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With much appreciation

With much appreciation

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

With much appreciation

Aug. 13, 2006    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011     Orlando {0529}

NOTE: A headshot of Whitaker is available at

An e-Review Commentary
By Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker**

I am deeply grateful to the church members and leaders of the Florida Conference who sent cards to me and my family following the death of my father, Ernest O. “Buddy” Whitaker.

My father died suddenly at home after several months of weakening as a result of a stroke about five years ago. It was a good way for him to die after 85 years of life. Even during his years following his stroke he was content and cheerful and able to get around outside with a wheelchair.

My father was reared outside the church, but he became an adult convert when I was a child. I had the privilege of witnessing a parent undergo a profound conversion to Christ that transformed his whole life. I am sure his witness is one of the reasons I possess a confidence in the power of the Gospel to change lives.

One of the gifts my father gave to me was his sense of stewardship of the natural world. On his property stands some of the finest timber in America. It is desired by English companies for furniture. Once I asked him why he had not sold any of the timber. He replied in all seriousness, “Where would the squirrels have a place to live?” Later he agreed to selective cutting since some of the trees were fully mature and beginning to die. Even so, he abhorred clear cutting and approved only very selective cutting. Today it is hard to see where the cutting occurred.  Throughout his life he was committed to the preservation of trees and habitat for wild creatures.

He was also one of the best lay evangelists I have known. A gentle person with a superb sense of humor, it is impossible to imagine him condemning or embarrassing anyone. Yet he knew that the Lord’s presence was the pearl of great price in his own life, and he would visit his lifelong, unchurched friends at home or in the hospital and encourage them “to put their trust in the Lord.” I know he sought out persons who had no contact with any church.

As a person growing up in segregated Mississippi, he always had close friends who were African-Americans. He never supported the segregationist politicians in his state. Nevertheless, the Gospel caused him to recognize the need for repentance in our personal lives and in our social structures because of the institutionalized racism in Mississippi. I remember how he took on personal responsibility to protect the first African-American who came to work on his crew at the Mississippi Power and Light Company. Tragically this man died in my father’s arms after he administered mouth-to-mouth resuscitation following a 40-foot fall after electrocution. He was profoundly disturbed that he was the only member of the crew to attend the funeral.

My father was a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (I.B.E.W.) and a fierce defender of the human right of collective bargaining. He had a firm conviction of the inherent dignity and full humanity of laborers, and Labor Day was a meaningful holiday at our house. On the route to the cemetery, the Vicksburg Fire Department placed several fire trucks along the way. He would have been proud to see those strong young firemen of several races standing in attention in his honor.

I consider my father to have been greatly blessed by the living God. A tither, he believed that those who give will be blessed, and so he was.

He and my mother, Dorothy, had a strong marriage. Often he would say, “Didn’t I marry a good woman?” They loved children and “adopted” several into their family.

The pastor of his small rural United Methodist church did a wonderful job of leading us in a Service of Death and Resurrection from our Book of Worship. There was a spirit of gratitude for God’s grace in his life, some humor (necessary for a man with such a developed sense of humor) and trust in the goodness of God revealed in Jesus Christ whose love is stronger than death.


This article relates to Christian Discipleship.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Whitaker is bishop of the Florida Conference.