The life of an unheralded saint - Clay Wilson

Baptists aren't in the habit of designating saints. That's a Catholic tradition.

Nevertheless, though I'm descended from Baptist roots, yesterday I attended the funeral of a man who was as close to the popular definition of a saint as anyone I have ever known.

He didn't convert thousands to Christianity. He didn't devote his life to the poor. He didn't, as far as I know, perform any miracles.

True, he did try to teach me carpentry, which would indeed have been a miracle, had it succeeded. But the fact that his efforts failed should be no reflection on him, because I think only Jesus himself could turn me into a carpenter.

The man to whom I am referring lived what many people would consider a simple life. For years, every day he would get up before 6 a.m. and trek to the cotton mill just down the street from his house.

He worked his way through the ranks to an overseer's position, but true to his humble nature he felt bad about having to call others on their mistakes.

When he retired, the company presented him with a plaque and a clock for his hard work. As far as I know, he never complained that 50 years of dedicated service ought to merit more than a plaque and a clock.

When he wasn't at the mill, he could often be found at the little Baptist church where he served for more than half a century as a deacon and song leader.

It can be argued that he grew up in a simpler time n a time before the post-modern worldview that makes absolute faith unacceptable became so prevalent in America.

Still, it's likely that even back then he occasionally experienced some form of persecution; especially when, as a young man, he gave up playing in a band and the surely tame carousing in which he participated for the narrow path of the Bible as he understood it.

But again, to the best of my knowledge, he never wavered. He continued to be a faithful member of the church until a few months ago, when he became absolutely too frail to attend anymore. Until his death, his simple clapboard house contained uncompromising religious literature that would seem foreign to many modern minds.

But at the same time, there was no judgmental air about him n only one of absolute humility, serenity and tolerance. After Sept. 11, he said he could not understand how someone could have so much hate in his heart as to want to kill all those innocent people.

His was a fundamentalism of love, not of hatred. He did not revile those whose views differed from his, and those struggling with their own faith would find a listening ear rather than a condemning tongue.

Perhaps nowhere was his heart of love more evident than with his wife of 60 years, Mary. Although they were both raised in a time and in families in which extravagant displays of affection were frowned upon, there was never any doubt among family members of the love between the two.

The clearest evidence of this was that after Mary died in 2000, he began to slowly fade. One may surmise that the same faith that sustained him in life began to call him heavenward to join both his beloved and his God.

On Saturday, Dec. 20, 2003, Clyde Wilson, my paternal grandfather, answered that call.

And while his name may never be added to an "official" list of saints, it will remain in the hearts of those who were blessed by his presence as a saintly influence in our lives.

Clay Wilson is the education reporter for the Daily Herald. His column appears on Wednesdays. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or by e-mail at cwilson@henryherald.com.