By Harry Pickup, Jr.
It is not easy for me to write about Dad – for a number of reasons. Some of them are too personal to mention. A main reason is that a public writing extolling his virtues is something that he honestly would not have preferred. Such would be out of character of the man. Therefore, what I hope to do is to concentrate on a few things about him that are interesting and, hopefully, encouraging to others.
He passed away June 4, 1990. If he had lived until August 9, 1990 he would have been 90 years old. He began life in Brooklyn, New York, a fact that was always amusing to him since he considered himself essentially a “good southern boy.” He spent most of his life in cities; but, contrastingly, some of his fondest memories were of preaching in remote, rural areas during depression days in middle Tennessee and in the villages of North Carolina in World War II days.
While not a retiring personality Dad was never the “first,” “chief” or “president” of anything. He was a partner to all who were engaged in doing right. When volunteers were needed from the rank and file one could always “count him in.” He was a helper to all brethren who were seeking to please God. His aim was to glorify God; his ambition was to help the people. He was a “partner” to all truth preaching preachers. He was a “helper” of L.R. Wilson, James R. Cope and Bob Owen, all presidents of Florida College, in their work of establishing and maintaining the College.
Dad was a “common” man among many “common” people. The word “common” here is used in the New Testament sense of the word. Remember: it was the “common people who heard Jesus gladly.” Dad preached to the “common” people – and they both enjoyed and benefitted from his preaching. He viewed himself as “made like unto his brethren in all things.” And, he was viewed by the people in this manner. He experienced life in the manner of the “common” man. Folks from all walks of life felt comfortable with him. In his early adulthood he supported himself and his family by working with his hands; his latter working days were spent in the same manner. He could preach with his brain but he could also build with his hands. He preached and lived the “common faith.” He understood the needs of ordinary people because he lived as they did sharing in the anxieties and difficulties, as well as the joys from life’s common ventures. He never viewed himself as unique or different in the secular sense and the “common” people respected and loved him greatly. Perhaps the moral in this point is that it is good to be as fine an “average man” as one can be.
Dad was experience oriented – things happened to him. He generated reaction. Dogs and other animals couldn’t leave him alone. Children turned to him. Ordinary folks responded to him. Successful people took note of him. He made things happen by his natural interest in people and their affairs.
Life was interesting to him. He was never bored; he was never boring. His early preaching days at the Tennessee State Penitentiary furnished him with many entertaining and instructive stories. He helped quell public unrests in LaGrange, Georgia in the early ’30s due to the cotton mill strike. The entire church was composed of Calloway Mill workers. The church building had been purchased inexpensively from the Mill; his family lived in a house furnished by the Mill. Of the three elders, two were supervisors and remained loyal to the company; the other was the president of the union, the man who called the strike. The “Park Avenue church of Christ had its greatest growth,” he said, during those trying days and was the only religious group in the Mill section not suffering extreme adverse effects from the strike. He liked to tell the story of the Ministerial Alliance inviting him to address them to explain why the church of Christ was not divided as were the denominations. His explanation was to preach a sermon from Ephesians 4 and thoroughly explain “the unity of the Spirit.” When he moved from the town, the community was almost as sorry to see him go as the church.
While preaching in Gainesville, Florida he held many meetings in Alachua, Levy and Gilchrist counties. The meetings were mostly with brethren who were few in number and limited in strength. He preached the longest meeting of which I know in modern times. The tent meeting lasted one day short of seven weeks. He baptized more than 50 people. The meeting ended because the Gainesville church could no longer spare him.
The University church in Gainesville, Florida was thrilled that their preacher was invited by the University of Florida to give the baccalaureate sermon to the prestigious University of Florida Development Junior High School. He amused the academic audience by stories which poked harmless fun at superficial culture and stuffy formality. This embarrassed the brethren but the “common folks” enjoyed it. Most importantly, he got everyone’s attention by preaching plainly and distinctly the saving gospel, including a critique of denominationalism.
I never heard a more pointed preacher than Dad – including the few times he had opportunity to preach to his own mother. Strangely to many, few folks were offended by him; everyone understood that they had heard what the preacher believed was the truth of Almighty God in clear and understandable language. He was impartial in wielding the “sword of the Spirit” against what he thought was untrue, unrighteous or unwise. I felt his impartial handling of the truth when in Phoenix, Arizona he publicly rebuked me for playing the card game, Canasta. What made it worse to me was that he was so convincing in his interpretation that he convinced my card partners who also became my critics! That was my Dad.
He was among a group of preachers who arranged to present a Bible to President Harry S. Truman when he lived in Arlington, Virginia. The children of a famous Georgia black preacher grew up calling him “the milk man” because each Monday, after he deposited his check and had seen to his own family’s needs, he brought that family their weekly milk supply. He purchased a lot and a house on a handshake; neither person ever had a reason to regret the sale. He could discuss finances with a banker friend, medicine with a physician friend or the need to be saved from sins with a hitchhiker, many of whom he gave rides.
Throughout his life he had one overriding “aim”; “we make it our aim . . . to be well pleasing unto Him.” There are three shades of meaning to the Greek word translated by “aim”: (1) Goal, (2) Ambition, (3) Point of honor. His eyes were set straight for the target of obeying God’s will. For him personal success was measured according to whether or not he fulfilled God’s purpose and helped the people. It was a point of honor with him to carry out his duty toward God.
It gave him great pleasure to know that he served God as a partner among such “common people” as Paul, Peter, John, Dorcas, Hardeman, Wallace, Hailey, Puckett, Evans, Cravens and a host of Christians with whom most of the church are not familiar.
I have not intended to give a personal evaluation of the character of the man whom I called “Father” but in closing I would like to suggest this: like Abraham he was totally unconcerned about the carnal world and thoroughly concerned with seeking “the heavenly city whose builder and maker is God.” The honor of being a Christian was the only honor he cared about. The riches of the grace of Christ Jesus was the only wealth he sought – the only acclaim he ever sought was the approval of God, the trust of his brethren, and the good will of his fellow man. He was absolutely void of personal pride and human ambition; he was completely indifferent to human achievement. He was the friend of God, a son of Abraham, the child of the king, completely happy to wear the clothes of a servant.
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 20, pp. 626-627
October 18, 1990