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April 30, 2013

Jim Bailey: Through diverse paths, they made their marks in the world

It must have something to do with the age we are reaching. It seems as though more and more people with whom we have identified most of our lives have come to the end of their earthly journey.

In this column I’ll discuss two of them. One I never met formally, but his name is recognized worldwide. The other was an elementary school classmate of mine whom I hadn’t seen in more than 60 years, but he likewise made his mark in a big way.

George Beverly Shea lived 104 years. More than half were spent on the same stage with renowned evangelist Billy Graham, Shea’s solos preceding every sermon Graham preached at his widely attended crusades. Shea is among those whom Alexandria’s Bill Gaither has honored in several of his Homecoming video projects in recent years.

Shea, born in Canada where his father was a Wesleyan Methodist minister, was known for his trademark rendition of “How Great Thou Art.” He was also a songwriter, composing both the words and music to “The Wonder of It All” and the music for “I’d Rather Have Jesus.” He recorded more than 70 albums and performed live before an estimated 200 million at crusades over the years.

At Shea’s 100th birthday celebration four years ago, Graham said he couldn’t have had a ministry without Shea. “As a young man starting my ministry, I asked Bev if he would join me. He said yes, and for over 60 years we had the privilege of ministering together across the country and around the world.”

The other made his mark in the field of education. While scanning the online obituaries of our sister publication, The Free Press, in my boyhood home of Mankato, Minn., I noted the death of Larry G. Jones. The name Larry Jones, admittedly, is hardly unique. But I quickly perceived that it was my former grade school friend because he had a brother named Leigh and because of his particular interests.

We were in the same Boy Scout troop before I moved away. While I never went far in Scouting, Jones went on to receive both the Eagle Scout award and the Order of the Arrow. He was an avid sports participant, but after he broke his leg in high school football he went on to become head cheerleader at the University of Minnesota. I remember Larry leading cheers during a sixth-grade volleyball match at our elementary school.

Jones went on to spend his life in higher education research, teaching and administration, holding several positions before winding up at Boston University. He also loved music and was married to a professional musician.

Though it has been six decades, I can remember the enthusiasm with which Larry tackled everything he pursued.

The ending is bittersweet. He died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease in Boston last month.

Two different stories with the same result: Lives lived well.

Jim Bailey’s column appears on Wednesday. He can be reached by e-mail at jameshenrybailey@earthlink.net.

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