A Long Obedience in the Same Direction
Memoir by Michael Usey
April 22, 2003
When Fred was a boy on the farm in Yadkin County, he and his brothers got into their share of trouble. He had 3 brothers that lived past infancy: Ray, M.F. [a.k.a. Melvin Fynn], and Charles. One night when the boys were in bed, they had done something to incur their father’s wrath and earn a whipping. They thought they’d get the better of the old man: by holding the sheets ultra tight, the boys reasoned that the taunt sheet would bear the brunt of the blow. They were right: their father spanked them, but it didn’t hurt like usual, so when Dad left, the boys started giggling at their triumph. Five minutes later the dad returned and spanked the boys again, this time without the sheets to help. Fred said later, “When he left, we didn’t laugh anymore.”
Year later, his own sons would try the same stunt, trying to soft the blow with a taunt sheet, but this time the father was Fred, and when he returned to the room, he said, “It didn’t work with my daddy; it’s not gonna work now.”
There’s a lot of Fred Scott in that story: involved as a father, mischievous as a boy, a sharp mind, and witty. Each of here have been touched by this remarkable man’s life and love, and most of us have lots of great stories of Fred. Some of the best, though, come from his sons, Harold and Ron. Fred loved to work outside-as you can see from the man’s yard, the lawn looks like a carpet. The boys learned to work outside and eventually to love working hard in the yard too. When they mowed that huge yard, they had a gas push mower, and they trimmed that massive yard with hand clippers, and raked with a hand rake. A few months after the last one went away to school, Harold and Ron noticed Fred had a new riding mower, a new gas weed eater, a new power trimmer, and a new leaf blower. Ron asked, “Why didn’t you get these power tools when we were at home?” Fred said, “Didn’t need them then-I had you two.”
Fred was one of the rare Christians who both taught his faith and lived it out. He taught his Sunday school class for a whopping 42 years-this is longer than some of you have been alive. He started studying for his Sunday school lesson on Monday night, not Saturday night. He turned down more that one dinner invitation out so that he could be at home on Saturday night, to look over his lesson and get to bed early-just like we full-time ministers. I asked him 2 weeks ago if had any regrets, and his answer was telling: his one regret was that when he left his Sunday school last May, he didn’t know it would be his last time to teach. He wished for closure there.
He took teaching and faith seriously, but he never took himself too seriously.
The passages of scripture that you heard read in this service are ones Fred himself picked, as is the music, the ministers, and the pallbearers. Fred was a prepared man, unlike most of us he chose to be as intentional about his death as he was about his life. He knew his Bible better than most, and loved to study it because it told him about the God who loved him. Ten days ago, when hospice care was immanent, and it was clear that death would finally catch him soon, I asked him for one of his favorite passages of scripture. Without hesitating, Fred quoted Matthew 6.33: “Seek first the kingdom of God, and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” These are the words of Jesus, of course, to his disciples, telling them if they would just put God first in their lives, then every other part of their life would fall into its proper place. These words set a high standard, and yet this mandate to seek first God’s kingdom is the one by which Fred lived.
Clearly, Fred’s life was not a trivial one. He was smart enough to keep first things first, and the first things for him were, after his love for God, his family, friends, and his church. Most of us have a few stupid hobbies. Fred’s energy he reserved for she he deemed most important. As a parent and again as a grandparent, Fred invested time in the lives of his sons, daughters-in-law, and in his three grandchildren, Emily, Chris, and Mindy. Perhaps more than anyone here other than Rachel, it is these three that feel Fred’s death the most. The prevailing model of being a father for Fred’s generation was being a provider-a bread winner only-but Fred was ahead of his time in that he saw a crucial role as dad was being present with his sons and grandchildren: Fred was an active, involved dad. He gave them himself, surely the best gift a father can give. He taught his sons to play basketball, football, and baseball. Even when he was in his 60s, he played basketball with Chris up at the courts at General Greene, and usually beat his grandson. Afterwards, he’d tell Chris, “Never let anyone tell you you can’t do something.” Which could have been Fred’s motto, too. He took his sons to places like the circus, and camping.
Fred also loved the outdoors, and gave that love to his sons and grandchildren. He went to every game his boys played that he could possibly make, and when he retired, he went to every recital all 3 grandkids had-their concerts, awards, events at school, Chris’ basketball, baseball & football games, and Mindy’s dance recital. He started collecting State quarters for each of the grandkids, and had a book for each. Let’s be honest: many, many men his age (or any other age) do not give their family a fourth of the time that Fred gave to his. Fatherhood is much praise but seldom practiced. While other hobbies are good and natural, Fred’s delight was spending time with people that he loved, especially his family, and he knew how to show that love in concrete deeds. He and Rachel took each of the grandkids on a special trip when he or she was 5 or 6, just that one child and them. The state motto of NC is, “to be rather than to seem,” which describes Fred to a tee.
Of course, the love of his life was Rachel. After being married 52 years, he was still deeply devoted to her, and loved her fiercely. He modeled selfless marriage for many in our church-myself included. Fred went to Appalachian State and graduated in 1949, with a degree in mathematics, with the thought of being a math teacher. He taught high school math and basketball one year before going into the military in 1952. Fred was in Ft. Jackson, South Carolina, and made top grades in Army Supply School, so he was asked to be an instructor, where he served for two years. [If it were up to me, all college grads would serve the military years so that we would truly have a nation of citizen soldiers.] Before the military, though, he met Rachel. They met on a double date, although they were not the ones paired. So they dropped the spare, and dated each other-16 months they dated, going to movies, ball games, to sharing a snack, before they were married at the United Methodist Church of Smithtown, Rachel’s home church. They were married on a Saturday in an informal small wedding, and the next day, Sunday, they were in church. Fred was a Baptist, and in 1955 when they settled here, they moved their membership to College Park. So for the last 52 years, Fred and Rachel have loved each other, cherished each other, and stood by the other’s side in sickness and in health, in lean times and better times, until his death has parted them. At least for the time being.
Harold asked Fred if he dropped the other girl when he found out Rachel was a better cook. Fred said, “You got that right.” Fred loved Rachel’s cooking, and he bragged on it. They used to have a dog named Rusty that was a real chow hound-he’d gobble up his food. Fred used to joke that, when it came to Rachel’s cooking, he ate like Rusty. Fred loved dessert, and when the time came for it, he used to tap his plate with his fork, as his own applause for his wife’s cooking abilities. He also loved Angie’s yeast rolls, and made sure her rolls were counted and accounted for.
Fred had his dark side, though, and it’s almost too shameful to mention here. I hate to admit it, but noble Fred loved Duke basketball. He watched every game, and I know he wouldn’t answer the phone when Duke was playing. It’s a measure of how much he loved Emily and Chris that he took them, at their request, to visit the Dean Dome at Chapel Hill. Fred told them, “You know that I wouldn’t do this for anyone else on the planet.” Emily repaid the kindness though, in a spectacular way: Emily used her connections at the TV station Fox channel 8 to write to the Duke Coach to tell him that her grandfather had cancer and that he was a huge rabid Duke Basketball fan. Coach K responded with a gracious letter, and not one but two autographed team yearbooks for 2000-01 season. Chris bought him a Duke hat to do yard work in, but Fred thought it was too good for that. So heaven may have its first Blue Devil.
I loved being Fred’s pastor, which has to be the easiest job in the world: Pastoring great men like Fred means trying not to get in their way, and listening careful when they speak, trying to pray as much for them as they do for you. Fred had wisdom that people listen to: one business meeting we were having a long debate about something somewhat controversial. After 20 minutes of discussion, then Fred said his piece briefly, and it was as though he had just spoken what was on everyone’s hearts and minds. The next person who spoke said, “Well, if Fred Scott is for this, then I am too.” The issue carried unanimously. On the Sunday right after September 11th, we had a talk-back time in the middle of worship. Fred Scott stood up and said that he believed that God was not behind this nor was God responsible for the great evil done our nation on that day. After the service, a man said to me, “I came for an answer to a very specific question today, and Fred Scott answered it.” As he often did, his life and his words taught others how to live and to love God and life.
The man knew how to pray, both in public and in private. When Fred Guttman from Temple Emanuel came and preached to College Park some years ago, the rabbi said that one of the things he admired most about Christians was their comfort in praying in public, and how authentic the prayers most of the prayers were. When I think of the rabbi’s observation, I think of Fred, for he knew how to pray, and welcomed the chance to do so. Fred Scott didn’t avoid praying, like many of us do; he was comfortable praying in public because he talked and listened to God in private. Listening to his prayers, you got the sense this was how Abraham and God may have interacted. And, if his prayers were occasionally too long, then cold food-something his sons as young boys occasionally lamented-was a small price to pay for being helped into God’s presence to witness this intimate interchange.
Integrity is something most of us strive for, but with Fred there was a seamless fit between his words, his beliefs, and his life. Not that he was perfect-he would tell you so himself, but he seemed comfortable with himself-who he was, and who God was creating him to be. Fred Scott was humble (which means he had a realistic picture of himself), devoted and compassionate. When Emily occasionally would get into conflict with her dad, Ron, Fred was available and willing to talk with her and try to intercede. Fred was forgiving-a much more rare quality that most people think-and he was kind. Best of all, he didn’t focus on himself-life wasn’t about him, but about loving the people around him. Fred always did a lot of things that need doing for other people. This is how he and Rachel became deacons at College Park, and why he became the chair of the diaconate-because they are both servant leaders. Last year Fred Scott was selected for the 2001 Senior Servant Leadership Award. The criterion for this award is based on a scripture passage, Phil 2.1-11, which includes this phrase, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” This Fred did. Talk to almost anyone here, and that person will tell you of a time Fred helped him or her out. He got Angie’s mother’s leaves up when she was in the hospital. He delivered countless meals to GUM, he helped us paint Hannah’s room years ago, and he visited everyone in the hospital, bringing a joke, a smile, and a listening ear.
When Ron asked Angie out, their first date was watching Lawrence Welk with Fred and Rachel (Hey, big spender …). Ron was confident his family was impressive enough that they merely had to be themselves. In fact, when Ron & Angie celebrated their 22nd anniversary, Fred delivered the flowers to Angie at her work at UNCG: “I’m your delivery man!” he said cheerfully. When Kay asked Harold out for tennis (yes, she hit on him first!), she quickly learned to love and appreciate her future in-laws.
His sons loved Fred profoundly. Did you ever wonder how Fred and Rachel had two sons who turned out so well and both of whom went into law enforcement? Harold said that it was a natural progression, from his parents teaching them right from wrong, with a concern for the welfare of a community, coupled with a love for being out of doors and not behind a desk. Every thing they saw in Fred-courage, honor, a sense of integrity, knowing right from wrong, being good with people-fit into their choice as adults to become a police officer and a sheriff’s deputy. Fred’s way of living his life with a quiet daily nobility reverberates loudly in his sons, whose lives honor their parents and their God.
Fred loved to joke with his sons, and this gave them a wicked sense of humor. When Harold was really young, they were watching an NFL game on TV, the famous “Icebox” game, the Dallas Cowboys vs. the Green Bay Packers in the frozen tundra of Wisconsin. Dallas was winning the game literally until the last seconds, and Fred was rooting for Dallas. So every time Dallas would score, Fred would poke his young son and say, “Pretty good game, isn’t it?” This happened several times. Then when the Pack won in the last minutes of the game, Harold poked his dad, and said, “Pretty good game, isn’t it?” Fred left the room with a sheepish grin without bothering to see the very end of the game. Or his boys would kid him about how small his Chevy S-10 pick-up truck was: “Keep feeding it, Dad, and it will grow up to be full-sized.” When they were moving, one of boys would bring a shoebox, and place it the bed of Fred’s truck, and then tell him that his truck was full. I love that theirs was a home filled with fun and humor.
Fred knew when not to laugh too. When Harold and his patrol car was shot up by a stoned guy with an AK-47, Harold was in the hospital, lucky to be alive. Fred was there at his side, and Harold made a joke when he could to let his dad know he was okay. Fred’s face said, I can’t joke about this. His concern was always for other people.
This is the problem with having a great and wonderful father: when he dies, as all of us will, the children’s sense of loss is colossal. I watched this last week as both Harold and Ron and Kay and Angie and their children stayed with Rachel pretty much 24/7 as they waited with Fred for his death to come. It was a brave and difficult way to die for Fred, to see it coming like a car wreck from a distance. It was even harder on his family. But thanks to the family’s wisdom and the graciousness of both the police department and the sheriff’s department, there were many holy and intimate moments in Fred’s last days.
On Tuesday morning early, Fred spoke his last words to his boys. He called them over, and hugged each of them in a one arm hug. Then he said, “I love you. Trust in God and it will be alright.” What a gift his trusting and peaceful attitude was-to the end. Those are words Fred lived by-I love you; trust in God and it will be all right. The sum of a long obedience in the same direction. They are a good summary of the sermon of his life to all of us. May each of us listen to it and take heed.