By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector singing-together-family

Johnnie Godwin has been writing a column for the Baptist and Reflector since 2003. I knew of  Johnnie long before he sent that first column to me for consideration but did not really know him. Over the course of time Johnnie has become a dear friend and mentor.

As I read through his column this week, he mentioned that he recently turned 80 years old. That triggered something in my mind and I realized that, besides Johnnie, there are at least three other people who have played a major role in my life who either have turned 80 this year or will in the next couple of months. There could be a few more that I’m not even aware of.

The three who came to mind are my Uncle Bill, Edward “Bootsie” Coggins, and Marilyn Eells.

I’ll start with my uncle. Bill and his wife Lynn have been steady rocks in my life since I was born. Although he spent a career in the Air Force we saw them fairly often and when he retired they moved basically next door to where we lived. Lynn, still a few years from the 80 milestone, probably has influenced me more than any one person in my life, other than my grandmother.

Growing up without a dad, my grandfather and Bill were the two who primarily filled that role, along with Bootsie who is the father of my best friend growing up. They taught me the things I needed to know and all three provided a strong Christian influence in my life.

Bootsie and his wife Shirley were another set of  “parents,” particularly in my teenage years. I spent probably as much time at their house as I did my own. 

Marilyn Eells became an important part of our family later in life. After we moved to Nashville in 1982 we met Marilyn while Joyce and I were both working at the Southern Baptist Convention building, then located on James Robertson Parkway. God brought us together and we became close friends. Our kids still call her “granny” when they see her. Marilyn will turn 80 this week. Of the four, she probably will be the least happy that I announced her age, but she will forgive me (at least I hope so).

These four people are a reminder of how God has blessed my family and me with an older generation who has impacted every area of my life. What’s more, at the age of 80 they all still play a vital role. There are many, many others who have played a significant role in my life.

God strategically places people in our lives. Take an inventory of the people God has given you the privilege to know, especially those who are age 70 and above and are still alive.

It’s easier said than done, but let these people know they have been important to you. Visit or call when you can. At the least, write them a handwritten note expressing your love and appreciation to them.

I encourage churches to do the same. Just because people age does not mean they can no longer serve. Older members sometimes can do more because they have that one commodity that the younger generation does not have today — time. They also have a lifetime of experience. They’ve been through the good times and the bad. Take advantage of their knowledge and expertise.

It will be a win-win situation for everyone.