s family feels that her physical pain, Buford’s state of mind and a turbulent marriage created the perfect storm that brought their lives to a tragic end.

“They were not the same person,” Mattox said.

Driscoll hopes that her aunt’s homicide will be a message to others living with domestic abuse that there is a way out and to their families that they need real support.

“Women need to know that it’s okay to speak up for themselves,” Driscoll said. “And when you do see it happening, you need to step in and say something.”

Driscoll and Mattox said they believe their aunt found joy and expressed her sorrow in her music.

“I think she went to her Savior and cried a lot before him,” Mattox said. “If she could say one thing to everybody, it would be to know her Savior like she did.”

Buford was laid to rest at Bethany Baptist Church Cemetery in Bonifay. Grady Sue was buried next to her parents in New Ponce de Leon Cemetery.

Area residents have shown an outpouring of love for the Williamses on social media – many who cannot picture one without the other at church, in community involvement or the couple’s favorite eatery, the former Bailey’s Surf & Turf in Chipley.

Grady Sue’s nieces were hesitant to tell their aunt’s story of domestic abuse but hope it will inspire others to pursue a happier ending. Not every moment of the Williamses’ life together was bad, and there were many lives touched by Buford’s ministry.

Their hearts go out to Buford’s family who also lost him.

“They’re grieving too,” Mattox said.

Grady Sue Pennington Williams, Buford Williams, murder suicide, Holmes County, domestic abuse

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