A Tribute to Kelly Wilson – My Father-in-Law

Having multiple Fathers is very common these days.  There are those who have weekend Fathers, and others have Weekday Fathers.  I have had the pleasure of having two full-time Fathers.

My birth Father was in my life for 55 years before he passed.  I met my Second Father 42 years ago, when he relocated to Clinton, and his oldest daughter became a freshman at Mississippi College.  Cathy found out that I taught guitar lessons to help pay for my college tuition, and she mentioned that her younger sister was wanting to learn to play guitar, so I packed up my gear and headed to their house and taught Beth.  That was my introduction to what would soon become my second family.  Three years later, Kelly Wilson signed a document giving me permission to marry his not quite of age daughter.

I learned that Sunday lunch was an event at the Wilson home.  I was bi-vocationally pastoring a small congregation in Eastern Louisiana, and then driving back to Clinton to join them for Sunday lunch (or as we called it – dinner).  I made a vow to him that she would finish college if he were to allow me to marry her, a vow that I later found out was at his core principles.  He believed in education.  In fact, he is fulfilling his core principle to this day in that his body is at the University of Mississippi Medical Center to be used to teach future medical personnel.

People believe that the back-woods hillbillies of Tennessee were and are just a bunch of hay seeds.  Yet, Kelly Wilson not only finished his schooling in that one-room schoolhouse, he graduated from college after he finished his tour with the United States Army.

After Cathy graduated from MC, and passed her boards, we moved her to Louisville, KY to attend Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Tuition was nothing then.  I had only a $200 Matriculation fee, and then the books, so that was no problem.  It was a lot cheaper than MC.  But our living conditions were a totally different situation.  We moved all our possessions in the back of a pickup truck to an apartment in Seminary Village, or as we called it, the “Gospel Ghetto” or the “Roach Motel”.  The apartment had no stove nor refrigerator.  And Dad Wilson said, pick out a GE stove and refrigerator, and I can get it for you from the store at cost.  We did and he purchased them through the store, and shipped them to us.  We mailed the check to him to pay for them, but they were never cashed.  Each month I would balance the checkbook, and that was an outstanding check.  We would call, collect, and he said, “I know. I know.  Yeah, Yeah.”  Finally, we got an opportunity to go back during a school break, and while we there, he produced the check to Cathy, and tore it up in her face.  That was his way helping me with my school bills.

Another thing he gave me is an appreciation of horticulture.  I hated gardening (not sure why I put that in the past tense). When I married Cathy, I soon found out that she loved gardening.  She got that from her Dad.  Our house has always been filled with houseplants.  When we moved to Nevada, we packed all the houseplants into the VW Rabbit (that’s another thing.  He loved VW’s, and he converted this Ford guy – I mean I had a ’65 mustang – come on! – to a VW lover) and pulled it with the moving truck.  We found out there are check points at certain states that disallow plants from other states to go through.  There was discussion of us losing our house plants, and Cathy stated emphatically, “That’s not going to happen”, and we were able to take our house plants across state lines because of her insistence that we were not going to leave them behind.  She loves her plants, and she got that from her Dad.  He always would give us cuttings or plants that he had separated from his other plants.  In fact, in my backyard are several azaleas that he grew and transplanted and gave to us.  I have killed a couple of them, but Cathy has revived the rest.  In fact, she like her dad, can take a plant that looks like it is dead, and bring it back to life, and make it better.  His love for gardening has translated down through the generations.  Our daughter borrowed loppers to prune up a tree in her yard.  And she prided herself in keeping a geranium alive and prospering.  And now she has started a garden on her own, without the assistance of her mother.  This came from Kelly Wilson.

Another hobby of his was money itself.  He loved to collect it, study it, and learn about it, and he has passed that knowledge on to his family.  He helped my children start a penny collection with a little booklet that had a space to put pennies from the different years in the little slots. They visited us one time in Reno, and we took him to the old mint in Carson City, Nevada, and it was one of his favorite experiences.  I have never seen anything as beautiful as uncirculated proofs that he purchased from the United States Mint.  Those coins are as beautiful as any jewelry that anyone can find at the finest jewelry store.  It was one of the shining examples of the design, production, and excellence of this nation that he loved so dearly.

He loved the United States of America.  He served in the United States Army, and while he would not speak much of his experiences in the military other than the countries he visited – Egypt, Iran, Italy, Germany and his highly hazardous duty of removing land mines.  I have seen a few pictures, but he never would share those stories with me.  Not that he was ashamed, but rather, because, I would never understand.  How can you describe the experiences and understand something like that if you have not and were not there?  I respect that.  I respect him.

Usually, when you speak of a patriot, you hear the phrase “For the love of God and Country”, and he loved his Lord as well.  It gave him a sense of pride that I was in the ministry.  He saw it as a badge of honor that his newly adopted son in the family was making a difference for Christ.  While he did not like it that we moved to Nevada with the Home Mission Board (and he certainly did not like it that we took the grandchildren with us – now that I am a grandpa, I understand), he never spoke ill of us being there, but it was certainly uncomfortable when he would pray at Thanksgiving, “Lord, bring thy servant home.”

He was a great help to me in the ministry.  Seminary taught me how to be a theologian to the local community, but he taught me how to lead a church.  He taught me how to “market” a church, long before churches advertised on radio and tv, or had websites.  He would teach me what he looked for in a church when they had to change churches based upon his latest relocation for work.  He always looked for a church that had an excellent children’s ministry so that his children would have the spiritual support that we all need.  It was a lesson that served me well, because we would have parents who would not go to church themselves, drop their children off at our church in Nevada so that they could learn about Jesus.  Some of our members would fuss about having to take care of children whom the parents did not participate nor contribute.  But I would always try to nip that in the bud.  I said that by reaching children with our excellent children’s ministry, it would be a chance to reach the parents, because reaching the children can reach the rest of the family.  And as we baptized children in their newly found faith, we would soon afterward baptize their parents.  In fact, it got to the point where we were baptizing more adults than children.  The majority of the churches in America do not baptize a single new Christian in a year, but we were baptizing 5, 6, 7, 10, 12 or more adults per year as new followers of Jesus Christ.  You could say that Kelly Wilson was in the ministry, even though he never had an official title in the church.  His influence was in our ministry.

He had his own ministry, that stretched to the community as well.  Every morning he would walk the neighborhood, and move people’s newspapers that had been thrown by the paper carrier, from the driveway to the front door / porch.  Every morning.  He also would see what people had thrown out, and would take those things and recycle and repurpose the item, giving new life to items that had outlived their usefulness to their original owners.  The most notable were bicycles.  He would take parts of different bikes, and make a single bike out of them.  He then would take the repaired bikes out of his garage.  The neighborhood children would borrow the bikes, and ride them, and then return them at the end of the day.  He loved to talk with the children, teaching them to return the bikes at the end of the day and other life lessons.

Proverbs 13:22 in the Message says, “A good life gets passed on to the grandchildren.” With his legacy of love of education, love for his children, and his grandchildren, his nation, and his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Kelly Wilson has left an legacy to all of us.  This room is testimony to his legacy.  He was a good man, a Godly man, a loving man, and, I am proud to say, my Second Dad.


2 thoughts on “A Tribute to Kelly Wilson – My Father-in-Law

  1. Beautifully worded… I know your 2nd dad was a great man. He’ll not be forgotten. Ann and I pray for you all to journey through your loss with peace and the comfort of God and His eternal provision for us. Hugs and prayers!
    Forever friends!
    -Mike & Ann

  2. So beautifully said. That’s how my mom & dad thought of J. B. He was the son they didn’t have. How wonderful it is to have such a relationship with your in-laws. Give Cathy our sympathy.

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