the lone remaining bill is paid,
every IOU is cancelled,
payment on accounts is stayed;
When the parting farewell is uttered,
the ending stanza sung,
tolling bells have rung:
I still will be debtor
Not all the gold in banks
fulfills my debt of thanks."
--Thomas E. Corts
(Tom Corts, retired President of Samford University left us
in February 2009. His brother Paul Corts has collected essays in a beautiful book honoring his brother called, Thinking Christianly. I wrote a chapter in this book of my personal feelings toward this good man. At a Colloquium held at Samford University, October 27, 2011--I made these remarks as part of the program.)
I cannot speak about Tom Corts’ academic experience as it relates to the church. And I cannot speak about the qualities that he may have possessed in character or skills to be an effective leader in higher education. But I can speak of my own experience with Tom Corts as it relates to church and as it relates to something of the depth of his personal life.
We are all many-sided persons and no one dimension can really capture the essence of the man we come to remember. He was more than an academic and he was great in this role wherever he went. But he was also husband, son, father, brother, friend, colleague and churchman just to name a few of his many sides.
So I cannot speak from an academic perspective but I can speak as one who he was once his Pastor and always a friend. Our paths intersected first in Georgetown Kentucky where he was Chair of the Search Committee of the Faith Baptist Church. I never will forget that first visit to the Corts’ house on Pocahontas Trail. Rachel was in an infant seat—Jennifer was playing on the floor and bored with the family’s new visitor. Chris was not yet born.
Tom Corts was a Churchman. He was always there when he was not preaching or representing Georgetown College. He believed in Church and he believed in Pastors which is one of the reasons for that gorgeous dome and Beeson Divinity School.
I followed his journey from Georgetown to Wingate and then to Samford. We kept up loosely during those years. He preached the Installation Sermon at three churches I served. He asked me to have the Invocation when he became President of Samford. And we celebrated birthdays and other special events. So I saw him up close and he was, as I entitled my chapter in this book, Great Tom. He really was great. He was there on my last Sunday at Covenant when I retired and gave this beautiful moving prayer which I have included in my chapter. And when he retired I returned the favor and gave the Prayer at his retirement party. And when he left us that sad day in February 4, 2009 I was asked to say some words at his funeral. I still miss him.
So I spoke and speak about the human side of Tom Corts. I have a multitude of stories I could tell about this good man. When we were in Georgetown at the Faith Baptist Church—we needed desperately to build an addition to our building. Most of the congregation were poorly paid academicians—and we did not think we could do this. But there was a layperson in that congregation. Never been to college—meat and potatoes man. Had been in the service and worked for a Construction business. We dealt with a lot of issues in that church in the late sixties and early seventies. We had a lot of kids and they talked about war and burning drafting cards and protesting the Viet Nam war. Some of our more vocal professors pontificated on this subject and this veteran’s blood pressure surely must have gone up many times. But this layman in our church with perfectly trimmed short hair kept coming to church every Sunday. And so Tom, Chair of the Building Committee—why are you not surprised--saw something special in this man who had never been to college. He saw that this man could use his gifts like no one else in the church could. Tom asked him to help draw up plans for this new addition and then asked him if he would supervise the project. Some of our Professors raised their eyebrows—what training did he have? Some whispered what were his credentials? Well, Hallie Hymer pulled off the project and saved the church a lot of money. And Tom insisted that when we dedicated the building that we put up a plaque in appreciation for Hallie Hymer for the work he did on this addition, which would not have happened, without his work and commitment. Some of those in academics raised their eyebrows again—but the Plaque is there to this day. Why do I tell this story? Because his was a larger circle than just the college. He looked around and saw some qualities in folk they didn’t even know they had. Hallie Hymer grew and grew as a person because of that experience. How many times through the years did he do that? Ask Eric Motley or Theolophilus Akande from Nigeria to Georgetown. Ask the late Laverne Farmer. Ask Joe Lewis. And how many more in this room. Our lives are immeasurably different because great Tom helped to stretch us.
He kept these little books where he wrote down quotations and scripture verses that meant a great deal to him. One of those quotes is most appropriate for this occasion. He took these words from Dostoevsky’s, The Brothers Karamazov.
“And even if we are occupied with important things, even if we attain honor or fall into misfortune, still let us remember how good it was once here when we were all together united by a good and kind feeling which made us, better perhaps than we are.”
(A copy of this book of essays, Thinking Christianly can be ordered from Samford University, 800 Lakeshore Drive, Birmingham, AL 35229.)