Last week a giant of a man died. Quietly. Which was his way. His name is John Newby.
I’m not going to write much obit-style. What I am going to write about is his funeral. Why? it was the best funeral I’ve ever been to. Again, why? Because I saw what I want my funeral to look like. Less about the man. More about his legacy.
I knew John from our days working at SAFMC together a decade ago. What I noted was his meekness. He also seemed to really love and be in love with his wife, Becky. The other thing I noticed over the years was the love his kids and grandkids had for him.
When one of his grandkids went through a really hard season of battling cancer, I saw John and Becky’s faithfulness to the Lord and the strength of his family. I see it transcend from his life into generations below him.
As I read his obituary, I took note of a few things most people didn’t know about him and a few I didn’t as well. First, he had his Ph.D. Second, he was a president of a college. Third, he had a building named after him a few years ago. Are those important? Yes. As important as family? No. But the interesting piece of this is that really not too many people knew about those things. They knew he loved God and his family.
As the funeral service went on, for nearly two hours, I was moved. Not by sadness. But by the testimonies of people who knew him best. Things like he always dressed well. He never raised his voice. He loved to build things with his hands. He was a hard worker. He honored his wife. He was fair. Those moments are times for me to look and wonder what people will say about me.
Legacy is a word that sometimes gets thrown around a lot. On John’s deathbed, his son-in-law leaned in and asked him if there was anything he could do for John. John pulled him in closer and said to him, “Carry on the tradition”. What did he mean? Follow my example. Kind of like Paul said. Follow my example as I follow Christ. People knew Jesus because they knew John Newby.
Later in the afternoon, we were debriefing as a family. Grace was moved as well. She noticed how big their family was and how small ours is. She was reflecting on how much they all were committed to Jesus. How great Mr. Newby was. It gave us opportunity to breathe vision into her life to say she is our legacy. We are trying to live our lives today that would reflect many of the qualities of John Newby so that Grace’s grandkids will know and follow Jesus and can look back to us as the place where it started. Legacy is key. We can’t move toward anything unless we have a destination. Funerals like John Newby’s help remind me where I need to move. I’ll miss you, brother Newby. But hopefully some of you and your family’s fingerprints will be in ours.