Whenever I, or anyone else, think of Daddy, it is his faith that defined him over and above all else. The man and his faith were inseparable. To know his faith, was to know him. To know him, was to come face-to-face with a bullet-proof faith.
He was a spirit-driven Baptist preacher, called by the Lord to deliver sermons and salvation to the foothills of the Appalachian mountains, a place where the poor in material possessions were often rich in both pride and prayer. He was one of those foot soldiers of American history, who fought for his country in a world war then returned home to serve both God and his fellow man.
There will never be a monument erected to his honor and, most likely, in another generation or two, his name will be vaguely recalled, if even known at all. There will come a time when his great-great-grandchildren will set out to do a family tree and have to search for his name and birth records. And then it will be no more to them than that -- just a name, date of birth and death, to inscribe in the records that names a seed from which they sprung.
Those generations will never know what those of us who knew him will never forget. They will never know his strength and courage when those around him fell weak and scared. They will never know his manly toughness when he plunged into a yellow jackets' nest while bush-hogging and didn't flinch, or how he'd go eye-to-eye with the meanest bull in the pasture and come out the winner. They will never know the times his powerful prayers lifted up those too sorrowed to pray for themselves, or the times he pulled the last dollars from his pocket to give to someone in greater need.
They will never know the integrity of a man so formidable that the men with whom he dealt, always called him, "Honest Ralph." That's all you had to say to someone, "I just bought a piece of property from Honest Ralph," and all knew of whom you spoke.
They will never know how he sometimes struggled to feed his family with a gas station and then with a car repair and body shop business. His congregations were poor, especially in those early days, and therefore, the love offerings were meager. "God didn't call me to preach for money," he said. "I work to make a livin' for my family, and I preach to serve the Lord."
Along the way, will also be lost, the stories of the remarkable man he was during crippling adversity. How once a dishonest employee had run up a staggering bill, using Daddy's charge account and then left town. It wasn't his bill but it was his name and credit so he spent the next five years, repaying the debt. He didn't bat an eye. Honest Ralph knew what he had to do. There was no choice.
Though all of this may be lost to the generations still to come, here's one thing I hope is never forgotten: That when he humbled himself to drop to his knees and pray, Daddy knew when he had heard from the voice of God. He never waivered, nor questioned it.
There was a young woman we all loved who was stricken with breast cancer some forty years ago, and despite a double mastectomy, the doctors shook their heads and offered no hope. A matter of time, they told the family. Daddy arrived in the tear-splattered hospital room after a morning of quiet prayer, strode with confidence to her bed and said firmly, "It's gonna be all right, kid. God has assured me you will live to be old."
She's now over seventy, looks forty and is still going strong.
May that legacy of faith never be lost to the passage of time.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of "What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should)." Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her weekly newsletter.