INSIDE STORY: Two heroes in the faith go home
It’s doubtful that Byron Nelson, the golf legend, and Mary Vinzant, the mother of preachers, ever met in this life, which is kind of ironic in itself.
After all, both were born around the time of World War I. Both lived most of their 90-plus years in and around Fort Worth, Texas. And both dedicated their lives to Jesus Christ at early ages.
With the number of gospel meetings and lectureships each attended, there’s a chance they crossed paths at some point and didn’t know it.
Mary, who was 92, probably wouldn’t have recognized Byron’s name anyway. She didn’t know much about golf, and hearing that someone won 11 straight PGA tournaments wouldn’t have impressed her much.
But Mary did know the value of putting God first, and she would have approved of Byron insisting on attending services, even when health problems made it increasingly difficult for him to walk, much less swing a golf club.
I didn’t know Mary or Byron well. But my encounters with both blessed my life. No doubt, countless others can say the same.
My wife, Tamie, and I met Mary after she moved to Oklahoma to be near her son, Don Vinzant, the minister at our home congregation. Mary always sat on the third row with her daughter-in-law, Carol, and beamed as her son preached.
Last fall, Tamie baked cookies for Mary and brought them to the Christian retirement center where she lived. Mary, dressed in a pink pantsuit, her hair done and her makeup perfect, insisted that Tamie sit down for lunch with her.
They chatted about Don and Carol, about her other children, Mary Ann and James, and about what the news would be in The Christian Chronicle that month. (Mary also mentioned that she loved the way that Bobby Ross wrote his stories, which I will neither confirm nor deny influenced my opinion of her.)
Tamie didn’t visit Mary again for a few months, when she was hospitalized after a fall. She was lying flat, wearing a flowered robe and the same smile that Tamie had seen before. Her first words: “How is your beautiful family, dear?”
At a memorial service for Mary, her nephew Howard Norton — who left the Harding University Lectureship, which he was directing, to grieve his beloved aunt — talked about how proud Mary was of the preachers in her family. But with that pride came the knowledge that you had to know your Bible because “Mama Mary” did.
If you preached without passion or gave an incorrect Scripture reference, she’d correct you afterward. Mary liked a good sermon, full of God’s word and a little fire.
Mary’s death, unlike Byron’s, did not make headlines. But Byron would have told you the headlines didn’t matter anyway. What’s important, he would have said, is that she gave her life to Jesus.
I met Byron, who lived to be 94, at his Roanoke, Texas, ranch house last year. Neither he nor his wife, Peggy, could have been any nicer. I will never forget this golf legend telling me, “I was really surprised when I heard The Christian Chronicle wanted to do a story about me.” I considered that a sign of his true humility.
Since Byron’s death, I have received numerous e-mails from church members fortunate enough to have met him. (Visit www.christianchronicle.org to read some of those tributes.) Even here in the Chronicle office, my co-workers told stories of how Byron touched their families.
Tonda Stafford recalled attending the 1988 PGA Tournament in Edmond, Okla. She and her husband, Barry, had their daughter, Lauren, then five weeks old, with them when a vicious thunderstorm erupted.
They sought cover near the clubhouse but did not have credentials to go inside. But Byron — whom they had never met and did not realize was a fellow Christian — opened the door and invited them inside.
Virginia Ware, meanwhile, met Byron when visiting her son, Ryan, and his wife, Meredith, who attend the Richland Hills church. Virginia described how Byron greeted and shook hands with everyone who walked through the door.
Ryan knew of Byron’s fame, but at church, he got to know Byron the simple, godly man, Virginia said.
Fame matters not to our God. You can rest assured that he welcomed home Byron and Mary with equal fervor.
And, by now, it’s probably safe to assume that Mary and Byron have had a chance to make each other’s acquaintance.
Bobby Ross Jr. is Managing Editor of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].