A Tribute to George Gurganus

July 28, 1992

Chicago, Illinois

This evening we are here to celebrate a very special life, of the memory of George Pope Gurganus: who was born July 21, 1916, in Bankston, Alabama; and died July 20, 1992, in San Diego – just one day short of 76 years on this earth.

Speaker: Angelyn Pennington, Granddaughter.

The only name Ifve ever called Dr. George Gurganus, is Granddaddy. Most of my memories of him were formed during informal family occasionscChristmas gatherings, vacations, summer visitsctimes with lots of laughter, highly competitive card games, crazy/silly songs, work details, commentaries on the news, lectures on my life (which I tried to avoid) – but usually benefited from, I reluctantly admitcand the constant flap of cards, as he played solitaire, while his girls cooked dinner.

And occasionally, Ifve been privileged to see him in action, as a "most imposing self"cteaching, preaching, and persuading – and have marveled. You know itfs really quite fitting that we celebrate his completed life here in Chicago, a city where he lived his early years and made several decisions that shaped his entire life.

It was to Chicago that his Alabama family; mom, dad, and eight brothers and sisters, moved when he was a young child. He learned lessons of relying on God from his father, who constantly traveled around rural Alabama – compelled to preach, even during the Depression; from his stalwart mother, who raised nine children; and his eldest brother, Howard, who was a solid and strong guiding force through the entire family. The Gurganus family worshipped at the Cornell Avenue Church of Christ. Granddaddy was baptized there as a young teenager. Under W.S. Longfs tutelage, the young men of the congregation all learned to preach and in Sunday school he met a very lovely woman named Irene Lynette Rout, my grandmother.

Granddaddy worked his way through Harding College finally returning to Chicago with his B.A. in 1939 to his first real job, with American Airlines. Granny and Granddaddy were married at the Cornell Avenue church of Christ in 1941. Several here tonight were in attendance at that event 51 years ago; an event that they would celebrate last year, not once, but twice. In Tokyo, on their actual anniversary, vows were renewed and new rings were exchanged. Then here in Chicago, on the 4th of July, we celebrated with family and friends. The family celebration in Chicago, in a sense, brought us full circle.

In my motherfs growing-up years, she spent several Christmasf and summers at her Auntie Kayfs home, sharing grandparents with her cousins Bill, Jerry, Kathy, and Gene. This past year, Jerry and Eileen were the hosts as we all gathered together on the 4th – and enjoyed a family reunion where several of his grandnephews met their much-talked-about uncle for the very first time.

Aunt Vema, my Granddaddyfs oldest sister, told my mother on the phone the other day, "It was the hand of providence, (Pope would remember thatfs the way our father would have said it), that brought us all together as a family last year to celebrate his 75th birthday. On that occasion, as I listened to my Great Unclefs, Wiley and Warlick, my Great Aunt Vema, and cousins I canft name tell stories with fondness and reverence, I realized that my Grandfather was really the spiritual anchor for the entire family. His influence has spread to each one very particularly over the years.

Chicago is also the place where Granny and Granddaddy were sent to the mission field in 1949. Granny and Granddaddy had been working successfully in New York for a decade, when the elders of the Chicago church called them and asked them to go to Japan to work with O.D. Bixler. Ifm sure this decision was one of the many great wrestling matches between Granddaddy and God. The work in New York was in an exciting time: new churches were planted, a Christian camp started, and he had a wife and two young children to be responsible forcalong with many others, like the three nephews who were living with him at the time. A war-torn Japan was a huge unknown.

Soon after we brought Granddaddy home from the hospital, my mom and my aunt started digging into boxes in the garage that had been in storage for many years. One of the things unearthed, was a journal Granny kept during the familyfs 1949 cross-country drive from New York to San Francisco and a three-week voyage crossing the Pacific on a freighter. What a great time we had reading each dayfs entry and hearing Granny and Granddaddyfs remembrances about that grand adventure. And this was just one of the very special moments my brother and I have to share from those precious last days with Granddaddy.

The Gurganus household was really the location of many special blessings during those few weeks. Grannyfs sister, Kay, provided a quiet, confident presence that gave great comfort to each of us. My mom and her sister, Janetkay, looked to each other for love and support as they cared for their father in their own unique way. Cards and calls from across the world rang down blessings of well-wishing and gratitude, for a great manfs life. Shalah, Granddaddyfs hospice nurse, created a place for herself in our hearts with her gracious and tender care giving. The people of the San Diego Church ministered in a thousand ways as the love of God shone on our family. But, most of all, Granddaddy touched us with his humor, his spirit, his intentionality, and his courage.

He left us a very special heritagecan example of a life lived fully, single-mindedly and in complete faithfulness to his convictions.

When my mother was a young child, she listened to her father preach many times and in settings as diverse as a gathering of GIs on an army base in occupied Japan to a small country church in rural Mississippi. Lots of those audiences were there for one of his classic sermons and needless to say, she and Aunt Janetkay learned them all.  If youfd been around in 1962 in Memphis, Tennessee and heard the valedictory address of the graduating class of Harding Academy that year delivered by my mother, or if you had happened to hear a speech I gave in a contest in Oklahoma City in 1988, you would have heard an echo of one of his most favorite sermon illustrationsca poem by Robert Frost:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both. And being one traveler, long I stood and looked down one as far as I could, to where it bent in the undergrowth. Then took the other as just as fair, and having perhaps the better claim, because it was grassy and wanted wear. Though as for that, the passing there had worn them really about the same. And both that morning equally lay in leaves no steps had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day.

Yet knowing how way leads onto way, I doubted if I should ever come back. I shall be telling this with a sigh, somewhere ages and ages hence. Two roads diverged in a wood and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

Following the call of God, Granddaddy always took the less-traveled road, and constantly challenged all around him to do the same. Hefs now gone down the one path none of us have yet taken. We feel the void of his presence tremendously. But, what could possibly make him happier than to finally meet, face-to-face, his closest traveling companioncthat most mysterious power that gives to each of us our birth, our life, and our death. I will always treasure the legacy he has left me, and will carry it with me in yet unknown ways throughout my life.


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Copyright(c) 2000 Tokyo Church of Christ. All rights reserved.
Revised: January 03, 2002 .