Family called Perry Cotham ‘energizer bunny’ for trips to 75 countries, says preacher friend in tribute

Perry B. Cotham

Perry B. Cotham

GRAND PRARIE, Tex. (BNc) by Randall Morris — On Jan 5, 1912 Perry Boyd Cotham was born in Murray, Ky., to parents Ben and Nanny Boyd Cotham. He passed from this life over 100 years later on Feb 26, 2013.

At the time of his death he was residing at the PBH Residential Care Home in Grand Prairie, Tex. In 2011, at the age of 99 Perry reluctantly left his beloved home in Grand Prairie. He had lived there for 40 years, most of them with his beloved wife Teresa, who preceded him in death in 1998, after over 60 years of marriage.

He was also preceded in death by his brothers, Preston (1998) and Harry (2008). He is survived by two sons: Perry Coleman Cotham and wife Glenda of Brentwood, Tenn.; Harry Don Cotham of Houston, Tex.; and one daughter Nan Elizabeth McCloud and husband Edward, of Arlington, Tex.

Perry obeyed the gospel at a young age, and began preaching in 1929. At the time of his death he had been preaching for over 80 years.

At his memorial service Sat., Mar. 2, his son Perry C. Cotham said that he did not think his dad had ever drawn a paycheck doing anything other than preaching. He also mentioned that family vacations usually involved going somewhere to preach in a gospel meeting, incorporating family time with the work of the Lord’s church.

Perry enrolled at Freed-Hardeman College in 1929, when it was a junior college. His classmates included the late Hugo McCord and Raymond Kelcy. He received his B.A. degree in 1934 from Murray State University. While attending there, he preached in an around the home place in Murray, Ky.

When brother Cotham moved to Shawnee, Okla., to preach for the congregation there, he met and married Teresa Naomi Overby, daughter of gospel preacher Coleman Overby.

Perry also preached in Oklahoma City, Wewoka, and Duncan Okla. He preached in Paris, Tex., and also worked with a congregation in Nashville, Tenn.

After Nashville, Perry moved to Grand Prairie, Tex, and helped the brethren sell bonds to build a new place of worship on I-30. He was very prominent in the establishment of the Turnpike church.

He preached for ten years in Big Spring, Tex., and after some missionary trips, he began to broaden the vision of his ministry.

I remember Perry telling me that John H. Bannister was instrumental in encouraging him to go into full time missions, and that international travel would be easier out of the Dallas area than elsewhere.

So in 1972, at age 61, when most men begin to think about retiring, Perry Cotham began a whole new career in world missions that would span the next 35 years of his life and take him to every continent of the globe.

He preached the gospel in 75 countries. The majority of his trips would be to India (12 times), Singapore and Thailand (15 times), and Malaysia.

Perry’s family, friends in the church and even church leadership frequently tried to slow him down, get him to curtail his trips, and not go overseas so much.

At the Memorial Service last Saturday, Jerry Perry, one of the Skillman Ave. elders, described a moment when the eldership thought they had devised a plan that would keep him at home. They asked him to take a physical before his next trip, certain that at age 90, there was no way he could be given a green light for such extensive travel. Furthermore, the physical was to be given by Perry’s personal physician, who also happened to be one of the Skillman elders.

Much to their surprise and chagrin, the doctor pronounced Perry fit to travel, which he continued to do until at least 96 years old. He was close to that age when Perry came up to me after worship one Sunday and announced he would be going to Siberia around Thanksgiving — in the dead of winter!

In a 2004 profile of Perry, published in the Dallas Morning News, Perry said concerning mission work, “I will do it until I die.” He was 92 at the time, and he very nearly was able to keep that goal.

In addition to his worldwide travel he also preached at lectureships, held gospel meetings, and taught once a week at the Brown Trail School of Preaching in Bedford, Tex.

I remember when he bought a brand new Chevy Impala in 2000 at age 88. When he finally stopped driving, he had put 121,000 miles on that car, preaching the gospel.

His daughter Nan told me at the family visitation on Friday night, Mar. 1, that she and her brothers had a nickname for Perry: “The energizer bunny – you can’t slow him down.”

At the Memphis School of Preaching Lectures in 2012, at the age of 100, Perry was one of the featured preachers, and those who heard him said that he didn’t miss a lick. Once he was in front of the microphone, his 80 years of experience kicked in, and his message was presented in a clear, steady, firm voice, a sermon well understood by all.

Shortly after, we invited him to the Robinson Rd. congregation in Grand Prairie, where I preach, and I can attest to the same thing: his last sermon in our building was a great tribute to the years of serving Christ and his Kingdom in the preaching of truth.

When I moved to Grand Prairie from Ft. Worth in 1994, one of the first phone calls I received was from Perry Cotham, asking me to come and visit with him and Teresa. We developed an excellent friendship that lasted for the next 18-and-a-half years.

Over that time I was privileged to be one among others who was asked to proofread his manuscripts for lectureships, revisions of some of his 16 tracts, and for his great book, recently published, Beyond The Sunset.

He began collecting material for that book when he first started preaching, 80 years ago. When the time came to get it ready for publication, he told me he had about 700 pages of typewritten material. One of his last goals was to see its publication, a feat accomplished in 2008.

What I remember about Perry:

His typewriter: It was a Royal manual typewriter given to him by a cousin or uncle when he first started preaching, and probably all of his manuscripts, books, and tracts were written on it. It had keys that nearly required two fingers to press down, and ribbons! Once I came to his house to read for him, and he did not answer the door. He always left it partially open if he knew I was coming, so I walked in and all I could hear was the steady tap-tap-tap of him typing some finishing touches on a manuscript he wanted me to read.

His office: In one of the back rooms of his house was a home office with papers stacked on top of papers, all over the floor, on the desk top; books lying around with opened pages face down after being used for research. As cluttered as it looked to me, if you asked Perry for something, or he remembered something he wanted you to read, he could find it, even if it was at the bottom of one of those stacks of paper.

His phone call: On several occasions when I was at his house in the early evening he would get a phone call, especially after Teresa passed away. When I heard him say, “Well, hello, my sweet.” I knew it was his daughter Nan, usually calling after work to check on him. That was his nickname for her.

His coffee and cake: Perry learned well from Teresa the lessons of hospitality. We would always have a cup of coffee together, and he would serve pastry whenever I came to read for him. No matter what time of the evening it was or how hot it was outside, he wanted to have coffee and cake. He was deeply disappointed once early on during one of my visits, when I begged off and declined his hospitality. I learned then how much it meant to him, and we never failed to have our coffee and cake after that.

His mind: I decided that my job of editing and proofreading was simply to tighten up some phrasing and rearrange some paragraphs, especially if at his age, he might ramble. I did not expect him to write the sentences the way that I would. So any editing was minimal at best.

But if I ever slightly rewrote a sentence, or moved it to a different paragraph, he would always say, “That’s not what I wrote.” I would then proceed to explain why I thought the revision would be better, and most of the time he would agree, but he would always end the conversation with another “But that’s not how I wrote it.” It reminded me again that though he was 40 years my senior, he still had a sharp mind, a keen memory, and clear notion of what he wanted to say and how to say it.

I have to admit, I will miss Perry. If I could just hear one more time, “That’s not what I wrote”!

7 thoughts on “Family called Perry Cotham ‘energizer bunny’ for trips to 75 countries, says preacher friend in tribute

  1. What an example and inspiration Mr. Cotham was, is, and will continue to be. Most folks haven’t knocked on 75 doors, let alone 75 countries! Thank you Perry Cotham. You deserve your eternal rest.

  2. I was not that old when i started reading his material..I did not know him but his pamphlets were given to many people..I ordered them cause he wrote in such a way anyone could understand them… Know the next life for him will be in Glory…

  3. As the Operations manager for the Gospel Broadcasting Network, I was privileged to travel with the GBN crew to Pulaski, TN to “shoot” the annual lectureship at East Hills. Brother Perry was one of the speakers at about the age of 96. After his lecture, I put my arms around his shoulder and said, “Brother Cotham, I hope you live many more years.” He asked, “Why is that brother Dedmon?” Because, I answered, “When you are gone, I will be in the older generation.” He was a spiritual giant.

  4. Perry was such a great example of Jesus Christ. My family knew him in the 1930′s when my mother was a girl. She always spoke fondly of Perry and his sermons. I was privileged to work with him on several occasions. He encouraged me to do international traveling for the church. He was a consistent supporter of Mission Printing and its effort of “World Evangelism by the Printed Page.” I will miss this strong soldier of the cross and his dedication and loyalty to the Savior.

    Richard Renfro, Volunteer Vice-President/Coordinator of Mission Printing, Inc.

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