I have fond memories of many preachers, living and dead, but elders have been some of my best friends. On Friday, I received word that one of the first two elders to shepherd me as a full-time preacher died of a sudden heart attack on Friday, April 26. He was 91.
Perhaps I have never met a more diverse and interesting man in my life. He knew John Wayne and was friends with Alvin York. He did archaeological work, and some of his finds are housed at the University of Tennessee. He was Tennessee’s middleweight boxing champion in his youth. He ate lunch with J. Edgar Hoover and assisted him on numerous classified projects. He was extremely well-read and as good a historian as any I have met. He was manager of government communications in Washington, D.C., a post that helped him to meet and work with eight presidents (Kennedy-Bush I). He was a veteran of World War II and Korea, serving in both the U.S. and Australian armies in WWII and as a marine in Korea. He fought in the Pacific theatre and spent time as a prisoner of war. In his career at AT&T, he helped to avert at least one serious international crisis with the Soviet Union. He authored a book on the history of AT&T. Truly, this just scratches the surface of his achievements in the world.
But, I did not get to see him in these venues. He regaled me with story after story the first five years I worked as the preacher for the Cold Harbor Road church of Christ in Virginia, about some of these incidents, but I knew him as my elder, a man for whom and with whom I worked in Christ’s vineyard. His influence in the community led him to study with a man from whose conversion literally dozens more have come. I sat in with him on other successful Bible studies. He had a rare ability to plainly tell Bible truth to people in a way that convicted and persuaded, rather than angered, them. He knew the flock. He gently corrected those members in error and led them back home. He led the congregation to lovingly, consistently practice church discipline. He counseled with Christians and non-Christians. He and Ann were as benevolent and giving as any couple I have known–who knows how many people they helped. They were neither afraid of nor strangers to hard work, from work days to cleaning the baptistry monthly to helping the elderly and the sick. If he ever missed a major surgery of a member, I cannot recall it. He had boundless energy which he apparently used non-stop to the very end. He established congregations in Australia and Virginia, and he was a major force behind the early growth of the Cold Harbor congregation. He served as an elder in at least two congregations.
Russell Young was a Renaissance Man in the noblest sense of the word. He symbolized what made his the “greatest generation.” But, he challenges us with his example. If a country boy from the Sequatchie Valley of Tennessee could achieve so much in a long, full life, what about you and me? The church can have great and numerous leaders to guide it to great heights, if there is a will within the men among us. For now, those of us who knew Russell will long for the endless day of reunion with him in heaven! Praise God for “mighty men” like Russell Young!