By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
Bootsie Coggins died on Mother’s Day.
Very few people in Tennessee know who Edward “Bootsie” Coggins is. But in heaven and northern Greenville County in South Carolina, Bootsie Coggins is a spiritual giant, even though he was about five feet, four inches tall and 130 pounds or so soaking wet.
Other than my mother, grandparents and my Aunt Lynn and Uncle Bill, no one played a more major role in my “raising” and spiritual development than Bootsie and his wife, Shirley. To mention one without the other is impossible.
Married for more than 63 years, they went together like cobbler and ice cream. I was blessed to be an “honorary” member of their family which included their children, Randy and Lavonda.
Bootsie had a tough home life growing up. His dad was a bootlegger, thus his nickname. He would be the first to admit he was not a good person in his teenage years and early adulthood.
Even after he married Shirley, a strong Christian woman, he ran from religion. He told stories of hiding in the bedroom when the preacher would come to visit.
But he soon discovered that while he might run, he could not hide from God. Bootsie eventually gave his life to God and, in doing so, countless lives would be impacted over the next 50-plus years.
When Bootsie became a Christian, “old things” passed away. He was a new creation and he lived like it. Bootsie gave his life not only to God but to Lima Baptist Church, a small rural congregation in Travelers Rest, S.C., not too far from the North Carolina line.
Bootsie did everything at Lima but preach and he could have done that. He was especially adept at preaching to Randy and me on the occasions we needed it and they were more often than not.
I spent more time at their house than I did mine in my teenage and early adult years.
I daresay there is not a young person who spent time at Lima who was not impacted by Bootsie and Shirley. They never had the title but for all practical purposes, they were the unofficial youth leaders at Lima.
They would load us up and take us to a state park to swim and have picnics and to countless other places. They invested their lives in the children and youth at Lima. Among other things, Shirley led the youth choir and Bootsie led the RAs.
A group would gather at their house on Sunday nights for her famous fried cornbread and onions and her pound cake and other desserts. They loved Jesus and they showed that love to all of us.
But, Bootsie impacted more than just the youth. He taught an adult Sunday School class for 40 years and served as a deacon for decades. Lima was a small country church and could never attract established pastors other than retirees who would serve at the end of their ministry. Most of our pastors were just beginning their ministry and as a result, had to “learn on the job.”
Bootsie became a mentor and friend to so many pastors who acknowledged his impact on them and their ministry. Two of them spoke at his funeral.
I would not be the person I am today had Bootsie and Shirley Coggins not been in my life. They didn’t just talk about Jesus. They modeled what it meant to be a Christian. They also modeled what it meant to have a Christian home and to live by faith.
I had the privilege of speaking at Lima’s homecoming last year and Bootsie and Shirley, who both had health issues in recent years, were able to be there. That’s a memory I won’t soon forget. We will all miss Bootsie, but we know where he is. There is no doubt in my mind that he heard a booming, “Well done my good and faithful servant” when he stepped through the Pearly Gates.
Bootsie and Shirley are examples of countless faithful Christians who serve the Lord they love without any fanfare. Our Tennessee churches are full of “Bootsies and Shirleys” who have impacted countless lives because they were lives who were changed by God.
My prayer is that my wife and I can be a “Bootsie and Shirley” to someone. I hope that will be your prayer as well. B&R