Larry Johnson, associated with The Baptist Home of Missouri since 1984 and the Baptist ministry’s president when he retired in 2005, was remembered May 21 for putting into practice in his last days qualities that distinguished him during his vocation.
Larry never lost sight of his commitment to the elderly in his care, even when events in Baptist life in Missouri could have distracted him.
The affable, former TBH leader, who died May 12 after a relatively short bout with brain cancer, was fondly remembered at his memorial service at First Baptist Church in Farmington, Mo., where he and his wife Jane have been longtime members.
Stephen Jones, Larry’s successor as TBH president, introduced his remarks at the memorial service by saying, “We are here to celebrate a life well-lived,” noting that Larry “strengthened this ministry in every respect with his wise and courageous leadership.
“It was an honor for The Baptist Home to provide care during his treatment and remaining days,” Jones said. “He was the ideal resident. He was very courteous and kind to all that encountered his presence in what was a difficult journey. He never failed to express appreciation and love to the staff, his family and visitors.
“Even in the dying process, Larry set an example, teaching us about courage and faith while facing life’s challenges,” he explained. “It is one thing to teach and another to live it. Larry did both exceptionally well.”
Jones credited Larry with developing a program early in his TBH ministry that is still in use today, training others “how to minister to the frail elderly and touch every aspect of an aged person’s experience, addressing physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual needs.”
This approach today is being shared throughout the region and overseas, he said.
Larry particularly highlighted five principles that give emphasis to the home’s values in its approach to care:
“Each person is an individual and is a unique person no matter how frail, has a right to make choices no matter how feeble, has a right to be heard no matter how impaired, is entitled to their feelings no matter how irrational and is entitled to seek meaningful relationships and experiences.”
Jones indicated the late leader implemented these principles in his personal encounters with residents.
Bill Miller, Larry’s pastor, who brought the message during the service, recalled illustrations of his friend’s humor as well as their mutual encouragement of each other.
Referencing the Bible verse that Larry requested be used in the service — Isaiah 40:31 — Miller describes Larry’s “courage which is born of faith. In Larry’s case it resulted in compassion for older people, born of conviction and of grace.”
He recalled that Larry made a conscious decision to go from being a school principal to accepting the position of minister of education at First Baptist, Farmington, back in 1979.
Larry’s wife Jane explained to the pastor that her husband “felt church work was where he belonged.”
Miller said his friend felt the same way about going to Chillicothe to help raise funds for a new TBH campus.
“In both of those positions Larry placed himself in the center of God’s will for his life,” Miller said.
“Larry had a quick wit and he knew how to use it,” he said. “He was just as quick to compliment or to express concern. He was an encourager in whatever you were doing. He did that for me a lot.”
Larry and Jane have needed strength over the last several years, Miller said.
“In the decisions that some Missouri Baptist institutions made some years ago there was room for reasonable people to disagree and then find a point of agreement afterwards,” he explained. “Instead some chose a different route.
“Larry kept his hand on the plow and chose the route of continuing to serve the Lord as he had called him to do in the place where he called him to be.
“Was Larry ever hurt?” Miller asked, then answered, “Yes he was, but it did not alter his calling. It did not diminish his compassion. It did not take his heart from the plight and the needs of older people in this state and ultimately in other parts of the world.
“Today I can do nothing except express admiration for his courage and commitment.”
Amen to that.
Bill Webb is editor of Word & Way.