By Steve Wolfgang
The weather on the day of the funeral was miserable. The rainy drizzle and chill wind out of the northern plains starkly underscored the gray mood of those who had come to bury the dead. The widow and children, in the company of friends, watched tearfully as the earthly remains of their beloved were lowered into the earth. Roy Edward Cogdill, just one day past his eighth birthday, stood transfixed. The sight of the casket containing the body of 31-year Frank Louis Cogdill, killed in an industrial accident two days earlier, would forever be etched into the memory of his only son. Though a cavalcade of wagons, horses, buggies, and a few vintage automobiles brought many people to the Hobart cemetery on that April 25, 1915, the date would have as much, perhaps more, significance for young Roy Cogdill as for anyone else present that day.
Seventy years and three weeks later, family and friends lovingly bore the body of Roy Edward Cogdill back to that same cemetery in Hobart. The weather was dramatically different-a cool spring day, green with new life under the blue Oklahoma sky-but the sense of loss was the same.
Among the many ramifications his father’s death would hold for Roy was the deepening and cementing of the bond between himself and this widowed mother. It was through her that he would first learn the truth of the gospel which he obeyed at an early age. It was through her untiring efforts to prepare her family for worship each Sunday, regardless of weather or other circumstances, that he began to learn the meaning of devotion to Christ. Hearing her singing softly the hymn that would become his favorite (“Walk Beside Me, O My Savior”), he could faintly remember what it would be like to suffer the cruelties and tribulations which he would later endure.
It was his mother who shamed him when he “ran away” from home under the influence of a schoolmate who came from an alcoholic family, and who then mortgaged what little she possessed to see that Roy would have a more wholesome environment at Western Oklahoma Christian College, 22 miles away in Cordell. There Roy’s talent as a speaker, which qualified him for both high school and collegiate debate teams, became evident; and from Cordell he began the religious journalism with which he would be involved for much of his life. When Roy returned home during the first school break (at Thanksgiving, 1922), it was not only to be reunited with his mother, but to preach his first sermon.
After graduating from the high school division at Cordell, Roy went to Abilene Christian College as a 16-year-old freshman, quickly becoming class president and a standout debater. It was at Abilene that he met a young Christian from East Tom named Lorraine Burke. Following a summer’s preaching near his home in Oklahoma and a stint selling Bibles in San Antonio during the fall of 1924, Roy accepted the invitation of the church in Frederick, Oklahoma to become the local preacher. He and Lorraine were married on July 21, 1925 — a union which was to last until her untimely death almost 35 years later (June 23, 1960). Heralded by the newspapers of the region as “the Boy Wonder,” his work with the church in Frederick continued until he felt the need to return to school.
He re-enrolled at Cordell and then, planning to attend SMU, moved to Dallas to work with the Sunset church in the fall of 1926. When those plans did not materialize, the Cogdills went to Greenville, Texas in May 1927 to begin work with the church there. As brethren everywhere became more aware of his considerable abilities, brother Cogdill began to do increasingly more meeting work, not only in Texas and Oklahoma, but in western states including California, Idaho, and Montana. Beginning in 1929 he entered full-time meeting work while continuing to live at Greenville. His association with Foy E. Wallace, Jr.– a warm friendship which would endure for a quarter of a century-began during this period.
A continuous schedule of meeting preaching magnified a throat problem which probably had its inception in the open-air meetings of Roy’s first preaching in Oklahoma while still a teenager. So, in October, 1930, brother Cogdill accepted an invitation to become the local preacher for the large church at Cleburne, Texas. The combination of preaching to hundreds of people in a large auditorium and continuing to hold meetings proved too much for his voice. Local doctors sent him to specialists in Dallas, and a growth on his vocal chords was discovered. After beginning to preach the gospel in so auspicious a manner, it seemed as though Roy Cogdill’s preaching days were over before he was 25 year old.
His determination to spread the gospel was not so easily thwarted, however. He continued to write, editing Bible class quarterlies for the Firm Foundation. He became “Texas Department” editor and subscription representative for the Gospel Advocate, moving to Dallas to open an office there for the Nashville paper. Throat surgery in Philadelphia by the world-renowned medical pioneer Dr. Chevalier Jackson (inventor of the bronchoscope) removed any immediate threat to permanent voice loss or other complications, but Roy was warned by physicians that any preaching for the foreseeable future could be done only to the detriment of his health and his voice.
Brother Cogdill enrolled in 1933 at Jefferson Law School in Dallas, where among his professors was Sarah T. Hughes, later a federal judge who would be thrust into the forefront of history by another event in Dallas thirty years later, swearing in a new President. Roy supported his wife and their daughter, Martha, during this period by working as a distributor for the Duncan Coffee Company by day while attending law school at night.
As his throat improved, he began to look for opportunities to preach, first by driving to Terrell, Texas (where he was later followed in that work by another young preacher, James W. Adams). When the brethren at the Sears and Summitt church (which became the Skillman Avenue church) in Dallas invited him to preach regularly beginning in 1934, Roy commenced a profitable work with them which lasted during his law school days and saw the church grow from about 200 members to an attendance regularly of 500-600.
During this period, brother Cogdill alternated preaching each Sunday over KRLD radio in Dallas with W.L. Oliphant of the Oak Cliff church. He conducted his first religious debate, returning to Oklahoma to discuss the instrumental music question at Carnegie. He also made his first preaching trip to Canada, a work which would be dear to his heart for the rest of his life. In 1938, he published his book, The New Testament Church, which, by his life’s end, would be translated into a half-dozen languages as well as Braille, selling hundreds of thousands of copies. And he began a prosperous law practice in the office of Jack Johannes, who would become general counsel for a small potato company which grew to become Frito-Lay before merging with the Pepsi-Cola company. While practicing law, Roy obtained on a client’s behalf what was at that time the largest monetary judgment awarded by a Dallas court.
But lawyers like Jack Johannes knew that Roy Cogdill’s heart was really in his preaching and not in the practice of law. In 1940, Roy helped to locate the property and became first preacher (without charge) for the Preston Road church near the University Park section of Dallas. As the foregoing material suggests, Roy was doing as much work in the kingdom as a “part-time” preacher as some men do “full-time. ” Re-affirming his commitment to the priority of preaching, Roy quit a thriving law practice and moved his family to Springfield, Missouri, to work with the South National church. According to a recent history of that church, Roy’s coming seemed to the brethren there like “a dream come true.” To brother Cogdill, it represented the fulfillment of dreams and plans which had been thwarted more than a decade before.
Following his mother’s death in 1944, Roy succumbed to the insistent urgings of the Norhill church in Houston to move there. He had held numerous meetings for them since 1928, and living in Houston offered occasion to be nearer Lorraine’s parents. As with all of the churches with which Roy Cogdill ever did local work, Norhill experienced tangible growth during his preaching, numerically and spiritually. Norhill engaged the services of a second preacher, Luther Blackmon, who shared the preaching responsibilities locally with Roy, both of them also being involved in considerable meeting work. It was while Roy was there that the Norhill church arranged for Foy E. Wallace, Jr., to speak in the new Houston Music Hall, preaching sermons which Roy later would publish as God’s Prophetic Word (in response to rampant premillennial theories in both the church and various denominations). A subsequent volume, Bulwarks of the Faith (addressing various Catholic and Protestant doctrines), also began as sermons in the Houston Music Hall.
The possibility of beginning a printing/publishing company in Lufkin (near Lorraine’s home) caused Roy to move there in 1946. Foy E. Wallace, Jr., had been able to publish his Bible Banner only sporadically, and Roy and others saw the need for such a voice to continue to oppose the intensive post-war attempts by some to make the church a funding agency for various inter-church projects, colleges, and other human institutions. Brother Cogdill began a commercial printing firm which included a religious publishing division and began to publish Wallace’s Bible Banner, and, shortly thereafter, the Gospel Guardian, with Yater Tant as editor. Luther Blackmon had accompanied Roy to Lufkin in an arrangement similar to that at Norhill, and again the church experienced growth. Roy’s published debate with D.N. Jackson occurred during this period, but he had several other debates as well, including one at Clute, Texas with A.J. Kirkland, a Baptist.
Several factors during this period caused brother Cogdll to re-enter full-time meeting work in the early 1950’s, and in 1952 he went to Jordan, Ontario, to become involved in the efforts of that church to plant new works wherever possible in that province. Roy and his wife lived in Canada while he held numerous meetings in places where there was no church, preaching over radio stations and in public meeting halls and schools until a sufficient number had been converted to start works in various cities. Occasionally brother Cogdill would return to the States for meetings, and it was while returning to Texas following a meeting in Vallejo, California that Roy and Lorraine were seriously injured in an automobile accident on an icy road near Gallup, NM in March, 1954. Brother Cogdill was on crutches for a month and walked with a cane for a year afterward, but within a matter of weeks following the accident was back holding meetings in Alabama and Kentucky before returning to Canada for the summer. Since Lorraine was also seriously injured, it became necessary to slow the pace of their lives.
So it was that brother Cogdill moved to San Antonio in October, 1954 to work for two years with the West Avenue congregation. Though the church there experienced good growth, as the institutional controversy raged across the brotherhood, Roy felt the need to re-enter full-time meeting work, and he and Lorraine moved back to Lufkin. In addition to meetings, working with the Guardian, and conducting the definitive debate on the institutional question (with Guy Woods in Birmingham in November, 1957), Roy also produced his book, Walking By Faith, which dealt specifically with the issues of institutionalism.
Tragic circumstances were to intervene, however. Lorraine had contracted pneumonia (complicated by an ensuing staph infection and resulting mitral valve problem with her heart) while with Roy in a meeting in Canada. Though brother Cogdill began local work in 1958 with the Mound and Starr church in Nacogdoches, sister Cogdill’s health continued to deteriorate, and she died on June 23, 1960, following months of illness.
For the next several years Roy plunged himself into an unbelievably heavy schedule of meetings, including a second debate with Guy Woods at Newbern, Tennessee in 1961. His intense loneliness was relieved when he married Venita Faulkner of Oklahoma City. Nita, a widow who was a member of the Tenth and Francis church, had known and heard Roy preach through the years back to his preaching over KRLD while she was living in Dallas in the 1930’s. Oklahoma City became “home base” from which brother Cogdill engaged in nationwide meeting work until he and Nita moved to the Los Angeles area for a very successful four years (1963-1967) with the Winnetka Avenue church in Canoga Park. Once again a local church thrived and grew dramatically under the preaching of Roy Cogdill. Though approaching age 60, Roy Cogdill was not thinking of retiring.
When the Cogdills moved to work with the Par Avenue church in Orlando, Florida (where they lived from 1967-1971), Roy embarked upon a series of efforts in preaching the gospel through various media. During the time he was with Par Avenue, the church grew sufficiently that James P. Needham moved there in 1969 to accompany some members to a new work in the northern suburbs of Orlando. The old Gospel Guardian Foundation which Roy had begun years before was revived and merged with Truth Magazine (a monthly journal which after the merger became a weekly periodical and which since has become the biweekly Guardian of Truth) to become the Codgill Foundation. Through the newly-merged foundation, a new graded series of Bible class literature was written and published. Brother Cogdill served as editor of this series, and the Truth Magazine Bookstore was moved to Orlando.
As if these activities were not enough to occupy his attention, brother Cogdill became involved both in participation and publication of the 1968 meeting in Arlington, Texas, of estranged brethren on both sides of the institutional controversy. In 1969 he began teaching Bible courses at Florida College in Temple Terrace. Responding to urgent requests, Roy spent the entire month of May, 1970 preaching in the Philippine Islands in company with Cecil Willis,, then editor of Truth Magazine and associate editor in the Bible class literature project. Besides these activities, brother Cogdill somehow found time to lead a tour to the Bible Lands.
Such a schedule of activities would be strenuous even for a young man, and by this time Roy Cogdill had passed what serves for many as “early retirement age.” When long-time friends prevailed upon him to move back to Houston to help build up the Spring Branch church, Roy acceded to their requests. Brother Cogdill had surgery at Mayo Clinic in 1965, and beginning in 1973 suffered a series of health problems which would plague him for the remainder of his days on the earth. Still, his devotion to Christ and His church would not permit inactivity. Local work in Henderson and Conroe, Texas through 1976, gospel meetings, and several preaching trips to Italy occupied his time and energy during this period. When the foundation begun by brother John W. Akin for the support of gospel preachers was threatened with legal entanglements, brother Cogdill, then nearly 70 years old, literally arose from his hospital bed and began intensive efforts to help salvage it. Having moved backto the Houston suburb of Katy, brother Cogdill continued to hold meetings at various places and even worked as late as 1982-83 for a period of several months with the Midfield church in Birmingham during a difficult period of its history.
Roy Cogdill demonstrated devotion to God and the kingdom of His dear Son by teaching and preaching in public and in his home until the last days of his sojourn on the earth. Being human, he had his share of faults-a fact he would be the first to acknowledge. There are aspects of his life and personality which some could (and which many have) criticized. Often his weaknesses were exaggerations of the very tenacity and devotion which were his great strengths. But those who came to know him and love him for this work’s sake and his unquestioned devotion to God loved him in spite of those faults. Those of us who had the good fortune to know him on a more personal basis came to love him for his tender human qualities which were not always evident to those who saw him from afar or whose only exposure to him was in the heat of controversy.
I am disturbed that so many of my own generation of Christians are unfamiliar with the name and the work of Roy E. Cogdill. More than that, I am alarmed at the number of Christians who seem to lack-indeed, are critical of the very characteristics that made him a giant among soldiers of the cross. I am determined that his story shall be told and recorded for future generations — not to worship the man, but to express gratitude for his labor which too many of us have taken for granted-and to help future generations avoid, if possible, the same errors against which men like Roy Cogdill arose to do battle. He represents a cluster of values-conviction, sacrificial devotion, and hatred of “every lofty thing exalted against the knowledge of God” which are all too rare today, and which we would do well to imitate.
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 14, pp. 419-421, 436
July 18, 1985