Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

For August 10, 2003


Reflections on the simple ways people make a difference in our lives


            People touch our lives in different ways. Most brush past us in haste, paying us little attention. Some frustrate us in irritating ways, draining our joy. A few offer us their friendship, making a profound difference in our lives.

            Those who make a positive difference do so in a hundred simple ways. I look back and review the faces of people who have made a difference in my life, and my gratitude is staggering.

            There is Brother Si Mathison. I was a smart-alecky 13-year-old farm boy with no fondness for preachers or the church. Brother Si, and his sweet wife Mary, took a liking to me, made me feel like I was somebody. Soon, growing up under his influence, I feel in love with Jesus Christ and my life has never been the same.

            There is Griffin Lloyd. A preacher also, Griffin ignored my 19-year-old bravado and encouraged me to pursue my dream of being a Methodist preacher. Griffin married Dean and me when we were 20. He and his wife, Kathleen, became like family to us, and inspired us to want a marriage like their own.

            There is Joel McDavid, the pastor of Auburn Methodist Church during my years as a student at Auburn University. Never flamboyant, but always a steady and strong leader, Joel modeled for Dean and me the moral character necessary for an effective preacher. His genuine caring for us then, and across the years, we have never forgotten.

            There is Paul Duffey. He instigated a phone call that changed our lives. One day, shortly after graduating from Auburn, Dean called me from the yard to answer the phone.

            I was nobody, living at the time not far from Tuskegee, Alabama, the pastor of a circuit of country churches. To my amazement, the voice on the phone introduced himself as Newman Cryer, editor of The Pastor, a national magazine for Methodist ministers, headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.

            “My friend, Paul Duffey, told me about you,” Newman said. “I need an assistant editor for this magazine. You can do your seminary work at Vanderbilt University. We will work this job around your schedule.”

            A few months later Dean and I packed our bags and moved, with our infant son David, to Music City. Newman hired me and I enrolled in the Divinity School at Vanderbilt to begin my study for the ministry.

            How did we get there? It is not enough to say that it was the providence of God. God’s providence included a phone call made by a man who believed in me enough to recommend me to his friend. Paul made that phone call 49 years ago, and I have never forgotten his kindness or his confidence in me.

             I had to work my way through college. One day, an awkward freshman, I walked into the office of Bill Beckwith, then Director of Sports Publicity for Auburn. I needed a job. Bill needed an assistant. He hired me.

            I knew nothing about writing, especially sports releases for newspapers and radio stations, but Bill hired me anyway. He took me under his wing, taught me how to compose a press release, and how to find material for a good story.

            I learned by watching Bill. Daily he would write stories about the athletes involved in football, basketball, baseball, wrestling, and other sports at Auburn. Back then, we reproduced the stories on a mimeograph machine. My job was to make copies, fold them, and mail them to newspapers and radio stations across the state.

            Sometimes, when the story was important enough, we wired it on Western Union. That was exciting – to take a story of “breaking news” in athletics to Western Union.

            Years later, I thanked Bill Beckwith personally for all the help he had given me. Had Bill not hired me, patiently taught me, and opened doors for me, I would never have gone on to become editor of The Plainsman, a correspondent for several state daily papers, and finally editor of The Auburn Alumnews.

            Looking back, I realize how incredibly blessed I have been by so many people who took an interest in me, helped me to believe in myself, and in many simple ways, made an eternal difference in my life. My gratitude is boundless.

            The list of people to whom I am indebted is actually endless. The faces of many others crowd my memory, people who in recent years made such a remarkable impact upon my life. The words of the song come to mind, “How can I ever say thanks” for all the caring ways people have touched my life.

            Looking ahead, I have found myself praying a lot lately, that when I am gone, there will be at least a few people who will feel that I made a positive difference in their lives. Is there really anything more important for which to live? + + + +