By John Pierce
A chair was folded and leaned against the table Wednesday evening (Jan. 26) at Vineville Baptist Church in Macon, Ga. It was the seat that Bill Greenhaw — who died the night before —had long occupied with friends during the weekly fellowship meal.
Although a quiet and unassuming man, his absence is being felt. The spot on a front pew where he sat during the church’s early worship service is unfilled too. And the bench where he faithfully played the organ each Sunday at Centenary United Methodist Church next to the Mercer University campus is vacant as well.
His pastor Tripp Martin — during yesterday’s (Jan. 28) memorial service that was appropriately brief, simple and eloquent — described Bill as “the truest of friends.” The gathered crowd nodded in agreement.
A dedicated educator, Bill influenced a whole generation as a teacher, counselor and principal. And in retirement, he became a strong advocate for next-generation educators.
Through Vineville Baptist, Bill served as a deacon and as director of the media library from 1989 to 2006. A plaque at the entrance reveals that the congregation named the room in his honor: “The William B. Greenhaw Jr. Media Library.”
In his usual whispered voice and childlike grin, he told me more than once that the first plaque — which he had at home — was replaced due to a misspelled word.
When I met Bill for lunch many years ago and asked him to join the Board of Directors at Baptists Today news journal, he suggested having nothing to offer. But I knew better. He was a wise man whose counsel came quietly.
After serving six years on the Board, he told friends how eager he was to return. So after the one year required absence, he was back until his death.
Only once in the more than 10 years of knowing this kind, gentle man did I see him come unraveled. He had driven to a Board meeting in Atlanta and was completely confounded by the traffic and directions.
He called me several times from his car and I offered him every possible driving tip. At one point he was within a mile of the destination but it took him nearly an hour to arrive at the hotel. He was not in a good mood.
The next week I announced to our staff that Bill was to never travel alone to another out of town meeting. That policy worked well in that Bill was more at ease and our staff and other directors enjoyed the travel time spent with him.
Bill was a good reminder that the loudest voices do not always deserve the closest listening. For those wise enough to pay close attention, Bill was a constant source of insight, encouragement and hope.
As his pastor also said yesterday, Bill had a “thoughtful faith.” He was unmoved by narrow fundamentalism and quick to spot those who used religious language to mask selfish motives. He provided real support — money — to organizations that foster the historic Baptist freedoms that he held dear.
There are empty seats because Bill is gone. But there are full hearts because he came our way.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.