The Passing of Two Great Americans
By Dr. Mark Hendrickson
Last Saturday was a poignant day for me. Not only was much-loved First Lady Barbara Bush laid to rest, but I received word of the passing of a dear friend, Gerald Hath (always Gerry to me). The parallels between the Haths and the Bushes were striking. Just as former President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush were nonagenarians who shared more than 70 years of marriage, so it was with Gerry and Betty Hath. (Betty passed away about a year-and-a-half ago.) Both couples were wed when the husbands were home on leave from their service in World War II — the Haths in 1944, the Bushes in 1945.
The Christian faith was important to both the Haths and the Bushes. In an age when Christianity is so often disrespected and the western civilization to which it gave rise is being driven from college curriculums, we should pause and contemplate how the practical Christianity — the goodness and good deeds — of people like Barbara Bush and Gerald Hath touched the lives of so many and made our country a better place. You know many of Mrs. Bush’s contributions to our society. Gerald’s, though less well known, were no less important.
Gerald and Betty raised three daughters who have lived good, solid, productive lives. Gerald had a long career teaching a subject he loved dearly — science — to middle-schoolers.
In fact, it was during my one year of teaching at Northeast Intermediate School in Midland, Michigan that I met Gerry. I got to know him and Betty through the teachers’ bowling league on Thursday afternoons. They graciously invited me to move into their home during the second semester of school (their daughters already having grown and moved elsewhere). Since I had been staying in an unwinterized cabin where frost and ice often appeared on the floor close to the walls, it was an easy decision for me to give up those inconveniences and move into a warm family atmosphere.
Gerry and Betty expressed their love for others by participating in various church and community activities. Their greatest gift was the founding of Teenage Musicals, Inc. — a community theatre group that they shepherded for over 50 years. They lovingly gave what social scientists call “social capital” in abundance to their community — the kind of generous giving so essential for bringing people together.
Gerry’s passing reminded me of how young our country still is. His grandfather was one of the six Union soldiers who captured Confederate President Jefferson Davis a month after the Civil War ended. Many in the north sought to belittle Davis by charging that he was dressed as a woman when he was caught. Gerry had letters written by his grandpa that attested to the truth: Mr. Davis was ill, and one of his wife’s coats was being used to keep him warm; nothing more. Gerry’s grandpa was a man of integrity, decency, and fairness (like Gerry himself) who was not going to let a vanquished American’s honor be besmirched by scurrilous lies.
A few weeks ago, I received an Easter card from Gerry. This was something new. We would speak a couple of times a year and we always exchanged Christmas cards, so why, after all these years, was an Easter card added to the routine? To me it was obvious: Gerry, fast approaching his 97th birthday, was embracing the promise of the Resurrection and signaling that it was time for him to close this chapter of his life and rejoin Betty. And now he has. Who knows? Maybe he met Barbara Bush along the way.
A final thought: The ranks of what Tom Brokaw dubbed “the greatest generation” are thinning out on a daily basis. What a blessing it has been to know Barbara Bush as First Lady and Gerald Hath as a friend for over 40 years. They indeed let their “light shine” (Matt. 5:16) in this world.
Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson is an adjunct faculty member, economist, and fellow for economic and social policy with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.