Like so many of his generation, my dad was scarred from his service in World War 2. As I wrote in my book, Footprints in the Sea, “To his three little boys Dad was often a warrior with no war. We loved him, he was the finest man we ever knew, and we were terrified of him. Like many World War II vets, Dad brought the war home.”
Although I later found friendship with Dad, in those early years, soon after the war, I kept a healthy distance from him. That’s the main reason I left home when I was fifteen. The 218 miles from Pratt, Kansas to 4700 NW 10th in Oklahoma City seemed about right.
I enrolled in our denomination’s Southwestern Bible School (which combined a high school, junior college, and school of theology) in Oklahoma City. And that is where I met W. R. Corvin, the President of the school.
Dr. Corvin was exactly the same age as Dad. But, because of a deformed foot, he missed World War 2. And through that little twist of my history, he became to me what Jack Chinn could not be. In short, he paid attention to me. He took me and my writing seriously. At a perplexing and lonely time in my life, God delivered essential encouragement to me through W. R. Corvin. I often showed him essays and stories I had written. He received every one of them as a gift. And I think he gave me feedback on every one.
His attention elevated me. Because of that, he has remained one of the largest people on the landscape of my life.
One day in his speech class, he suddenly said in front of everyone, “Ed, someday you will write for the glory of God.” I later asked him why he said that. He seemed puzzled: “I don’t know. I just knew I had to say it.” I still don’t know why he said it or if I will ever do it. But I do know what that voice engraved in me.
Because of his great responsibilities, he took several years to complete his dissertation for his Ph.D at OU. Someone once said to him, “W.R., why do you want to do this? You’ll be forty years old before your get your doctorate.” I can still hear that gentle Ada, Oklahoma farm boy twang, “Well, you know, I’m gonna be forty anyway. I’d rather be forty with a Ph.D.”
That wisdom, applicable to everything worth doing, has served me for almost fifty years.
The last time I heard that distinctive nasal vibrato was five and a half years ago at a Southwestern alumni function. The eyes were bright, the smile beaming, and the handshake firm; he could still work a room as he had for decades in his various fundraising roles. But Alzheimer’s had wiped the names and memories away. He introduced himself to me three times.
Dr. Corvin died a few days ago. And his death recalls a line from a letter that Tommy (the Cork) Corcoran wrote to Lyndon Johnson in 1961, on the occasion of Sam Rayburn’s death:
“You and I have had both the advantages and now the disadvantages of early being proteges of big men before us. Once our world was full of older men who were magnificent individuals in the grand manner: many big oaks sheltered us. In this November, they fall fast: we are now ourselves our own front line.”
God, I miss those men.