Years ago while serving as the campus minister at Carson Newman University in Tennessee, I became friends with the Rev Grady Nutt. Grady had grown up in Texas, attended Wayland College and then graduated from Baylor University and then from Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville Kentucky. After serving as a youth pastor, associate pastor and pastor of small churches in Texas and Kentucky, Grady became assistant to the president of Southern Seminary for recruitment. Grady had a great wit about him and loved telling stories on himself and others. Most of his stories were about the church and pastors.
Grady later became such a popular speaker that he was recruited to be the preacher on the television show Hee Haw. Grady would appear and tell one of his stories or jokes about being in the church often while sitting in the barber’s chair. Later Grady had his own television show in which he played the part of a minister, and each one of the episodes was about something funny in the life of his congregation.
In my second year at Carson Newman, I invited Grady to speak in chapel. When I recruited Grady, I asked if he would bring his wife Eleanor with him so that they could do a dialogue about their marriage and their commitment to one another. Of all of the speakers who came to Carson Newman, including the other times Grady came, I think this was the most inspirational because he and Eleanor were extremely candid about their relationship and the work it took for them to keep their marriage a healthy growing relationship. Some of the students were upset because it was a serious rather than funny chapel program, but I felt that it was important for the students to experience the work it takes to build a happy marriage.
The last time I was with Grady was shortly after I had been notified by the administration that I would not be continued at Carson Newman. Sitting at a local pizza joint, I reached to pick up the bill because, after all, Grady was my guest. Grady took the bill from me and with a wink said, “Let me get this. After all, I have a job and you don’t .” That small gesture was enough to let me know his concern for me and my family. I remember how in that moment Grady did one of the most pastoral things he could have done. I have carried that kindness with me for many years and I remind myself that often it is in the small gestures that we make the most impact.
In 1982 while flying back on a charter plane from a speaking engagement, Grady and the two pilots were killed when the plane crashed. I lost a friend that day but I did not lose sight of what that friendship meant to me. I thank God for putting folks like Grady Nutt in my life. Let us all pray that God will give us the opportunity to be kind to someone, so that it may make a difference in what they are going through.