I did not plan on writing this column. I had an entirely different subject picked out and ready to go. Plans, though, are often interrupted by unforeseen events.
Friday morning, as I was about to join three other judges at the Centreplex to listen to the extemporaneous speeches from members of Future Farmers of America at its state convention, my phone started going crazy. There are blue-coated FFA teenagers everywhere. I answered. It was the editor, Sherrie Marshall. I could hear her, but she couldn’t hear me. Something was up. She doesn’t generally call me unless you-know-what has hit you-know-where. I headed outside and called her back. She asked me if I could get confirmation that Lonzy Edwards had died.
As a journalist, you go into a certain mode. You don’t ask questions. You just do what you do. I immediately called Leon Jones, the coroner. He answered. He knew it was me. We have each other’s numbers on speed dial. Without my asking, he told me Lonzy died about an hour before my call and gave me his date of birth. I thanked him. Then, I had to find a chair and sit down.
I called Sherrie back and gave her the sad information. I gathered myself and attempted to put on a happy face for these young people with their entire lives unfolding before them. They are young people who are doing all the right things to make themselves successful. They’re young people who probably resemble the same kind of virtues Lonzy exhibited a half-century earlier.
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Before you ask what he died from, I don’t know. I never asked. Cause of death really isn’t important. When he withdrew from the mayor’s race, I didn’t ask then, either. There are some things about public life that ought to remain private. Inquiring minds don’t need to know. It’s none of our business.
Needless to say, we should all have understood that whatever it was, it was serious. Lonzy was not flighty. He would not have taken on a race for office if he had known he was ill. That should also tell us that whatever this was that took him out came on suddenly. Once he grasped the seriousness of his condition, running for mayor was the last thing on his mind.
I don’t remember when I first met Lonzy. I’m pretty sure it was when he was working for then-Mayor George Israel. I liked him for two reasons. I enjoyed his intellect. He did his undergraduate work at Knoxville College in Tennessee. From there, he went on to earn his masters of divinity at Yale and later his doctorate of ministry at Emory. In between those two, he managed to earn his juris doctor at Duke. Lonzy may have been one of the first multi-taskers. He was always working on multiple projects. He probably was working on two books simultaneously while having a couple of more running around in his head.
Lonzy brought all of his academic knowledge to bear on the Scripture and shared it with his Mt. Moriah congregation. He celebrated his 32nd anniversary on April 4.
I enjoyed debating with him, but I stayed away from Scripture. He would have chopped me to shreads. On other subjects we didn’t always agree. Even when we did, we might come at the issue from totally different perspectives. There were times he might have changed my mind — a little — and, I’d like to believe — I changed his mind a lot.
I’d take him to task for some of the sorry preachers he defended in one breath while agreeing with me before he took his next. No matter the subject, we could always communicate.
Second, I liked Lonzy because he remained proud of his Hancock County roots. He told everyone who asked, or didn’t, where he came from and how he was raised, and how that rural upbringing made him a man. And he always remained true to himself and never wavered to speak truth to power or to embrace unpopular figures.
I’m going to miss seeing him walking down the street, cowboy hat on his head, looking a little disheveled, with a broad smile and hearty laugh. His family is going to miss him. His church is going to miss him. And I’m going to miss him. However, I am secure in the knowledge that Lonzy is all right. In the blink of an eye Friday morning, he heard the words “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Well done.”