A birthday tribute to the late KCR and ATR, Jr.

There are probably only two dozen birth dates I have remembered through the years, and this post comes precisely between two that have always stood out in my memory.  109 years ago last Wednesday, my maternal grandmother was born.  Two weeks later, my maternal grandfather was born.  Here they are in a well-worn photograph, at approximately the age I remember them best.

Kathryn Delma Cullum married Andy Thomas Ritchie, Jr. in 1933, and they had been married barely 50 years when the latter succumbed to congestive heart failure and other circulatory concerns (presumably related to diabetes).  Both of their fathers had been influential Christian leaders.  The two met at David Lipscomb high school and also attended David Lipscomb college (now University) in Nashville.  Their early life together included stints in radio and church work in Texarkana, Nashville, and Washington, D.C.  They would soon move to Searcy, Arkansas, where they would reside for the rest of their earthly lives.  Grandmother taught math at Harding Academy, and Granddaddy led the Harding College (now university) Chorus for approximately a decade, then taught Bible courses for the remainder of his career. 

After their children were grown, they took a voyage across the Atlantic—the trip of a lifetime—making stops in the Holy Land and in Scotland.  My perceptions of the two are limited since I saw them but once or twice a year through my childhood and teens, and I did not take enough advantage of their presence while I was a student at Harding.  Still, I can attest, based on second- and third-hand interactions, to the fact that their lives had impact on a great many people.

Grandmother played the piano well, often accompanying Granddaddy’s bass-baritone voice.  She had exceptional responsibilities for his care, since he was not only diabetic but also legally blind for the latter half of his life.  In hindsight, one of the things I would say she was known for was “juggling” a full-time teaching position, the raising of four children, and the care and support of her husband.  Rare would be the Harding Academy high school student who did not respect Kathryn Ritchie’s math teaching capability, her intelligence, upright living, and Christian devotion.  The College Church’s congregational singing included her strong alto for decades.

Also rare would be the spiritually attuned Harding College student in the late 40s, 50s, and 60s who did not hold Andy T. Ritchie, Jr., in the highest regard as a deeply, genuinely pious Christian and a devoted, humble servant of his Lord.  He led quite a few summer evangelistic campaigns in the Northeast, preaching nightly, and he worked in Christian camps, as well.  As a church leader, he was known for preaching and also for leading congregational singing, emphasizing high-quality songs with good poetry.  He led worship in song long before the term “worship leader” was fashionable.

I recently unearthed a song for which I’d written the music long ago.  I had set a poem that Granddaddy favored when performing weddings, including a few family ones.  Below is the complete poem by Richard Wightman:

Of course, the question how far will you go with me? and the ultimate notion of “going to the end of the lane” rise well above the sophomoric.  Grandmother, a late-in-life cancer victim who outlived Granddaddy by almost five years, certainly “traveled the lane” with devotion, and the two were a pair until the end.  Since I have no recording available of Granddaddy’s voice reading this poem, please accept two of my favorite songs from his solo record as a consolation prize.  At the point at which he recorded these, his voice and ear were probably a bit past their prime, but one can still perceive the talent and the storytelling ability.

Big Bass Viol

Little Boy Blue

7 thoughts on “A birthday tribute to the late KCR and ATR, Jr.

  1. Steve Kell 04/18/2018 / 10:37 am

    Ah… what a reflective and delightful surprise blast from the past I found in your blog today: thank you. Interestingly there are some similarities between your grandparents and my parents. 1933-wedding year for your folks was the birth year for my father; DLC was also the place my parents met in the fall of 1954 (both were heading to different colleges but were ‘providentially’ redirected at the last minute to Nashville); my parents were directly involved in radio and church ministry (Dad just ended his fourth segment of radio work last year–a ministry in four geographical locations spanning some 60+ years). Your granddad’s booming baritone is richer than my father’s but he could hold his own quite nicely–as he sang in Lipscomb’s quartet with Pat Boone and Ray Walker; and my grandfather sang “No Other Love” at my (first) wedding–he was in his 70’s.

    So we share quite a legacy. You took your music heritage into advanced and professional arenas I never did, but I’m fairly certain we both appreciate music that is well done in all of its genres.


    • Brian Casey 04/18/2018 / 11:59 am

      Thanks for filling in some gaps and adding to my acquaintance with your family. I didn’t know your dad had done radio but am not surprised. And singing with Boone and Walker is a terrific thing to be able to tell grandkids! “No Other Love” has been a feature of many weddings that my parents sang for. Not sure if you receive the Chr. Chronicle, but maybe you noticed the feature on Boone a couple issues ago. I thought it was nicely fair and even complimentary, putting more of the onus for the parting of the ways on the other side.

      It is always nice finding more of shared legacies!


  2. Steve Kell 04/18/2018 / 10:44 am

    PS: I wonder if the poem referenced by R Wightman came from an early 20th century collection of writings/poems from RW entitled: The Things He Wrote to Her (1914)? There is a companion book called The Things She Wrote to Him (nd). Interesting.


    • Brian Casey 04/18/2018 / 11:55 am

      Maybe my mom will know of the collection. Yes, interesting possibility.


  3. godschildrenorg 04/18/2018 / 11:21 pm

    Beautiful tribute to two godly servants of the Lord Most High. Thank you, Brian. Touches me deeply….
    ~~ Anne B.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. sandyellis2017 04/19/2018 / 7:43 am

    I always loved it when your granddad lead singing at College church.


    • Brian Casey 04/19/2018 / 10:20 am

      Hi, Sandy! When you were there, was he leading just from memory, or was he still using a loose leaf binder with the words in large type?


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