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Tributes to a legend: Readers reflect on death of Byron Nelson

Byron Nelson was “a true saint.” He was “one of our greatest Christians.” He was “always the most friendly and gracious person.” Christians blessed to have met the golf legend and faithful church member, who died Sept. 26 at age 94, reflect below on his passing. Please send your thoughts and memories to [email protected].
Clarence C. Dailey, associate minister, Brentwood Hills church, Nashville, Tenn.:
“While I was preaching at the Druid Hills church in Atlanta in the ‘50s, the Byron Nelsons came one Sunday morning on their way to Augusta for the Masters Tournament. I think he may have already retired, but he continued to play the Masters.
“He was scheduled to play an exhibition match that afternoon on Atlanta’s North Fulton Golf Course. During the morning worship, Byron led the assembly in prayer. After the service, he invited me to accompany him for the match that afternoon.
“What an honor and what a blessing it was to walk with him on the course. Interestingly, and I think, typically, he wanted to know about the work of our congregation. It was such a joy to be with him that afternoor, and later in Augusta.
“He was one of America’s greatest golfers, and one of our greatest Christians!”
John Randy Royce, member, Richland Hills church, North Richland Hills, Texas:
“He is … one of the nicest brothers I have ever met. You will hear the media give him high praise in the next few days, be assured, it doesn’t touch the hem of the garmet. …
“Of all things, I’m wearing my Byron Nelson EDS golf shirt today….
So I’m very sad. We’re sad and happy because Byron couldn’t play golf lately, but now he’s teeing up on heavenly links.”
“I wore this EDS to shirt to church several weeks ago. I bought it at the PGA store at DFW airport for half price on a trip through. I saw
Byron and told him, ‘Sir, they’re selling your shirts at half price at the airport.’
“’Son,’ Byron told me, ‘there’s lots of me that’s only worth half of what it used to be.’
“His wife, Peggy, teaches in the women’s Tuesday morning classes and really is the moderator. She personally writes every visiting person a note of appreciation, following the lead of Byron whose handwritten notes just went up in value.
“Byron was Santa Claus in our Christmas program several years ago. Despite his fame, he was very humble and approachable. A true saint.”
Barry G. Stafford, member, Memorial Road church, Oklahoma City:
“During the 1988 PGA tournament at Oak Tree, Edmond, Okla., a major thunderstorm occurred. We had Lauren, our six-month-old, with us and were trying to get out of the storm near the clubhouse. We did not have credentials for the clubhouse but Mr. Nelson saw us and opened the door and invited us in.”
Bob Curtis, elder, Nichols Street church, Bay City, Texas:
My father. Robert J. “Bob” Curtis, knew Byron Nelson when we lived in Fort Worth during the early and middle ’40s. I was just a small child then but I do remember getting to visit in their house one time. We attended the old Polytechnic Church of Christ and he visited with us there on occasion. I distinctly remember that he was a gentleman and one who loved God and the game of golf.
“My dad was a golfer and was always glad to receive a few pointers from Mr. Nelson. Although I was exposed to golf by my dad, it just never seemed to gel with me — I never could
make the ball go where it was supposed to go. My sister, Dr. Joyce Curtis, on the other hand, after she graduated from college with a major in P.E., went on to teach at Abilene Christian College and started the Women’s Physical Education Department there. She played golf and taught it for many years at ACU. She retired from ACU two years ago after teaching there for 44 years and was the only
woman instructor to have been inducted into the ACU Sports Hall of Fame.
“I feel sure that some of the exposure of our family to Byron Nelson had some good results in both my dad’s and my sister’s life.”
Jimmy Waggoner, church member, Sanger, Texas:
“In 1972, I moved my membership to the Singing Oaks Church of Christ in Denton, Texas, due to a lot of baby boomers going there. I was there about six years and moved on.
“As time went on, little did I know that Madge Nelson was sitting in the audience. I drove the church van and picked her up several times, if I recall correctly; it has been 30 to 35 years ago. I don’t remember the visits very well, but we learned who each other was as much as a 150- to 200-member congregation could.
“Being a young guy of about 20, I started learning the members’ names. One of the elders pointed her out in the beginning to me and told me she was the mother of Byron Nelson. Well, that meant something to me. The next year it was announced one Sunday morning that Byron was having an 80th birthday party for her at the ranch that afternoon and everyone was invited to drop by for refreshments and to wish her well. This elder, brother J. R. Sitton (he passed away in 1999), had known them for many years due to the Nelsons attending worship in Denton. I got to visit with Madge at her party even more and she told of coming to worship in Denton in an International pickup with Byron riding in the back.
“I got to meet Byron and shake hands with him and visit inside his ranchhouse. He would talk to you as if he knew you and had kind words and casual visits with strangers in the flesh. I saw an attitude that was just like our own, a humble man no better than anyone else.
“Well, now at 54 years of age, I realize God gave me an opportunity that a young man would never think of at the moment. I think of that elder often and him being an influence on my life. But God gave that opportunity.”
James McCain, security officer, Oklahoma Christian University:
“I was shocked to learn of the passing of Bryon Nelson. One of my cousins was a preacher at the church in Roanoke, and several times when visiting I had the chance to meet Bryon. He was always the most friendly and gracious person.
“My cousin had become close to him and more than once Bryon had invited me and my brothers to play golf with him. I never accepted myself, always fearing I would be too embarrassed at how bad I would play.
“He was a great example of how a Christian could be blessed with a special talent and he used it for good. He will be missed by many.”
Ryan Ware, member, Richland Hills church:
“Byron Nelson was the first person I met at our church at Richland Hills. During the ‘stand and great your neighbor’ time at the beginning of service, Byron and his wife spoke to my wife and I. My wife and I were newly married and they made us feel really welcome and in only two minutes were able to tell us about their marriage and how important a godly marriage was. Needless to say, I was so surprised I was talking to Byron Nelson I don’t remember a whole lot of that week’s sermon.
“They were regulars in our young couple’s Sunday school class, and Mr. Nelson never hesitated to encourage us young married people how important it is to live for God in every aspect of our lives. When he spoke, people listened.
“Something more important was his impact on a good friend of mine. My friend had been struggling in his lifestyle, his relationship with God, and in his relationship with his wife. Mr. Nelson spoke with my friend for over an hour one Sunday, encouraging him and witnessing to him how living for God can change your life and the lives of those around you.
“Just the time he took to share with my friend ended up pushing my friend to change his life. Soon after, he was baptized along with his wife, and has been pushing on to live a more positive life in Christ. That to me is what being a Christian is all about … loving those around you and taking the time to encourage other people.”
Nov. 1, 2006

Filed under: Letters To The Editor

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