Cogdill — A Man To Be Remembered

By Fanning Yater Tant

The morning sun was just beginning to drive darkness from the eastern skies when the ringing telephone brought me awake. The message was brief: “Roy died of a massive heart attack about midnight last night.” That was all that could be said at the time. But it was enough to flood my heart and mind with memories of the great and good man whose earthly life had now come to a close.

I recalled the first time I had ever met Roy Cogdill. I was visiting in the home of my uncle, Dr. Tolbert Fanning Yater, in Cleburne, Texas. It was during the Christmas holidays, 1930. Cogdill had just recently come to preach for the Central church of Christ. Although he was still in his early twenties, his name was already widely known as an extremely talented and effective gospel preacher. I was anxious to meet him. From the reputation he had acquired, I had assumed him to be at least middle-aged, or perhaps even past that mark. When I knocked on the door (only a block or two from the Yater home), a slender, blond girl answered the knock. I supposed she was the preacher’s daughter, and asked, “Is your father home?” She replied, “My father doesn’t live here, but would you like to meet my husband?” (Roy often told me I had made a life-long friend of Lorraine by the very first words I ever spoke to her!)

Little did I dream then that I was destined one day to become a fellow-worker and business associate with the man whom I met. Our contacts through the 1930’s were infrequent; but when he moved to Lufkin, Texas, in 1945 and organized the Cogdill Publishing Company, we began an association and a strong friendship which continued through the years. In 1947 1 became editor of Ancient Landmarks, a monthly journal published by the Cogdill Publishing Company. Two years later, at the urging of both Cogdill and Foy E. Wallace, Jr., I took over the editorship of The Gospel Guardian, and continued in that capacity for the next twenty-two years.

These were the troubled years during which the Lord’s church was dividing over “institutionalism”-in reality the same basic problem which a hundred years earlier had divided the church over the “missionary societies.” Roy Cogdill stood unflinchingly in the forefront of this battle “contending earnestly for the faith.” His role in the division this time was much the same as that played by Tolbert Fanning and David Lipscomb in the earlier battle. He became the target of an unbelievable torrent of abuse, slander, and vilification. To read the things written about him during those years, one could almost believe that Satan himself might have taken lessons from him in villainy and depravity. None of this moved him. He was simply incapable of compromise, evasion, or subterfuge when a principle of truth was involved. He was blunt, direct, and could be abrasive in opposing the teachings and projects of those who, in his judgment, were leading the church into denominationalism. His commitment to the Savior and to the church so dominated his life that no ties of friendship, or even family, could sway him from the course he believed to be right.

Yet this hard-nosed, uncompromising aspect of his character was only one facet of a very strong and sensitive man. I went to hear him preach in Florence, Alabama, some time in the late fifties, and when we were alone he asked me, “Yater, do you ever cry?” I replied, “Only rarely perhaps at the death of a family member or some very dear friend.” To which he responded, “Well, sometimes I get so heart-sick and depressed over what is happening to the church that I will get Lorraine in the car, drive way back into the ‘big piney’ woods of east Texas, lay my head in her lap, and cry like a three-year-old child!”

This was a side of Roy Cogdill which few people ever saw-or would believe! I have often thought of this when I recall the words of Fitz-Greene Halleck which he wrote on the death of his friend, Joseph Drake:

Green be the turf above thee,

Friend of my better days!

None knew thee but to love thee,

Nor named thee but to praise.

I would certainly have to revise the last line of that quatrain, but the, first part of it is profoundly true-those people who were privileged really to know Roy Cogdill, his strength, his compassion, his sensitivity, were bound to him by ties that were unbelievably strong. He, himself, was capable of strong emotions, and he evoked powerful loyalties among those who were close to him-and equally strong (and often bitter) opposition among those who clashed with him.

I went with him once to Tyler, Texas, for a confrontation with Otis Gatewood. (Gatewood had persuaded the Grove Avenue Church in San Antonio to cut off support for Dick Smith who was in Germany, but who was in conflict with Gatewood’s approach to evangelizing the German people.) The conversation between the two men was heated, and finally Gatewood stuck out his chin and said, “Go ahead and hit me, Royl Just hit me on the chin. I know you want to!” Roy was simply livid with anger, but his voice was completely under control, and did not even quaver as he replied, “No, I will not hit you, Otis, though you deserve a whole lot worse than that for what you did to Dick Smith. I will simply hold you in utter contempt!” And with that he turned and walked away. I have never seen a man so angryor one with such total control of his anger.

It was during these turbulent years that Athens Clay Pullias, president of David Lipscomb College, sent word to Roy that he must not ever again set foot on the campus of that school! Cogdill was vastly amused at the effrontery and arrogance of the man, and ignored the order with complete unconcern. Pullias later forsook the Lord, and joined the Presbyterian church. He was referred to in Nashville as “Pullias the Apostate.” Incidentally, he preceded Roy in death by only four or five weeks.

After Lorraine’s death, it was my happy privilege to speak the words which united Cogdill with his second wife, Nita Faulkner. She was a lovely widow, with two children, whom Cogdill adopted. In many ways these last twenty-five years of his life seemed happier and less demanding than the earlier years. The horrible fight over “institutionalism” had reached its peak, and the tensions were easing off a bit. The division over which Roy had so agonized had finally come and it appeared to be irreversible. Cogdill accepted the fact with profound sorrow, but did not cease to plead for unity on the basis of God’s truth. Nita was a constant source of strength and encouragement to him, and cared for him with infinite tenderness during the final years when he was fighting a losing battle against cancer. He was immensely proud of her total commitment to him and to the life he had chosen to live. He told me once of being stopped by a highway patrol car in Florida on some sort of minor traffic violation. He did not believe he was guilty, and argued with the officer about it. The officer lost his temper and said, “I ought to punch you in the jaw right now.” To which Cogdill replied, “You lay one finger on me, young man, and you’ll be in more trouble than you ever dreamed of!”

It was at this point that Nita entered the fray. Chuckling over the incident later, and with very obvious pride, Roy said, “That red-headed woman of mine lit into him in a fashion that almost made me sorry for the poor guy! She told him off in a way I’ll guarantee he will never forget!”

Yes, Roy Cogdill was indeed “a man to be remembered.” And the words of the melancholy Hamlet as he spoke of the death of the king might well describe him:

He was a man, take him for all in all,

I shall not look upon his like again.

Guardian of Truth XXIX: 14, pp. 431-432
July 18, 1985