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.