My dear brother in Christ William E. Hardy, Jr., went to Heaven this week.
Bill Hardy was the very definition of faithfulness, of integrity and character. He was solid gold.
Our friendship dates back to May of 1974 when Bill and Barbara Hardy moved from Kosciusko, Mississippi, up the highway an hour or so to Columbus, Mississippi. Bill was joining the staff of our First Baptist Church, coming from a similar position in Kosciusko.
It was to be the start of a lifelong friendship.
Bill remained with us in Columbus for nearly a decade before moving on to Casper, Wyoming, where he served as director of Christian education for the Southern Baptists of that state. On retiring, perhaps 10 years later, they returned to the Magnolia State.
Bill died this week. His funeral is Saturday, September 13, 2014, at the First Baptist Church of Clinton, Mississippi. 11 a.m.
I will not have time in the service to say everything I’d like to about Bill, so this blog is a good place to deposit a few remembrances.
My greatest tribute to Bill Hardy is one he probably did not appreciate very much.
Before I met him, I knew about Bill Hardy. His son Barry, student at Mississippi College, was a member of the college Sunday School class I taught at FBC Jackson. And one day, the pastor asked me about Bill.
Pastor Larry was trying to fill a vacancy on the church staff for a minister of education. I replied that I knew Barry but not his father. That’s when the pastor said something that has stayed with me these 40-plus years.
He said, “I think Bill Hardy is a good man. But he’s a plodder. And I’m looking for a racehorse.”
I think you can see why Bill might not appreciate this. Who among us wants to be called a plodder?
But wait. There’s more to this story.
The pastor got his ministerial racehorse for the church, a man who stayed three or four years and burned up the track and exhausted a lot of his colleagues. The pastor himself, a racehorse in ministerial terms by anyone’s definition, left the ministry before reaching the age of 40 and died at the age of 66.
Bill Hardy, “the plodder,” kept at it. Ten years in Columbus, a decade in Wyoming, and then a similar period with the state Baptist Convention in Mississippi overseeing missions partnership with several foreign countries while also assisting a small church in the nearby town of Terry.
There is a lot to be said for plodding.
William Carey once said, “I can plod. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.”
What did that plodder accomplish? In a lifetime spanning from 1761 to 1834, William Carey earned a name as “the father of modern missions.” In a long career as a missionary in India, he led a lot of people to Christ, preached the gospel up and down the land, started many churches, translated the New Testament into a number of languages, and founded several educational institutions.
I’ll take a plodder over a racehorse any day of the week. A racehorse logs 2 miles and he’s done. The plodder stays at the task day in and day out, year in, year out.
Bill and Barbara Hardy were a team. She was no shrinking violet, I say with a smile. Barbara was Bill’s equal in every respect, a strong and faithful Christian woman who had opinions and convictions and loved her man. She served along with him and enhanced his ministry a hundredfold.
They’re reunited now. Barbara went to Heaven a year or so ago. Because Bill had Parkinson’s, he was living in the Veteran’s Retirement Home near Jackson, Mississippi. (He served his country right during the Second World War. Wish I knew details, but I don’t.)
I saw him in a Jackson hospital on Sunday afternoon July 27. That night I reported to my wife Margaret that Bill was so weak and frail that, “The next time we see one another will be in Heaven.”
All right now. It’s time for some Bill Hardy stories. Bill was such a lovely person with a dry wit and a pure heart. If he ever said a bad word in his lifetime, I’d be surprised. He loved to laugh, enjoyed a great story, and told stories about his grandchildren when they began arriving. However–(smiling now)–he provided us with some good tales, mostly by accident.
One. The furnace was on the blink and the church building was cold that morning as Bill rose to welcome everyone to morning service. He explained about the furnace and assured us the repairmen would be working on it in the afternoon. “So come back to the evening service. We expect to be in heat tonight.”
I was the young irrepressible pastor who loved humor–my own or anyone else’s–and, sitting behind him on the platform, the congregation could see that I was about to explode over Bill’s little faux pas. Finally, the whole place erupted. He laughed as much as anyone.
Two. Minister of music Wilson Henderson had driven to Eutaw, Alabama that Sunday afternoon and rushed back for the evening services. He had not had time to change clothes and was still wearing the red plaid trousers he’d worn all afternoon. (That was the 1970s. These days, no one would give that a thought.) Bill was at the pulpit, welcoming everyone and making an announcement or two, and decided to tease Wilson about his attire. “Love those pants,” he said, as everyone chuckled. Then he said, “But, pants or no pants, we like you.”
Somehow, knowing how Bill would never ever cross the line into questionable areas, that registered with us all as funny. It became part of the Bill Hardy lore.
Three. My favorite Bill Hardy story concerns the time he preached a funeral for elderly Mr. Estes. His wife Verbie was a local character of the first dimension, and at the graveside she asked Bill and Barbara to stop by her house. “There’s something I want to give you.” Often people will give the minister a little something for doing a funeral, but they were not prepared for this.
Mrs. Estes went into the back of the house and brought out a large grocery bag containing a gallon jar of pickles which she had “put up.” That was her gift of appreciation and Bill graciously thanked her.
Later, he was telling the staff about this. When they got home and took the jar out of the bag, they found only about 3 inches of brine. The pickles were rotten and inedible. Bill replaced the jar in the bag and set it in the garbage can outside.
I said, “Now, Bill, we know you. You are the most gracious person on the planet. I’m sure you thanked Mrs. Estes for those pickles.” He said, “I did.”
I said, “But what we want to know is what exactly did you tell her?” He said, “I told her the truth. Pickles like that don’t last long around my house.”
Four. I once played a trick on Bill. I should be ashamed, I suppose, but it was so much fun at the time I just can’t bring myself to do so.
It was November of 1974 during the annual convention of Mississippi Baptists which is always held in the huge sanctuary of the First Baptist Church of Jackson. Always active in the work of our denomination, Bill was emceeing a panel discussion involving some of our state workers.
Setting the scene, Bill informed the crowd that we were to imagine they were in the break room at the Baptist Building across the street, having a cup of coffee and an informal chat. The coffee urn sat to one side with a stack of styrofoam cups.
I guess it was the devil in me, but as they went into their program, up in the balcony off to the right, I turned to friends Tom Warrington and Gene Henderson and said, “Hey guys. Let’s go down there and get a cup of coffee.”
They whispered, “Are you serious? You mean down there? On the stage?”
The three of us stood up and in full view of the entire assembly walked down the stairs and up onto the platform. Acting as though we were in the Baptist Building’s break room, we greeted the men around the table, then helped ourselves to coffee. We wished them well, and walked off the platform and exited out the side door.
Bill was only six months into working on my staff at the Columbus church, and I can imagine he must have wondered what he’d gotten himself into. But he took it well, and laughed along with the rest of us.
Mostly, I imagine he prayed that his juvenile pastor would grow up. (He wouldn’t be the first!)
Five. When his first grandson Connor came along, Bill was so taken with him. We loved his stories about this great kid, but mostly we enjoyed Bill’s joy. Little Connor had a bean bag in his room. If he came into the room and found you occupying it, he would walk up to you and say, “I love you. Move!”
I suggested that if Bill should ever need to ask the congregation to move closer to the front sometime, he should tell that story, and then say, “Congregation, I love you. Move!” I recall him doing it once. They loved it.
Six. When I posted Bill’s obituary on my Facebook page, Carla, who used to belong to our church and worked in the office, left her favorite story. Bill was leading a service one night while a storm raged outside. Suddenly, the electricity went off and the sanctuary was in darkness. As Bill prayed in the service, he ended by asking that the light of the Lord may shine upon us all. As he said, “Amen,” the lights came back on at that moment.
Bill grew ten feet in Carla’s mind at that moment.
Seven. Bill enjoyed telling of the time he moved from Woodland Hills Baptist Church of Jackson to join the staff of the Kosciusko church. At the going-away reception, a senior lady said, “Brother Bill, I’ve had you at the top of my prayer list ever since you came to our church.”
Bill thanked her and said, “I hope you’ll keep me there.” She said, “Huh! Let the new church pray for you; I’ll be too busy praying for the fellow who takes your place!”
Oldest son Barry Hardy serves the First Baptist Church of Madison, Missisissippi as administrator. Daughter Beverly is the longtime administrative assistant in the music office of First Baptist Church, Clinton, Mississippi. Youngest son Bruce, both musician and administrator, works with Pastor Jim Merritt at Crosspointe Church in metro Atlanta.
These three adult children are enough to make any parent proud. As I recall, Bill’s father was a preacher also. So, the legacy continues.
I thank God for Bill and Barbara Hardy and for the privilege to work alongside them for some years. It’s such a joy to serve on the same team as they.