I was introduced to Bobby Ward shortly after he moved to Dooly County in 1986 to pastor Riverview Baptist Church. He soon became my customer at Bank of Dooly as well as my friend. He was usually wearing overalls when we visited in my office or took an occasional trip to Marise’s for fried chicken. While pastoring a growing congregation, Bobby also drove an eighteen-wheeler. He’s a country preacher who juggled two full time jobs and had the boundless energy to do them both well.
He was grinning mischievously the first time we met, something I quickly learned was a side effect of his incurable optimism. When I visited him on August 29th to talk about his diagnosis of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), he was still sporting that same grin. Not everyone can smile when facing Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Dr. Glass at Emory University Hospital gave Bobby and his wife, Teresa, the news on July 30, 2019. It had been obvious for a while that something was wrong, but that doesn’t lessen the pain of learning it’s a problem that can’t be fixed. Yet Bobby cheerfully responded with a slowly spoken question. “So, you’re saying I have about 20 years to live?” It took Dr. Glass a moment to appreciate Bobby’s sense of humor.
It takes a lot of effort for Bobby to speak now, something that came easily before. Most of his years in ministry were spent at two churches, first Riverview then later at Victory Baptist Church. He preached twice on Sundays plus held Wednesday night prayer meetings. He’s delivered thousands of sermons and officiated at innumerable special occasions.
Funerals are where I’ve mostly heard Bobby speak. He would read from Luke 12:15, “For a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.” Then he would remind us it’s not our possessions that are important but what we do with them.
Several times I’ve heard Bobby tell how he enjoys visiting old cemeteries. He likes to walk among their silent guests and read inscriptions etched on weathered tombstones. On those unhurried strolls he is reminded that the dates of our birth and death are not what’s most important. “It’s the dash between the dates that matters,” said Bobby at countless funerals. Then he would tenderly ask those gathered at the graveside, “What are you doing with the dash between your dates?”
It was only a few weeks ago that I mentioned Bobby in our men’s Sunday School class at First Baptist of Vienna. I hadn’t seen him in months and didn’t know he had ALS. I had talked about his gift for conversational witnessing. On the job with his fellow truckers he talked about Jesus, sometimes in more detail than they wanted to hear. Or chatting with a waitress he had met for the first time he would talk about Jesus. Bobby has been looking for opportunities to share his faith as long as I’ve known him.
He gave me a card when I recently visited in his home. It has the same message he’s been passing along for decades. “If we meet and you forget me, you have lost nothing: but if you meet JESUS CHRIST and forget Him you have lost everything.” He knows those cards sometimes end up in the trash. He also knows they sometimes find a place in the heart.
Bobby and Teresa were passing through Lake City, Florida years ago and stopped at a Sonny’s BBQ to eat. A lady approached the entrance at the same time they did. Bobby rushed to grab the door handle with the intent of having a little fun. “I’m going to beat you inside!” he said. The lady made no reply. She walked past him and sat alone.
Bobby discreetly paid for the woman’s meal and left a card behind. That was all he knew about her until five years later when she called. He learned that her son had been buried a couple of days before their brief encounter. She had kept Bobby’s card all that time, waiting to explain her solemn demeanor, waiting to thank him for his gesture of kindness.
ALS is a hard road to travel, but until he reaches the off-ramp Bobby plans to keep grinning and sharing what’s most important. He’ll continue handing out cards. And he’ll keep posing a question that he knows one day we’ll each have to answer: “What are you doing with the dash between your dates?
God places people in the right place at the right time. Great column.
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The Ward family is very dear family. They are a loving family. Bobby Ward made a awesome Santa every year. He was always a jolly Santa. My prayers are with the Ward family. We may not be blood family but they would always make you feel the love.
I do not know Bobby but he and his wife will be in my prayers
Excellent column about Bobby Ward. It’s good to spend time with people whose glass is always half full. We should all be happy in the Lord.
Preacher Bobby, you are the best. So easy to talk to. Some preachers are not. Lane thought of you as one of his best buddy’s. You never judged him and you know what his faults were. I remember your sermon on the dash so well. I can tell you, your long long long dash has certainly left marks in my heart. I just love you and you are such a great Christian Soldrier. Such a truly angel on this earth. And thank you so much for calling me to congratulate me on becoming a great grandma. It meant the world to me. I just love My Preacher Bobby.
I love mr. Bobby and me-me. I met them about 15 when I got invited to attend church at river view. Shortly after meeting and attending church, We started having church at his house while victory was being built. Mr. Bobby baptized me in his pool one summer. I will never forget the day I called him and asked if he could marry my husband and I. His jokingly reply was it’s illegal for me to marry three people! My thoughts and prayers go out to this wonder couple and their family…
My childhood neighbor. He had that sly grin in those days. I
Loved this mans family and I
Love this man. A true American soldier and a called man of God. Rev Ronnie Capes
The response to your article, “A Country Preacher” has been amazing! It has brought people back into our lives that we haven’t seen or heard from in 50 years. Since I shared it on my FB page late last night it has been a domino effect; it has been shared 20 times and those shares have been shared.
I think I told you my class of “1969” is having the 50th reunion next weekend. The administrator of NCHS Class of 1969 50th Reunion – Covington GA asked if she could share your column on their FB page. I thanked her for such a kind gesture and in a way it makes me feel like even in my absence, I can be a part of this once in a lifetime event.
Bobby is enjoying reading all the comments and unbelievable memories that people associate with him. “To live a life that touches others is a life well spent”! Thank you again! This has meant so much to Bobby and to me.
Teresa, this has touched my heart in a way I can’t explain but it has opened my eyes to realize just how much that “dash” should be given thought. LaMoyne and I just celebrated our 50th anniversary and I give thanks every day for this wonderful man God has given me. I’m going to make what dashes we have left be celebrated every day ! Thank you so much for sharing your story.
I will keep you and your precious husband in my prayers everyday. May the Lord bless you and Bobby and may He surround you with love and understanding!
Your classmate, Bonnie Johnson Brunson
I could feel God’s spirit all over me while reading this life story. It makes me question what am I doing with the “dash” of my life. It’s amazing how this 50th reunion is bringing so many lessons to ponder about our lives.
You have an amazing husband, may God continue to bless Bobby and your family as he continues to be a witness of the Holy Word. Bobby, your optimism is contagious!
Prayers always dear friends!
Classmate Juanita Wiggins Proffitt
What a wonderful story with a sad diagnosis. I was born & raised in Dooly County. I left in 1966, so I never had the privilege to meet this Godly man. Will be praying for him & his family.