By John Pierce
[Note: My brother, Robert Franklin Pierce Jr., was a minister in the North Georgia Conference of United Methodists. He died Sept. 1 after years of struggling with a variety of health concerns. These are some of my reflections on our growing up together.]
It was well known that my slightly elder brother Rob had a very quick, sharp mind — and incredible recall.
When we shared a bedroom during our high school years, he’d often rise and mention how funny Johnny Carson had been the night before. Then he’d repeat the monologue — if not verbatim, close.
His brilliance was only masked at times by his propensity for using it to less than its full potential. A seminary professor once created and presented the “Underachiever of the Year” award to him — adding, “You do less with more than any student I’ve ever had.”
I’m sure Dr. Miller hoped the tongue-in-cheek award would motivate Rob to use his mental capabilities to their greater limits. But I think Rob was just honored by the gesture.
Rob was not particularly humble about his intelligence. He often said that he and Jimmy Redwine were the only two true “Boynton intellectuals.” I never heard anyone else in our small Northwest Georgia community make such a claim — or argue with Rob over his.
Of course, about everything Rob said was well repeated. Our dad once said: “Rob can’t buy a pair of socks without telling four people.”
There are so many good memories of growing up with Rob as a close brother — separated by just one and a half years (to the day). I’ll bore you with just a couple.
We played baseball (in some form) in our front yard for many years — pretending to be the players on the trading cards we collected. We adjusted the rules for one player on each team and the strange field configuration that was our sloping, rocky front yard.
If fielded cleanly, it was an out. A grounder past the pitcher was a single; a double if it rolled or bounced into the ditch. A triple was a ball hit beyond the pitcher in the air, but not to the ditch.
A home run was anything that landed in or beyond the ditch in the air. That was made somewhat difficult by the presence of a large hickory tree with sprawling limbs in centerfield.
Anybody can catch a fly ball coming straight down — well, almost anyone. Try catching one that ricochets in various directions off of three tree limbs.
When I say we played baseball “in some form” that also means that the equipment varied from a plastic bat and ball to a real baseball — though usually waterlogged and wrapped in electrical tape.
Any wooden bat we might have owned would have been broken at least once and somewhat repaired with a nail or screw — and more electrical tape. I still think black electrical tape belongs in the sporting goods department.
If the ball got lost in a ditch full of briars we simply did without until it was found — sometime days later and more waterlogged. Then there was the summer we played for weeks with a scrap of wood and a ball of aluminum foil — our only available resources.
Interestingly, for two brothers, we never, ever argued over balls and strikes or the rulings on hits. We valued the game more than any potential conflict that might end it.
Thanks to the generosity of our Aunt Mattie and Aunt Edith, we also enjoyed dressing up and playing cowboys. I stopped about age 12. Rob never did. (We found about 70 cowboy hats at his home.)
Our play was fueled by Saturday television with Gene and Roy, Fury, My Friend Flicka, and Sky King.
One night Johnny Carson said he had some trivia questions that no one in his audience could answer. One was, “What actor played Sky King?”
Rob and I quickly responded: “Kirby Grant.” We had gone to see him during a visit to Chattanooga’s Brainerd Village — before the days of shopping malls.
Of course, Rob loved answering questions quickly and accurately. His skill at that earned him a college bowl scholarship to Berry and an appearance on Jeopardy.
Rob broke ground in our family by going to college and graduate school. Such was not a given for us.
While I never thought of myself as “following” Rob through school and career choices, I did to a large degree. However, the only time we were on the same campus at the same time (after his high school graduation) was my first and his last year of seminary in Old Wake Forest, N.C.
However, I do strongly credit Rob with blazing a trail for me to higher education. Not once was college a topic of conversation with our parents; the educational/vocational path could have gone any direction for me.
Rob was both a model and influence for me educationally. And I’m very grateful for that — and told him so.
Of course, after mixing mortar for bricklayers, blowing fiberglass insulation into hot attics, and pressing carpet into shape for automobiles (with my esteemed colleague Terry Jones) it didn’t seem all that demanding to go to class and study — at least enough to get by.
Rob was one of those persons for whom words are hard to describe. His personality was large — and his presence impossible to ignore.
Because of that reality, his absence will be large as well. These are just the beginning of reflections that will surface again and again in the minds of many who knew and loved him.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.