Thursday, September 6, 2012
The Preacher’s Corner
Frank Swords – a life well lived
We gathered at Marshall Academy last Wednesday to pay tribute to Frank Swords. I said then it was the first funeral I had ever been part of where the minister and pallbearers had an actual discussion whether we should wear dark suits or overalls! There was lots of teasing about this by subsequent speakers, but it all underscored the fact that we were there to mark the life of a much-beloved person in the life of our town.
People did not expect me to give the usual “Dearly beloved” meditation over Frank Swords. How stuffy and boring that would be!
If I were to choose a Bible verse to describe Frank, it would be the exhortation of Jesus, from his Sermon on the Mount: “But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Frank was so modest, he would have blushed at this quotation, but when we die people do remember and reflect upon our lives, and this theme has recurred often as I have discussed Frank with his friends and family since his passing. It makes you feel good to think of a life well lived.
Preachers sometimes have to scratch around to find something good to say about a deceased person, and we ought to think about what material we are giving the preacher to work with when we die. Frank left no shortage of inspiration, and I had to move quickly to cover what needed to be said.
First of all is his family, for above all else Frank loved Vicki, his wife of 32 years, and his six daughters: Vicki Jo, Cindy, with her husband John; Mandy, with her husband Doug; Amy, with her husband Perry; Holly, with her husband Kyle, and Leslie. And his grandchildren: Dana, Sterlin, Josh, Michael, Juston, Eva and Grayden.
There is his brother Phil and sister-in-law Debbie, and I must mention his parents, for in the years after his father’s death, Frank was devoted to his mother.
Frank came from modest beginnings — not unlike many here in Holly Springs. He went to school, he worked hard, and he enjoyed phenomenal success. Things we take for granted like home alarm systems and water purification devices were things he helped make household staples.
But unlike so many whose heads are turned by their success, Frank did not seem to need these things to validate his ego or to inflate his personality. He cer tainly did not — again as so many do —seem to need to protect what he had, so as to become protective and grasping. He did not need to put down others to justify what he had achieved.
Frank’s list of charities was immense. He loved M.A., and donated land for its athletic fields. He gave money for players’ uniforms, for sports travel and meals. He donated substantial sums for the teachers’ fund for Christmas bonuses and pay raises. He helped pay for new additions to the school and for a new roof. He supported the school also by his presence. He just loved to watch a good ballgame, and he was here. He also did not mar the sportsmanship by grumbling at the referees’ calls or calling out to the players and coaches.
He also supported the sports programs at area public schools, and this was acknowledged at his service last Wednesday.
Frank was generous to a lot of people both in Marshall County and beyond. Some whom he helped never knew that he was the source of their assistance, and that was just the way he wanted it.
Frank was a quiet, behind the scenes type of helper, who did not “let his left hand know what his right hand was doing.” We can thank him by doing the same sorts of things for others as we are able.
Now I want to talk about Frank’s fun side.
A couple of Sundays ago I was talking with my Sunday school class about Jesus’ saying that “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God,” and we all chuckled at that, as the reason we know anything at all about such a saying is because of Frank Swords’ Field Days!
My, Frank did love his horses, and all the different kinds of wagons, carriages, and farm equipment he collected. At his funeral there was probably a bride or two, as well as some Pilgrimage Queens, who rode to their receptions and Pilgrimage events in one of Frank’s elegant carriages.
And I have to mention his friend Vernon Stroupe, Frank’s co-worker in all this, and also his friend and business partner George Poteet, who collects antique cars — a nice compliment to Frank’s animal-powered vehicles.
Last Pilgrimage the Memphis Boys’ Choir came to Holly Springs, and I asked Frank if he would bring one of his wagons and give them a ride after they sang. I was a little fearful that these city children might be skittish around the big team that Mr. Stroupe brought over, but the boys quickly took to the big, gentle horses and were petting them. I overheard one of these urban youngsters saying to his friend, “These horses sure smell funny!”
Not everyone will know that Frank had a good voice and loved to sing. He was a huge fan of Willie Nelson, and he and Leslie liked to team up for a duet on Nelson’s “You are always on my mind.”
There are hilarious stories about Vicki and Frank. Everybody here knows about the time Frank accidentally drove off and left Vicki at the service station en route to Destin, or the time Vicki walked past Frank’s chair in the darkened movie theater and sat down by another gentleman who looked like Frank and started shoving popcorn and cola in his direction! We remember these tales because Frank was such a wonderful storyteller.
All things endeared this kind and gentle man to us. He was a remarkably secure and self-possessed person. Though they were many, he wore his achievements lightly. The fruits of his faith were shown by what he did and, for me, that is the only kind of religion that matters.
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