One hundred years ago today, on November 28, 1910, a baby was born in Nashville, Georgia to a family named Giddens; the parents assigned the little boy the name Howard Peterson.
It was around thirty-five years ago that I first met the man that the baby grew up to be when I walked into his office at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. I was a sixteen year old prospective student; he was, and had been for about ten years at that point, a professor of Christianity at Mercer, a post he had assumed at his alma mater after many years serving as pastor of Georgia Baptist churches, most recently and most notably the First Baptist Church of Athens.
Dr. Giddens became my academic advisor at Mercer and I pretty much majored in him, taking five of the eight courses required for my Christianity major from him. Debra and I were only two of hundreds and hundreds of students on whom his warm, gracious, caring, and simultaneously down-to-earth and sophisticated style had a tremendous influence.
Over the years—and I think that Dr. Giddens, because of the early deaths of my parents, prompted and guided such growth in our relationship—he became like a father to me. Indeed, when he died on June 16, 2008 at the age of 97, I lost a father for the second time. Many other people also regarded him as a father figure; we all share a common love and appreciation for the genuinely great and greatly genuine man that Howard Giddens was.
Dr. Giddens left us a legacy of love, grace, and commitment that we will never get over and of which enough rubbed off on us, I hope, that others can catch it from us.
In a recent gathering of Mercer Baptist Student Alumni from the late 1970s, someone said that, with all due respect to and appreciation for the current generation of Mercer professors, we were particularly blessed to come along at the time when we could fall under the influence of Christianity faculty members like Howard Giddens, Robert Otto, Harold McManus, Edwin Johnston, and Ray Brewster. He is right about that.
Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dr. Howard Peterson Giddens, who was a vital part of many people’s lives and who for over thirty years was an integral part of mine.
At three crucial points in my life the good Lord put people in it without whose love I might have made it anyway, I guess, but I can’t imagine how.
Two of them, Sara Abbott and Champ Lee Ruffin, birthed me.
One of them, Debra Kay Johnson, married me.
Another one, Howard Peterson Giddens, carried me.
I now have to live without three of the four.
But not really. Not really.
To God be the glory.