SOUTH LAKE TAHOE - Hundreds of South Shore mourners gathered Thursday to celebrate the life of Chip Williams.
Williams, 24, died on Lake Tahoe last week with another man in a watercraft accident. Those who came to remember and honor him filled Lake Tahoe Christian Fellowship past capacity.
"Take a good look around, what a great crowd," said Chip's uncle, Jeff Williams, a boat officer for the El Dorado County Sheriff's Department. "I thank everyone for being here today. This is a great turnout for a great kid, for a great family."
His parents, Evan and Candice Williams, embraced as the service began and watched a slide show of snapshots of their son. Tears mixed with pockets of laughter as the images flashed by.
A procession of family members and friends then spoke of Chip's importance in their lives.
"He went to Hawaii looking for answers and came back and counseled us," said Lorilyn Haubrich, Chip's roommate and co-worker. "He came back evolved, ahead. I think he got there so far ahead of us."
Rich Hernandez, a 22-year-old musician who almost moved to Hawaii with Chip, provoked a huge laugh when he arrived at the lectern saying, "I thought I was Chip's only friend."
Music was important to his friend, Hernandez said, recalling times they played guitars on the beach and climbed Cave Rock.
"I taught him about music, he taught me a lot about being human," he said. "I know Chip really well and music was the turnaround of his life."
Many of Williams' friends wore the Hawaiian shirts he favored, saying they symbolized the peaceful and loving way he lived.
"Don't be afraid to love, whether it's returned or not" - that was Chip in a nutshell, said Steve Valley. "If you live here, you'll see Chip in every wave that splashes on the shore and every tree you see. He never had a bad thought, (and) if he did he didn't show it."
In May, Williams ended a sabbatical in Hawaii and the Fiji Islands by returning to South Lake Tahoe. He worked as a bartender and waiter at The Brewery at The Lake.
His career aspirations jumped from police work to art to marine biology before he settled on being a world traveler. In March, he went to the South Pacific to watch the descent of the Mir space station. Excerpts from his journal were read at Thursday's service:
"In three hours we could all be wiped off the face of the earth or laughing about it," he wrote. "I'm thinking of my parents and how they are taking all this. If it's God's will to bring Mir down on us, we'll get to see him sooner than I thought."
The entry concludes: "Mir landed, everybody is safe. Thank you, Lord."
Dodging falling space debris was but one example of his adventurous spirit. Williams loved to sail, snowboard, hike, play his guitar and laugh in the company of friends. The night he died he was out having fun on a personal watercraft.
But Williams' parents, through a message read by a family friend, reminded all present that their son made a fatal mistake by heading out on the lake after drinking.
"Alcohol and the youthful delusion of immortality are a notoriously deadly combination. When you're young, you think you'll live forever. Sure, tragic things happen, but always to someone else, not to you.
"We remember telling Chip on many occasions, 'If you don't die from your mistakes, you'll learn from them.' Sadly, Chip cannot learn from this mistake, so it is important that those of us here learn from it."