Our website is made possible by displaying online ads to our visitors.
Please consider supporting us by whitelisting our site.

Cheaper by the hundred

Each grandchild of Dr. Harvey Williams has a distinct, treasured memory of him. Picking blackberries from his garden. Watching "Star Wars." Filling out old medical charts at his practice. Sitting on his lap, listening to stories of leprechauns in Ireland. Receiving a crisp $10 for every birthday.

But most of all, they remember the family reunions, like the one held June 11. On the 90 degree day, about 60 of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren gathered in Fairfax for diving competitions in the pool, a massive game of whiffle ball and lots of food.

"It's always amazing when we can come back like this," said granddaughter Liesl Wegand, a nursing student. "You're surrounded by people who love you, just having a barbeque on a Saturday afternoon."

"Being part of this family, it never gets old," said grandson Ryan Barnes, an accountant from New Jersey. "Keeps getting younger, I think."

From Chicago to Woodbridge

Harvey, 83, was born in Chicago, the seventh of 12 children and the first to complete college. He worked in his brother's funeral home to pay for his education and finished school in three years. Harvey said he decided to become a doctor after seeing his friends' career paths. "Heck, if they are pre-med then I can be too," he said.

For undergraduate and medical school, Harvey attended Loyola University Chicago, where he met his wife, Joan. They were married after the first year of medical school and Joan left the program to raise their growing family.

After interning in the area, Harvey joined the U.S. Army, and was stationed at the Pentagon, permanently settling the family in Northern Virginia. After leaving the Army, Harvey commuted every day to his practice in Woodbridge from the family home in Annandale, where he still lives with his wife, his daughter, Sue Reilly, her husband and their 11 children.

Unbeknownst to Harvey, Joan and her doctors, the headaches Joan experienced were symptoms of a deadly brain tumor. She died unexpectedly at age 35, just 13 days after giving birth to the couple's 10th child.

The year she died was a very difficult one for the family. Eventually, the aunt of one of Havey's patients came and lived with them, helping things run smoothly until Harvey remarried.

Harvey met his second wife, Anne, on a blind date via a matchmaking priest. "My persuasive powers are beyond compare (that) I could talk someone into marrying me with 10 children," said Williams.

He and Anne were married in 1970 and went on to have five more children, bringing the total to 15. In age order, their names are Meg, Harvey, Jennifer, Karen, Theresa, Catherine, Rose, Rita, Franny, Joan, James, Sue, Elizabeth, Nancy and John Paul.

Harvey has been a parishioner of St. Michael Church in Annandale since 1960 and all of his children attended the school. In his mid-40s, he joined Opus Dei, a prelature of the church, which guided him through the "trials of life. I don't know what would've happened to me without it," he said.

Later this summer, Harvey will become the proud great-grandfather of his 100th and 101st descendant.

101 supporters

The extended Williams family seemed to agree upon three things - that it can be difficult remembering everyone's names, that there is much joy in being part of a big family and that Williams is a steadfast supporter of them all.

"My favorite thing about him (is that) as we grew into adults, even though there's so many of us, he's so committed to our own individual success," said Liesl. She remembers that when first deciding to go to nursing school, her grandfather sat down with her one-on-one to talk about her options.

"His prayers and love and support are incredible," said his son-in-law, Dan Callahan, father of his own 14 children. "He's the backbone of the family."

Pictured: Dr. Harvey Williams, longtime pitcher of the family whiffle ball game, staying in the action even from the sidelines.

Not pictured: His 101 descendants. http://bit.ly/1Un0R9SPosted by Arlington Catholic Herald on Friday, June 17, 2016

Rose Bivens, a mother of four, has often been inspired by her father's parenting. "He always taught us to rally around the one that was hurting," she said. "If someone in the family would approach him with their troubles, he wouldn't divulge what the trouble was, but he would say something very casual (to me) like, 'Have you talked to Franny lately? Maybe you should give her a call.'"

Besides supporting them himself, Harvey has given them each other. When Rose couldn't afford a crib or new coat, there was always a sibling who had one she could borrow. They experienced phases of life together, like when Rose, Franny and Joan got married within a year and a half of each other, or when Rose and Rita had children at the same time.

In addition to summer reunions, the Williams family gathers every Christmas for a lively gift swap. Last year, the sheer number of her family members amazed even Rose. "I said, 'Dad, look what you created.' But only through the grace of God."


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016