It’s not always obvious when you meet someone who will change your life.
It may be something as small as a random encounter with a stranger or a smile and kind word at just the right time.
“Influencers,” as the kids nowadays might say, at the spiritual level, are often people you’ve known maybe forever.
I believe they’re purposely placed in our lives, irrespective of whether their company is wanted, requested, or tolerated.
If you’re like me, and lucky, you’ve had more than one such person in your life. You never know, you may be that person to someone else.
Realize it or not, what we say and do, and most importantly, how we treat others, affects them. Of course, that can be both good and bad.
One would hope our missteps and transgressions are easily put aside, never again given a second thought.
How I wish we could only be remembered for the good we do and the kindnesses we show.
It’s maddening, and a tremendous loss of opportunity, to be slow to recognize important life-events as they manifest themselves.
At least for me, it’s easy to focus on the immediate, or more truly stated, me and my selfish concerns, not appreciating others and what they’re doing with their lives.
To that end, regarding interpersonal relationships and social signals, I’m notorious for missing the forest for the trees. I’m myopic, not seeing the big picture with clarity.
It’s something I work on.
Jerry Robinson was one of those special souls for me. He changed me. And he changed how I treat others.
His work on me was a study in the long game. It took years and years and years of persistent effort.
I wonder if he knew how much he ultimately affected me and my life. I wonder if the Rev ever gave much thought to how many others he also affected in powerful, life-altering ways.
Throughout his lifetime, Jerry gave of himself unreservedly, perhaps not always fully understanding the value of his gift of love.
He was intense, passionate, opinionated, and powerful, all while being soft-spoken and polite to a fault.
My close friends and I spent a lot of time with the Rev.
I cannot recall an instance when he raised his voice in anger, although I think he was pretty close to it when one of us shot a hole in the bottom of his fishing boat.
My treasured friend David “Skip” Robinson was his youngest son.
He is a prototypical PK. For the un-churched, PK is the acronym for “Preacher’s Kid.” It means something and isn’t necessarily complementary in nature.
Trust me, we gave the Rev plenty of opportunities to lose his cool. Thinking back on it, he must of have thought creating problems was our raison d’etre.
I met Jerry in the summer of 1984. That seems so long ago now. It was in Clover, South Carolina on an uncomfortable, sweltering day.
I was about 19 years old, and in all ways, a complete jackass, dedicated to partying, chasing women, and having zero understanding of faith, Christianity, or any semblance of a “godly” life.
He was younger than I am now, a middle-aged (48-year-old) pastor, dedicated to serving God and loving his family.
I’d never before known a southern-gentleman preacher, let alone a Davidson educated firebrand with a remarkably beautiful Lincoln County drawl.
We called him “Rev” or “The Rev” and his wonderfully vibrant, exceedingly beautiful, proper wife, “Ms. Judy.”
The Rev was so obviously obsessed with and in love with her it was hard to ignore.
Then, I dare not ever call him “The Rev” to his face. Despite his vertically challenged stature, he could whip my tail and let me know it.
Jerry made an impression, leaving an indelible mark on my soul. I’m a better lawyer because of the Rev.
The kindness and patience I show others, including clients, come, at least in part, from Jerry’s gifts of undeserved mercy and un-asked-for grace.
My first memory of the Rev took place in his wood-working shop when he grabbed my hand that humid hot day, shook it, and without knowing me, proceeded to bring me to my knees.
I could think of nothing else upon our introduction after he kneaded my digits, crushing the bones with glee, all the while flashing his wicked grin.
Of course, he kindly first wiped his hand off on his pants, partially limiting the transfer of the dark brown wood stain he was working with at the time.
I doubt seriously the Rev ever use a brush. Hands were better.
Gracious, what a handshake. It was a sticky, painful mess.
I looked at my hand, then throbbing and temporarily tinted a Minwax American Walnut hue, wondering when I would regain its use.
For the next two decades or so, every time we’d meet and shake hands, I’d howl in pain and cry “mercy” almost immediately. I loved it.
He’d always quit soon enough, raise me up, pat me on my back, and ask with sincerity, “How you doing Freddy Bill?”
The Rev liked using my first and middle name together like that.
He’d stop whatever he was doing to talk to me, to look me straight in the eyes, draw me in, and to share his love for me.
That wasn’t anything normal for me. I’d never met anyone like that. I’ve met only a few since.
That physical touch served a long term, important psychological purpose. It was an attention grabber and a representation of Philia love.
I think Jerry knew that. In fact, I think Jerry relied on that.
For decades, when we saw one another, I’d ask what he was working on, requiring him to explain the craftmanship of some 18th century Chippendale mahogany slant front desk he’d found down in Chester or thereabouts.
He’d share his latest sermon or concern he had for one of his flock, eventually turning the subject to my family, what I was doing to improve myself, and reminding me to stay out of trouble.
Jerry Robinson was a man of letters, a Presbyterian and learned scholar of the Bible. He loved working with his powerful hands, finding projects, and restoring them to museum-like quality.
He had no problem with hard work, dedication to a task, and pressing on until the job was done. The Rev had boundless energy, embodying the meaning of, “Make hay while the sun shines.”
He expected everyone to share in his passions and zeal for life.
The Rev was the first Christian I’d ever met who walked the walk. He truly believed what he spoke and he did his best to live his faith.
I laugh until I cry almost every time I think of the Rev praying his youngest, my cohort and partner in all things ungodly, over to the Devil – Bill Powers
I remember Skip calling to tell me that and my response being, “Wait, he did what? The Rev finally brought out the big guns. Bummer for you dude.”
He’d tried to change us through the force of his will for a long time. He witnessed to us. He shared verses, none of which we wanted to hear or take heed of. But I liked him trying.
And so finally, knowing well who he was talking to, the Rev went to God and said, “Sift him.”
It likely wasn’t funny at the time, at least for the Rev and Ms. Judy.
I found it hilarious, heathen that I was. He’d say he was “serious as a heart attack.” I doubt his son found much to enjoy in the exercise.
That act though was emblematic of his faith in the power of prayer, the importance of letting God direct your paths, and the occasional benefit of removing hedges of protection to effectuate a much-needed attitudinal change.
Eventually, Skip and I both gave up fighting common sense and got things a bit more even-keeled on a spiritual level. We’re semi-responsible adults now. The Rev even later married Sammie and me in Calvary Church in Charlotte.
As they got older and retired, I’d occasionally visit Ms. Judy and the Rev when I was trying a case in Brevard and, before they moved, in Lincolnton. We’d sit and talk, enjoying seeing one another, even it was for just a short while.
It was never an effort to spend time to catch up. He’d ask me, “How’s your bride?” He earnestly wanted to know about family and how everyone was doing.
The content of our conversations didn’t much matter. Both the Rev and Ms. Judy always showered love on me during our visits. They cared for me and showed it openly, hugging me when I left.
The Rev’s passing this week has proven challenging.
It made me stop, to recollect, and to turn off my brain, which is always good.
After hearing the news on a typically hectic Monday morning, I sat in my car in the parking deck of the Mecklenburg County Courthouse and closed my eyes, meditating for a moment.
I may have even been a minute or two late for court. On that day, this courtroom zealot had to get his mind right and wipe away a tear.
My daily tasks and concerns didn’t seem quite as important just then. For once, thank goodness, I’d seen the forest for the trees.
I recognized, immediately, which is unusual for me, that Jerry’s passing was the end of an era. My crew are all grown men now. We have families and responsibilities of our own.
We have become preachers of sorts, who work hard to capture the attention of the young and lost, squeezing hands, asking questions, giving unwanted advice, patting backs, and introducing people like I was, long ago, to what it means to be an adult.
While happy he is no longer in pain, as Jerry suffered in more than one way at the end of his life, I am still sad.
I know he’d want me to focus on something other than himself. He’d remind me to:
- Love your family
- Work hard
- Be a person of your word
- Seek justice, do what is right
The Rev exposed me to numerous fond, funny, and surreal life-experiences. It’s hard to pick only a few good ones. There really are so many.
I recall fishing with Ma Maw in Cherry Grove and saving a man from drowning. I threw Jerry’s very expensive surf rod to Ma Maw, jumping into the surf.
Ma Maw just kept fishing and didn’t even try to save it from going down to Davey Jones’s Locker. The Rev never said a word about the loss of something he obviously thought was a mere “thing.”
He took me aback, gleaming in joy, hugging me, and exclaimed, “I can’t tell you how proud I am of you. You saved three lives. That’s something indeed. Don’t ever forget that.”
I thought he was a crazy person when he woke me up early the next morning, confidently sharing, “Come on Freddy Bill, I’ve prayed on it. God told me we’re going to find that fishing rod and where to look.”
He wasn’t even out there with us. He had seen nothing of the experience. If I recall correctly, he met the man and his grandkids at some time later.
Yet, there wasn’t a doubt in his mind.
I tried to argue the point with him. He’d hear nothing of it.
We found that rod and reel, buried in the sand, at high tide. It was probably then that I started to wonder if he had a hookup with the Almighty.
I smile writing this, thinking of Granny in the Lincolnton family home, cooking vegetables until soggy, with fatback, all the while with three-inch cigarette ash hanging precariously from her lips.
The Rev appreciated fatback, overcooked vegetables, and simple pleasures in life.
It makes me happy to remember picking up pecans in his back yard, eating them from the shell with the Rev.
He’d find a way to incorporate a discussion on the etymology and proper, Southern pronunciation of the word “pecan.” There is a difference you know in how the Yankees and uneducated say it.
He could not resist sharing some historic aspect of things, relative to the Revolutionary War or an important battleground.
The Rev taught me how to look for arrowheads on Lake Norman, explaining the history of the Catawba Indians, their pottery, and their impact on the region.
I’d stand there, mouth like a codfish, watching as he’d root around, sticking his hands in muskrat holes and hidden pockets on the shoreline. That was nuts. I wasn’t about to draw back a nub.
We laughed hysterically the time I saw the Rev walk on water, leaping onto to the deck of the “Mud Monster” pontoon boat to escape a huge, angry water moccasin.
Lord, the Rev was a character.
Family and friends share stories that he sighted rifles in his basement, using a butcher block as the target; as a Boy Scout leader, he instructed future leaders of the community on how to make explosives; he once used a gun to “drill” holes in sheet metal, resulting in the permanent piece of shrapnel in his leg.
I’ve thought about how and why he said things and his genuine concern for me as a young man and throughout my lifetime.
He was proud of me when I graduated law school, taking the time to send a handwritten note, extending congratulations.
I am so different now. I appreciate the vital role he played in my personal development and growing to be a man.
The Rev, and his influence in my life, changed me.
The realization that Jerry isn’t there anymore, even though I haven’t seen him in several years now, caused a bit of a panic at first.
Fortunately, I remembered a favorite verse: Press on towards the mark.
The Rev set that mark pretty high. I’m going to do my best to emulate his daily walk, loving others unconditionally, and giving of myself.