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Column: That lasting legacy of T. Richard Davis
Harris Blackwood
Harris Blackwood

B.B. McKinney was a Christian hymn writer in the first half of the last century. He was also editor of the Broadman hymnal. Some of you may remember hymnals, they are music books you held in your hands as you sang at church.

One of McKinney’s best-known songs was “Let others see Jesus in you.” The song’s message is that whatever you do, others should be able to see the love of Jesus in your actions. It is a pretty tough demand.

T. Richard Davis lived the kind of life that you didn’t have to look too deeply to find the love of Jesus. For the last few years of his professional career, he was an associate pastor at First Baptist Church of Gainesville. Everybody there knew him as “T. Richard.”

If Hollywood studios were casting the role of the kindly, loving grandfather, they would have picked T. Richard instantly. He had a shock of white hair and a softly wrinkled face that smiled when he did. When he retired from full-time ministry in 1991, he spent the next 15 years as a substitute teacher at Gainesville High School.

I don’t know how many of you have been in a high school lately, but kids there can be rather difficult. Sometimes, finding a willing substitute is a challenge.

But, that wasn’t the case with T. Richard.

The kids there loved him. It didn’t matter if he was in an English or math class or a vocational study, the kids would actually ask for him. You do have something special if kids ask for you by name as a high school substitute.

The kids called him “Mr. T.” and he would greet them with a hug, a high-five or whatever form of greeting they offered. In 2003, the students dedicated their yearbook to him. A decade later, he was named the recipient of an honorary diploma from Gainesville High.

One of his greatest accomplishments was establishing the Ministry of Caring at First Baptist Church. This is a program that has helped people with various types of needs. It continues on today.

In his retirement, he also volunteered at the church’s Family Life Center, which at one time housed a clothes closet for people in need.

One day, a man came in in tattered clothes and shoes that left portions of his feet exposed. The man went to the closet and found some garments that were a vast improvement over what he had.

“What about your shoes?” T. Richard asked. The man replied that they didn’t have anything in his size.

It was then that Davis found out that he and the man wore the same size shoe. He took off his shoes and gave them to the man. “I’ve got some more at home,” he told him.

T. Richard went home wearing only his socks. I wasn’t there when this happened, but I know someone who was. I have a mental picture etched in my mind.

T. Richard died on Nov. 23 at the age of 97. He left a forever impression on teenage school kids and folks in need.

He might not look like the person in that famous painting by Warner Sallman that is seen in so many places, but when I look at the picture of T. Richard, in my mind, I see Jesus.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the weekend Life page and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.

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