Dr. Thomas E. Corts was the kind of man I wish I were. Even thinking that makes me realize just how far from reality the likelihood of that could ever be and how rare an individual he really was.
Tom Corts was a believer. He believed in God and lived by God’s commands as closely as anyone I have ever known. He was a student of the Bible and its principles, and he sought to live his life in accordance with those principles. His was a faith that informed and affected his every action, yet always provided grace and room for others who held different opinions. He was sure in his faith without being so assured that he encroached on the faith of others. As far as trust in God and the transformative power of Jesus on a life, Tom Corts was a believer.
Tom Corts was a healer. Even when those with whom he disagreed theologically or politically had no room for his opinion, his heart yearned and his mind searched for a way to heal whatever breach existed. This trait was never more evident than when he guided Samford University through the turbulent waters of denominational schism. For years after Samford’s move to secure its own future by electing its own trustees, he proved his intention to strengthen the relationship that existed between Samford and the Alabama Baptist State Convention by working closely with the convention and its committees. He lived the truth in the axiom that there is no virtue in sustained denunciation. He continued to work with Alabama Baptists–and especially with those Alabama Baptists who disagreed with some of his decisions–to heal every breach until his retirement from the presidency of Samford in 2006. In every way, Tom Corts was a healer.
Tom Corts was a servant. He took on the role of servant with the ease of someone slipping into a comfortable chair at the end of the day. Countless times I watched as people awed at his caring for the slightest detail in a situation, as he inquired quietly of a colleague’s family member who was dealing with a health concern, or as he comforted those who were grieving. I remember, too, the way folks would leave a lunch meeting with Dr. Corts at Samford, stunned that he had left his seat to serve them coffee at the end of the meal. He never seemed to do this for show. Rather, he saw that they needed to be served and would move to do whatever he could do. In his heart, Tom Corts was a servant.
Tom Corts was a mentor. He gave me and so many other people the opportunity to get a start. And then after we got started and were on our way, he continued to guide us with care without trying to dictate which way we should go. He loved education, he loved the search for truth, and he loved nurturing people along the way. His way was to encourage and hope, and in his nature Tom Corts was a mentor.
Since hearing the news of Dr. Corts’ passing on Wednesday, I have tried hard to console myself with religious platitudes and reassurances of the faith. But what I keep hearing is Willie Nelson singing Bob Dylan’s lyrics: Every time I think of him, I just can’t keep from cryin’, ˜Cause he was a friend of mine.
Tom Corts was a believer. He was a healer, a servant and a mentor. And God how the world needs more like him. Lord, help me honor the memory of Dr. Thomas E. Corts by trying to be the kind of man I wish I were.
Todd Heifner provides development services for religious non-profit organizations.
Founding Co-Director of Hope Manifest, Inc. — a consulting firm advising both religious and secular non-profit organizations, Heifner holds an M.B.A. from Samford, and a Masters in Institutional Advancement from Vanderbilt. He is married to Amanda Hiley and together they have five sons, Graham and Deason Heifner, Jess, Andy and Nathan Vaughan and a grandson, Julian.