By Don Boys, PhD:
A great man died last night. But he was more than that. He was also a good man. Few great men are good men and only a few good men are known to be great. Harold was an exception. He was great and great men don’t walk among us very often.
I knew this man for 68 years and in those years, I never heard him curse or even be crude. I never saw him lose his temper. I never heard him belittle anyone. He was always gracious, generous, gentle, and a gentleman—thoughtful, honorable, and kind. Even as a young man!
He was what every Christian should be but he was more. He was a scholar, author, teacher, preacher, professor, and friend. Heaven is richer and the world is poorer because of his death. My life for sure is a little less today than it was yesterday.
For more than a year, he fought a long, painful battle with cancer; and while he had no desire to leave his work, his family, and his friends, he told me he was “just stepping out of one life into another.”
My departed friend is Dr. Harold Willmington, former dean and Vice President of Liberty University and author of twenty books that line the shelves of pastors and teachers around the world. His massive Willmington’s Guide to the Bible is a library between two covers that has sold more than 350,000 copies.
He also served as a visiting professor at the American Institute of Holy Land Studies in Jerusalem, Israel. He developed what is now the Willington School of the Bible that has had more than 100,000 students from 50 states and 40 different nations. Over ten million of his teaching cassettes are now in circulation worldwide.
Harold was a good, great, and godly man who made an impact on the world. I know he influenced my life. He was not grasping but giving; and not haughty but humble.
I met Harold in 1953 at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. We were teens full of ambition with far more zeal than knowledge. We had many great, even humorous, experiences that we have laughed at many times through the years. There were nine of us who always ate every meal together next to the table where ten major leaders at the school also ate. I’m sure they wondered if any of our crew would ever amount to anything for man or God.
We caused heartburn to two or three of the deans with our youthful, yet rather innocent monkeyshines. Most of us were expelled at one time or on suspension or threatened with expulsion. Spending so much time in the immediate presence of the deans and administrators kept us in the spotlight.
None of those deans and faculty members would dream that one of us would 65 years later be brought back to Moody and honored as Alumnus of the Year and be invited to speak to thousands of students, faculty, alumni, and honored guests. Harold told me that he received the award thinking of the nine of us.
Harold went on to receive advanced degrees from Trinity Evangelical Theological Seminary and Dallas Theological Seminary. The other eight of us pursued our education at other institutions, got married, had children, and took positions in churches and Christian schools and with world mission boards.
One day he called my home in Indianapolis and said, “Hey, Don you rascal how are you? I assume you are married to the same woman.” I said, “Harold, no, Mary died almost two years ago with cancer.” Of course, he was horrified, but I quickly helped him recover from a very normal blooper.
Later, my new wife Ellen and I were doing a Christian Couples’ Conference in Carlsbad, New Mexico, staying at the Holiday Inn. At breakfast one morning, I looked up and saw Harold and Sue eating breakfast! They were doing a family conference at another independent Baptist Church in the city! What a delight to renew fellowship and friendship again.
After that, we were not separated very long before we spoke, emailed, or met for a couple of days.
At Moody, all nine of us—all single and somewhat daffy—had a driving desire to make a difference. After Harold and I met again in New Mexico, the nine of us would meet for two or three days every few years at my home in north Georgia or at Liberty University. We would sit all day in a motel room or in a Liberty classroom and sing, talk, laugh, pray, and rejoice together. We were scattered all over the nation and even the world as Jim was a missionary in England, then Spain; and Phil was a missionary in the wilderness of Alaska. We rejoiced with each other’s success and commiserated with our failures and wept with the loss of a wife or child.
But the nine musketeers, called “the Moody Mafia” irreverently by me, started to die off one by one. First, it was Bob then Clyde then Dwight then Richard then Dick. Now that Harold is gone, that leaves Jim, Phil, and me.
For 17 years, Harold’s wife Sue appeared on the nationally televised Old Time Gospel Hour as an interpreter for deaf viewers in America and Canada causing Harold to tell new acquaintances, “I’m the deaf interpreter’s husband.” Their son Matt is associate pastor of ministry development and family ministries to Pastor Jerry Falwell.
In July of this year my wife and I were on a long tour preaching, lecturing, and signing books; since we were close to Lynchburg, we spent the afternoon with Harold. He was weak but was alert. I did not expect to see my friend alive again; I didn’t. But we chatted about life, Christian service, and the end of life and the beginning of eternity. I mentioned what a delight, even joy to live a lengthy life without remorse over the past even recognizing our failures during our lives; to thrill in knowing the race is almost won with maybe a few crowns to be received; to see our children and grandchildren following in our footsteps without bringing shame to the family name or His name; and to revel in deep friendships that literally are as close as blood family.
However, Harold and I will meet again—all nine of us—and we will tell stories of our college days, sing, laugh again, and act like 19-year-olds again—in a far better place.
I usually write about very important social, financial, international, or moral issues rather than a column such as this; but every person on earth will one day come to the end of his or her earthly journey and be the star attraction at his or her funeral, so this column goes to the very core of life and I could not deal with any more timely, important, and practical issue.
Harold Willmington had an influence on this world. He left it a far better place for his being here. Isn’t that what all of us are expected to do? What a tragedy to live and die without making any positive impact on others.
For a few years, I have tried to say or do something each day to or for someone who can do nothing, absolutely nothing to benefit me. Although Harold and I never spoke specifically about my practice, he followed it normally while I have to work at it. And often failed.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow reminded us “Lives of great men all remind us, we can make our lives sublime, and, departing, leave behind us, footprints on the sands of time.”
Mankind will note Harold Willmington’s footprints until eternity; hopefully, they will follow in the same direction he walked.
Boys’ book Muslim Invasion: The Fuse is Burning! is available here. An eBook edition is also available.
Boys’ new book The World’s Best Jokes! was published recently as an eBook. To get your copy, click here.
© Copyright by Don Boys, PhD, 2018. All rights reserved.
Email Don: email@example.com