For me, and for all of my family, today is about being thankful. When people are confronted with death, so often there are mixtures of emotions—bitterness, grief, disappointment, longing for something more—and all of those emotions are normal. But as I’ve reflected on Papa’s life, the experiences I shared with him, and the support our family has received since his passing, my heart is filled with deep gratitude and thankfulness.
We are grateful that so many of you could be with us today to share memories of my grandfather, whom I’ve always called Papa. This means a great deal to us.
We also give thanks for Grammy. My grandmother Mary is an extraordinary and godly woman. Papa and Grammy had a wonderful marriage, and we are blessed to have seen it in action. Thank you Grammy, for being resilient, courageous, fun, and so loving. We know that Papa’s public persona would be less than half of what it is without God’s gracious gift of your life. We love you.
Most importantly today, we are so thankful for Papa. As you know, Papa’s public life was all about words—he studied them in his graduate program, taught them as a college professor, and uttered lots of them in his more than two decades as a college president. He would be scribbling words wherever he was. If you were a preacher and Papa was ever in your congregation, looking intently at you while jotting notes, the family secret is that he probably was only half listening. He would take an idea or a verse from you as inspiration and then run with it, sketching an outline for his next chapel address or devotional.
When my dad and aunt were very young, sitting with Papa in the pew of Redeemer Covenant Church in Downy, California, Papa wasn’t even taking notes; he was sketching, usually a horse, to keep his children amused so that they would sit still during the sermon. And when he wasn’t sitting in the pew during those early family years, he was filling in at the pulpit. My dad and aunt, without horse sketches to keep them awake, would lean into Grammy’s lap and sleep, while Papa’s words of faith would gently seep into their heads.
Papa’s uncommon eloquence, with a resonance and melody that gave sweet sleep for the youngest, would stir others to greater devotion and to a love of Scripture. He was a great preacher, and it saddens me that Papa’s early battle with cancer and what would eventually be diagnosed as dementia, took preaching away from him at a relatively young age. My sister, Elizabeth, recently posted on her blog that Papa had shared with her, in his own way, how frustrating this was. “I have so many things I want to say to everyone, but I just can’t,” he said. We are thankful that he is able to say them again now, in heaven, and that we will talk with him there someday.
Papa’s immersion in words is only part of the story. He was raised on Chase Brothers’ dairy farm, still in operation in Camarillo, California, and God used this unlikely beginning to form a servant who knew that words must be backed with action, and that rolling up your sleeves is the best way to get things done.
We loved hearing Papa’s early life stories—about Christmas during the Depression when his only gift was an orange, or when he was pulled over by a policeman on a California state highway while his own dad slept on the passenger side of the truck. Papa wasn’t speeding; the police officer just figured that a boy who looked 10, and was 10, probably didn’t have a license. On a dairy farm, where the equipment inevitably breaks, everyone pitches in, and the work is never done, it simply makes no sense to be arrogant or self-important when milking a cow, fixing a fence, bailing hay, or repairing tractors.
By God’s masterpiece of grace, Papa became a man who believed, at the very core of his being, that others truly were more important than him. And this translated into his leadership style, of course, which reflected Christ. He would take a tough administrative stand, not because he wanted to assert himself, but because he would see what that stand would mean in the lives of others—those who would benefit as a result.
As a family, we remember that his love language was fixing stuff—doing something for us so that we could do something greater. We are thankful that he loved us through fixing broken appliances, changing the oil in our cars, improving the grip on our golf swing, playing a silly song on the piano, building toys out of wood. Thank you to Papa for teaching me how to drive a car, how to drive a boat, how to ski (sort of), how to shoot a basketball, and (with the help of Grammy) how to make spaghetti for a large group. Thank you for demonstrating humility and faith, for being a servant leader, and for helping me become the woman I am today.
I am so thankful that I had the privilege of a Papa who loved others so dearly. Even though these past two weeks have been difficult, they have also been filled with joy and thankfulness to God for the privilege of spending our lives with someone who truly “looked not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”