I live in the “big city” now – Jonesboro, AR – population 75,000, but I grew up in a rural community of less than a thousand where things weren’t a lot unlike Mayberry.
There were a number of men in that town who were formative in my childhood and yesterday we lost Russell Strickland, one of the great ones.
I sat behind Russell at First United Methodist Church (with our membership of about 40). He was a handsome man – in the style of John Wayne – big, gray hair, distinctive voice, dominating presence. Occasionally he sang in the choir and to hear him chime in the bass part on “He Arose” was a thrill to which I looked forward each Easter Sunday.
Russell was a true visionary … so much so that he was disliked by any number of folks who were intimidated by his foresight and intelligence. An avid reader, preservationist and philanthropist, he was quite brilliant on any given topic. If not, he knew at least something about everything. Vocationally gifted in agriculture, Russell was the first farmer in the tri-state area to experiment with “no-till” cotton. He was willing to take risks and they paid off almost always. Though he spent a career as a farmer and made a fortune doing it, his fortune could have been made in any area of his choosing. He was that good at everything.
I did not see this first-hand, but I once heard a man say he told a story about a deer “grazing” in his backyard. Russell was nearby, overheard the conversation, and politely corrected the man with the fact that deer do not “graze,” but rather “forage.” He wasn’t demeaning the man at all. That was just Russell being Russell.
Most importantly to me as a young boy growing up, Russell was cool. He was cosmopolitan … and that’s not a common thing in my hometown. As a volunteer ambulance driver at the local EMS facility he would often sit around with others playing cards munching on foreign cheeses and crackers about which none of us had ever heard. People would make fun of his eccentricities, but he didn’t care. He loved to snow ski and traveled to Vail as frequently as he could … and with the exception of Antarctica, Russell visited every continent on the globe. Not bad for an old home boy.
What a marvel of a man. I will miss his presence in this place, but treasure the knowledge of where I know he is today.
Onward good soldier.