Jimmy Duke was my pitching coach in 1976, the year we won the little league championship. I first met him at Clear Lake Baptist Church in 1973. That was just a year after I met his son Jim in Mrs. Ogden’s second grade class. Thirty-one years after we were first classmates, Jim would be one of the groomsmen at my wedding. I’ve been friends with him for 34 years now.
Jimmy stopped taking his family to CLBC after a tragic car accident killed the two little girls of a good friend. For him, God just couldn’t allow such a thing and still be worthy of worship and praise. The girls’ deaths were violent and the fatal accident seemed to take Jimmy’s faith with it to the grave.
Jimmy and his wife Sandra would divorce in the late 1980s and I would seldom see him afterwards. Glimpses of Jimmy’s life in recent years would come to me in little bits and pieces via the funny stories I would hear about him from family and friends. Jimmy’s sense of humor was a foundation for his great success as a businessman.
When his daughter Gwen married in the late 1990s he struck up a friendship with Pastor Roger of the local Hope Community Church. Roger would have lunch with Jimmy several times before he asked him, “Jimmy what are your thoughts on the Lord, these days?’ Jimmy’s answer to Roger was an instant classic: “As I understand it, you have to be Mother Theresa to get into heaven, and I’m not giving up my private airplane.” Roger laughed when he later told me that story.
However, there was nothing funny last summer when his ex-wife Sandy died suddenly and painfully of lung cancer. It would remind him, probably, of that car accident that killed two little girls and drove him from the church decades earlier.
After Sandy passed, I would have some long, tough phone calls with Jimmy’s son. How does one make the argument that a tragedy – especially one like the painful death of one’s mother – may some day be revealed as a blessing? How can such an argument be anything but offensive while the wounds of a loved one’s death are still fresh?
I tried unsuccessfully to compare my friend’s loss of his mother to the loss of my grandmother forty years before. The latter brought about the conversion of others though her life was cut short after 48 years. Could Sandy’s life bring about a similar change in others, too? Thankfully, his father Jimmy kept in touch with Pastor Roger.