A Tribute to My Daddy

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My Daddy went home to be with the LORD on Sunday, November 26 at age 90.  We celebrated his life today at Southwood Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, AL.  I have included my Eulogy below.

A number of years ago, when we were living in Raleigh, my wife Barbara saw the movie Sweet Home Alabama with three of her closest friends. She knew it was a pretty authentic representation of Alabama, when Reese Witherspoon’s character referred to her Father as “my Daddy” (pronounced “Deddy”).

I would like to take a few moments to share a snapshot of “my Deddy’s” life and the godly legacy he left for our family, as well as some family remembrances along the way.

Daddy was born in Springville, AL, in 1927. He grew up dirt poor during the Great Depression years. Nevertheless, his parents were good people and always looked out for others. Their little home was located near the railroad tracks, and they never turned a hobo or homeless person away who asked for food. Like the film Kitt Kittredge, there must have been a hobo marking near their home—alerting people that they were generous, kind folk—because many came to their door for help.

He had one pair of jeans that his Momma washed every night before the next day of school. And like most in this era, he truly walked a number of miles to and from school and to and from church (years before Governor Big Jim Folsom paved the roads of rural Alabama!). Reminiscent of a Flannery O’Connor short story, my Daddy was baptized in a lake in Springville, AL, at age 14 and joined Springville Baptist Church. He had a strong, private faith in Jesus all his life, which I will discuss later. Another fun fact during these years was that many considered him to be the best dancer in Springville—not your typical Baptist!

Daddy attended Howard College (now Samford University). But after his freshman year, he was drafted into the Army for a one year commitment and stationed in New York City. One of his favorite off-duty past times was attending the major league baseball games in the City. The military received free passes back then, and he took full advantage of watching some of the all-time great players from the Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants, and New York Yankees—men such as Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, and Jackie Robinson. I one time asked him if he ever wanted to go to a major league game with me when we lived in Atlanta, and he said he wasn’t interested—that he had already seen all the greatest baseball players. It wasn’t until we moved to St. Louis that I learned that the Cardinals were Daddy’s favorite team growing up, as he was able to listen to them on the national radio station KMOX—winning World Series in 1934, 1942, 1944, and 1946 w/ the likes of Dizzy Dean & Stan “the man” Musial.

In the 1950s, Daddy joined the Alabama National Guard—retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserves in 1980. While he never served in combat, he was called up for a number of duties stateside throughout his career. He had a great love for our country and the men and women who fought to sustain our freedom. Some of his proudest moments were to watch my brother Tommy advance through the military ranks in the National Guard and Army Reserves—from boot camp, to graduation from the Army War College, to tours in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, to achieving the rank of Brigadier General today and his current service in S. Korea.

Regarding his civilian work, in 1951, Daddy entered a four-year machinist training school at the Anniston Army Ordnance Depot (AAOD). For those not familiar with the AAOD, in 1952, “the Army assigned the depot the mission of overhauling and rebuilding its fleet of combat vehicles and tanks, as well as artillery and anti-aircraft artillery. In addition, the depot was tasked to modify equipment and weapon systems to further extend their usefulness to the Army.”

While living in Springville, Daddy commuted daily in a carpool to the Anniston Army Ordnance Depot. Also in the carpool was the beautiful Maid of Cotton of Springville. She was well aware of his dancing reputation and asked him to be her escort for the big event that would crown the Maid of Cotton for all of St. Clair County. This date was with his future wife Bettie Jane Allgood, whom he married in 1952. They celebrated their 66th anniversary in May of this year. As an aside, I grew up watching the way he loved my momma and the faithful husband he was to her.

He transferred to Huntsville in 1955 as a machinist for the Army Ballistic Command. Over time, he switched to administrative work–ending his career as a contract specialist in the Hawk Project Office of the U.S. Army Missile Command, where he retired at age 63 (my freshman year at Vanderbilt). Being a lover of Tom Clancy films, I was always asking Daddy about the top secret work he did for the government and the many times he was taken to undisclosed places to serve his country. He would never tell me though—always reminding me it was classified.

When I think about the passions he passed on to Robin, Tommy, and me, I think of clean cars, his love for the military, and his love for sports—particularly Alabama football (Roll Tide!).

In regard to cars, Daddy built his first car in high school with a friend using scraps from a junkyard his friend’s family owned. That is probably why my Momma sweetly let him use his National Guard money to buy his sports cars when he got older—my favorite being a Corvette stingray. He loved to work on cars with Robin and Tommy—helping Robin rebuild a classic 55 Chevy and giving my brother his white Camaro. Somehow, I got the short end of the stick, as he sold his Corvette and bought a VW bug when I was old enough to drive. Not wanting to be seen in a Bug, I used to make him drop me off a block before getting to school (my girls have continued to carry on this tradition today!). I remember when my brother Robin graduated from North American Van Lines Truck Driving School in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and came home with his brand new 18-wheeler. He was so proud of Robin, and always loved to hear about his adventures around the country. He would call each of us most Sunday nights, and he loved to hear about the places Robin had been and the companies he was working with—always sharing with me when I asked how Robin was doing.

In regard to sports, Daddy was also quite the athlete–playing basketball for Springville High School (they were too small to have a football or baseball team). He pitched for a semi-pro baseball team in his 20s and could throw a mean knuckleball! When I asked him about his team, he told me of a pitcher who eventually played in the majors who was ambidextrous (or as they say at Auburn—amphibious!). They would use him for doubleheaders—pitching the first game with his right arm and the second with his left! Anyway…Daddy would later serve as a baseball coach for my brothers (Robin andTommy) and me—spanning 20 years at the International Little League at Mayfair Park, including a 14-0 season with my brother Tommy (who hit the longest home run he saw in 20 years!) that was featured in The Huntsville Times. If you looked at his desk today, you would see his love of sports and support for his sons—from the aforementioned picture, to a picture of my brother Robin in The Huntsville Times winning the city basketball tournament in junior high, to my brother Tommy playing football for Huntsville High, to my senior picture as the Huntsville High Quarterback.

One the amazing things about our Daddy was that he never missed a game or a practice. At one point in high school, Tommy told him not to come to practice, but he still found a way to sneak on the field and hide under the bleachers to watch him. He was not a helicopter parent—he just enjoyed watching his sons use their God-given gifts and talents. My senior year, he would bring my sweet Momma an hour and a half early to our games to watch me warm up. As a matter of fact, when I was a graduate assistant coach at Dartmouth, he told my wife Barbara that they needed to get to the stadium an hour and half before the game. She tried to explain to him this was Ivy League football and that no one would be there…he still got there an hour and half before the game!

Whether it was YMCA football, my freshmen team, JV or Varsity football, I always knew where to look in the stands when I made a big play or scored a touchdown! It was a lot of pressure playing “Friday Night Lights” football in Alabama—with every game written up on the front page of the sports section the next morning. When we played rival city teams like Grissom, our games averaged 8,000 people—especially the night we got the ball with a 1:50 left to play and mounted a 60-yard drive and a last second field goal to win. When we played small towns like Albertville, it was like a scene from Remember the Titans, riding the bus to the stadium and seeing all the store windows painted with “Go Albertville!” or “Beat Huntsville!” My senior year, 1985, my Daddy, Auburn Head coach Pat Dye, and thousands of Albertville fans watched us crush their home team and star quarterback recruit on their Homecoming Night that was broadcast live on Huntsville’s WAAY Radio! Go Panthers!

Back then, we only got trophies when we won! Daddy was not afraid to tell us what we did wrong and what we could do better, but more importantly, he encouraged us all when we did well. It was Daddy’s love and encouragement, along with the LORD’s strength, that gave me the ability and courage to go out each week and enjoy Friday nights. As an aside, when he met my father-in-law Frank, Daddy sat him down and showed him the videos of my top two games from my senior year. Frank told him he was thankful we didn’t make the playoffs, otherwise they might be there all week! When I think about his love for Alabama football (Roll Tide!), it was one of the few times I had a hard time being in the room with him—especially if Alabama was losing. My son Andrew learned the hard way not to change the channel when Daddy Charles was watching Alabama play. If I’m honest, I always worried that he would have a heart attack watching a close Alabama game. But if it was his time to go, I am thankful that the LORD was gracious and allowed Daddy to pass away with the Auburn-Alabama game tied 7-7.

After retirement, Daddy took up tennis and became a competitive doubles player in the USTA Super Senior division. He developed many life-long friends during this time. One of his greatest joys during our visits in the summers was to take me over to Huntsville Athletic Club to play tennis, meet his friends, and have coffee or lemonade while we watched his friends play. As a matter of fact, he played the game of tennis until he had to stop due to health reasons at the age of 88. And he was a competitor to the end. Whenever we would have our Sunday calls on the phone, he was always quick to tell me of a win over his friends—especially if they were younger!

Last but not least, regarding his relationship with Jesus, he was ordained as a Deacon at Springville Baptist Church. After he moved to Huntsville, he was a longtime member of Hillsboro Heights Baptist Church and for the last decade, Southwood Presbyterian Church. He served the church in many ways—but most notably as a greeter. This fit his personality of service and encouragement—using the firm handshake and smile he taught me at a young age. As I shared earlier, Daddy was private about his faith, but he read his Bible daily and modeled godly living and how a man of God should live and treat others. As I reflect on his life and legacy, I see many amazing godly qualities that are much needed in our generation today—humility, hard work, joy without materialism, faithful marriage, godly treatment of his wife, devotion to his children, their spouses, and grandchildren, and a sincere faith in Jesus.

As I drove the seven hours from St. Louis to Huntsville on Sunday, I listened to a leadership series from my brother-in-law Tucker’s ministry in Atlanta. It was on the character and godly leadership of Nehemiah, who oversaw the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. In the last talk on Nehemiah, the speaker asked the audience “How do you want to be remembered when you die?” The better question, he pointed out was Nehemiah’s: “Who do you want to remember you?” In the last book of Nehemiah, he asked the LORD to remember him four different times—“Remember me…my God, and show mercy to me according to your great love.” (Nehemiah 13:22)

That is the truth my Daddy based his life on—the mercy of God. The good news is that none of us can earn our way to heaven. It is a gift through believing in Jesus—who died in our place to take away our sins and make us right with God—so we can be with him forever.

Let me close with this passage of Daddy’s eternal hope from the Book of Revelation: “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’  He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’  He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.’” (Rev. 21:1-7)

Like Daddy’s, may each of our lives count for God for an eternity.   Amen

Perseverance Despite Adversity

I want to take this opportunity to share with you excerpts from my May 2017 graduation charge to our sixth graders at Central Christian School.

Class of 2017… As I reflected on our three 2017 graduate speakers’ essays (A Passion for God, A Love of Truth, and A Zeal to Serve), I couldn’t help but notice how they all had a familiar theme—perseverance, despite adversity—one of the overarching themes of your 5th grade year.

As I was praying about this topic and the importance of faith in Jesus during difficult times, I remembered a story that I learned during my time in Washington, D.C.

This May marked the anniversary of one of the greatest communication breakthroughs in world history—a feat achieved through perseverance despite adversity by putting trust in Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. I hope the story of this individual blesses and inspires you as much as it did me.

Take Sam.

As a young Christian, Sam entered Yale University at the age of 15.  Although he studied electricity and chemistry under two of the top scientists of the day, Sam surprised his parents after graduation by choosing his true passion—painting.

His father, a well-known pastor and “Father of American Geography,” supported his son’s vision to study in London.  While learning from a renowned painter, Sam nevertheless epitomized a starving artist—bringing in little income and barely making ends meet.

Sam returned to America eager to apply his maturing talent.  During this time, he met and married his wife, with whom he would father three children.  But his search for commissioned work up and down the East Coast greatly reduced the time he would spend with his family.

Sadly, the death of Sam’s young wife occurred while he labored miles away on a portrait in Washington, D.C.  In what would later be a sad ironic twist, he would not arrive until after her burial because of the time it took to communicate the news.

“Oh, is it possible? Is it possible? Shall I never see my dear wife again?” Sam wrote, “But I cannot trust myself to write on the subject. I need your prayers, and those of Christian friends, to God for support. I fear I shall sink under it.”

Although painting a number of respected pieces, the next 12 years saw Sam struggle with finances and discouragement.  He attained an art professorship at New York University and soon sought the commissioning of one of the planned historic paintings in the U.S. Capitol’s Rotunda.

Experiencing rejection yet again, Sam collapsed into despair. “The blow I received from Congress … has almost destroyed my enthusiasm for my art…. I have not painted a picture since that decision…. When so unexpectedly I was repelled, I staggered under the blow…and [it] would goad me to death were it not for its aspect in the light of God’s overruling providence. Then all is right.”

Sam decided to return to his science skills and gave his full attention to the development of a device that could communicate over long distances.  Petitioning Congress to test the invention, his funding request was ignored—causing him to seek a patent and financial support in Europe.

To his surprise five years later, both Houses of Congress approved his large grant request.  And on May 24, 1844, Sam tested his invention before some of the most powerful leaders of the day.

The invention?  The telegraph.

Using a verse from the Bible–Numbers 23:23—suggested by a friend’s daughter, Sam, or I should say, Samuel Morse delivered the message “What hath God wrought!” using what became known as Morse Code over the first electric telegraph line from the U.S. Supreme Court Chamber in Washington, D.C. to Baltimore.

To Morse, these words were an exact expression of how the telegraph had come into being.

As he would later write to his brother Sidney: “You will see by the [news]papers how great success has attended the first efforts of the Telegraph… ‘What hath God wrought!’  It is His work, and He alone could have carried me thus far through all my trials and enabled me to triumph over the obstacles, physical and moral, which opposed me.”

Reviewing the impact of Morse’s creation in recent years, The Economist Digital Editor Tom Standage dubbed it The Victorian Internet: “It allowed people to communicate almost instantly across great distances, in effect shrinking the world faster and further than ever before.  A worldwide network whose cables spanned continents and oceans, it revolutionized business practice…and inundated its users with a deluge of information…Does all this sound familiar?”

With Morse’s invention came the growth and transformation of the Associated Press, the New York Stock Exchange, and many other communication breakthroughs in the United States and around the globe too great to list here.

Thus, after decades of trial, Morse became a worldwide celebrity—receiving honor after honor over the next 25 years—culminating in 1871, when a bronze statue of Morse was dedicated in Central Park.  That evening at the Academy of Music, many luminaries witnessed the following message sent to Washington, D.C., using Morse’s original telegraph: “Greeting and thanks to the telegraphic fraternity throughout the land. Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good-will to men.”

As The New York Times reported, “Morse, with trembling fingers, touched his key and signed his name to the above dispatch—the entire audience rose…with cheer after cheer.”

He would die a year later, embodying the words of St. Peter, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

A charge worth considering again today.