by Jerry Lawlis

ABILENE, Tex. (BNc) — Willard Tate was special! When we began the Red River Family Encampment in 1987, one of the very first speakers we invited was Willard Tate. Willard was already well known among us as an ex-coach, faithful Gospel Preacher, and entertaining/motivational speaker. He was in high demand from coast to coast.

He did not know me from Adam…he certainly knew nothing about RRFE since that was to be our first year of existence. Yet, he graciously accepted my invitation when he could have gone so many places and earned good money. He came, he inspired, he entertained (who can forget the joke-telling contest between Willard and George Goldtrap, the MC for the Amazing Grace TV program, in the parking lot of the Ponderosa Lodge?!). He endeared himself to all the campers that first year, and for the next 20 years he made RRFE one of his priorities.

He made us laugh, he made us cry, he made us think. He made us examine our hearts, but most of all he made us better…better at loving and being loved. It is so hard to write this, so hard to say good-bye, so hard to know I will never again walk upon that stage and hug his neck and tell him how much he made me want to be a better servant of Christ, and watch him grin. It was Willard who suggested that we invite the McCoy Family to sing for RRFE; they came in 1989 and they have been a part of this event from that day.

I don’t suppose anyone can recount all the good that Willard did with his life, from the kids he coached to all the sermons and classes he taught to help us see God more clearly, love Him more dearly, and follow Him more nearly, but it was a life well lived. I will forever be thankful he came into my life that summer of 1987. I just hope heaven is ready for Willarwood!

Our prayers for grace and peace are extended to Bobbie and the family as they move forward in time without this husband, father and grandfather extraordinaire.

(Editor’s Note — The funeral for Willard Tate will be Thursday at 2:00 PM at the University church in Abilene, Tex. )