He died in 1969. I was 7 years old. My only real memory of him is of one morning getting in his old work truck and him taking me to Krispy Kreme and picking up some doughnuts. I would have probably been 6 years old.
I’m sure that he was not a perfect man (they don’t exist in clay form) and I know him through stories of his life. He died nearly 50 years ago but the stories of his life are powerful. I wish I knew more about him. Jeff and I found his grave marker and our great-granddads too about a year ago when we were speaking in Huntsville - that's when I took the picture above.
Here’s what I know.
We called him pawpaw, just as my sons called my dad and my grandchildren now call me. He owned a company that had such an impeccable reputation that all these years after he died still bears his name though it passed out of our family when he died.
He was generous: He was a hard worker and eventually it paid off but early on he and MawMaw didn’t have much. When he made money he would put it in a cookie jar on top of the refrigerator and they would pay bills from there. On day a poor man came by during the depression and he had no food for his wife and kids to eat. So he took the money for their power bill out of the cookie jar and gave it to the man. Their power was cut off for a couple of days but that family ate.
On Saturday’s he would get up early and go wake up some young Christian. They would go to the local grocery store and he would instruct the boys in the store it fill it up. They would fill the bed of his truck with bags of food. He’d pay for it and then head to the poorest section of town. He’d blow his horn and people would come out and he would invite them to take what they needed until it was gone.
Several years ago I heard my Uncle Dan tell one of the stories that most affected his life and helped him decide to be one of the great missionaries of our time. Dan was about 10 or 11 years old and his dad said: “I want to teach you how to keep books. So he gave him a notepad and took him along to collect money for Jenkins Insulation. They would insulate a house for about $50 in those days. So Dan would write out how much was owed, how much collected and how much remained. One Saturday they collected $384. That was a LOT of money in those days for a small family owned and run business. It was the most money Dan had ever seen. Sunday a missionary came through to the old West Huntsville church. Thechurch said we can’t help you. But pawpaw wanted to help. He took his wallet and pulled out $384 - it was all he had - it was the money they would buy more insulation with to do more houses and to live on. Uncle Dan said: “He virtually bankrupted the business, shut down the business down till they could collect more and buy more supplies.” That was the kind of belief he had in mission work and the impact it made on Uncle Dan was powerful.
In the mid-to-late 1940’s West Huntsville invited the great evangelist Marshall Keeble to hold a tent meeting with them. Pawpaw invited him to come and have supper with him. When Brother Keeble got there he wouldn’t go in the house. Racial tensions were hard in that part of Alabama and he said, “I’ll just go around and you hand me the food out he back door.” Pawpaw refused insisting he come in and eat. Brother Keeble explained that he did not want to do anything that would upset the neighbors or possibly hurt the meeting and he would just eat under the carport. When pawpaw saw Brother Keeble would not relent he instructed his sons (Dad and Dan) to take the table and put it under the carport and they all ate outside that night. Uncle Dan said he did not remember Brother Keeble being there - a black man - just a man and he remembered moving the table and getting to eat outside. It’s not surprising that dad and Dan didn’t have any racism in them. That both preached for churches that were highly racially diverse, that dad pushed for Maywood Christian Camp to allow anyone to come regardless of race when other camps lagged behind and that because one “Christian” school would not let black children attend dad started a separate Christian school and personally paid for first three black students who enrolled to attend.
When pawpaw would go to the Post Office to check the mail where would be out of work men having to beg during post depression years. Pawpaw would discreetly reach in his pocket and then shake the man’s hand slyly handing him a silver dollar.
When he died he had it written that all debts owed him or his business were forgiven. In those days the government regulations called for 4 inches of insulation in a house. Just enough to cover the 2x4’s in the rafters. Most companies would leave it where you could just see the tops of the rafters. Our granddad wanted more 5 inches installed. It’s not surprising the reputation of his company for integrity.
I’m proud of him and of these stories I’ve heard and of the legacy he left - but when I think about it - he is not really much different than many people I’ve known across the years…they are called…Christians.