The changing of the guard at Bob Jones University
May 7, 2005
It was an emotional morning for me. A lot of memories flooded my mind as I witnessed the transfer of leadership of Bob Jones University from the father, Bob Jones III, to the son (and grandson of the second president and great-grandson of the founder), Stephen Jones. A morning of mixed emotions to be sure.
I stood in the quiet and empty office of Dr. Bob Jones III as I heard the voices of his family from down the hall in Stephen’s new office. They were there having pictures taken by the campus photographers as well as some of the local press. I felt awkward nosing in on an oddly private, yet public time. So, I slipped into the office of the man who had been my boss for nearly 10 years.
A Washington Post writer recently described the atmosphere of this office as “dusky gloom.” To me it was always an office of warmth. The mellow wood paneling reflects the soft glow of the incandescent lights behind small Persian shields among the panels. Two large windows overlooking the dining common plaza lights the far end of the room. The glow reveals the racks acquired by Dr. Bob as he enjoyed his hobby of hunting – both for the quietness of the woods and the fellowship of unpretentious friends.
There as well are the photos of family. There is the one that seems to have become his favorite – a portrait of his father. Since his father’s death, Dr. Bob has made a point of asking photographers seeking his picture to take it with him standing by that one. Then there is the photo of Dr. Bob sitting in a fighter plane – I believe it is an F-15. I’m reminded that early in his life, he would have preferred to have been a soldier – maybe even a pilot.
There is that big chair behind his desk. It is a chair that I sometimes feared would tip over as he would lean back his 6 foot 4 inch plus frame with his hands behind his head pondering an answer to a complex question. Silence. Then with a sudden movement, he would be at the edge of the chair speaking a clear and concise answer.
I have sat there looking at him sitting there scolding me. Never did he do so with anger or harshness. Rather it was like a father who is disappointed that a son would make a mistake. I have also sat there seeing him look at me with eyes of compassion as I told him of the death of my child. In those times, I did indeed see him as a father.
I served as his executive assistant and in that position carried out special projects aimed at helping people. Projects the public will never know. Contrary to the thoughts of some, he never sought the public limelight. That is why he basically limited his public television appearances to Larry King Live. He never could stand what he calls the “media circus” that makes up much of the television talk show circuit today.
He once told me I was crazy (not those exact words, but close) for appearing on the air with Bill O’Reilly. Yes, he was right. As the person who deals with the media, I sometimes wished he would “play the game,” but that was not what he was about. As president, he wasn’t about talking. He was about doing.
I’ve no doubt that now as chancellor, he will still be a man of action. He will be out there as he has been, spending time in people’s homes. Preaching in churches all around the world – no matter how large or small.
He is a man that I wish all could see there in this office. He isn’t the man whose portrait has been painted as some wild caricature. If I could give a word that best describes him, it would be humble; a man quick to hold the door open for a subordinate to pass on before him, a man willing to stop and talk to anyone, a man at home in the small shack of a third world family as well as visiting the Oval Office.
Like a son, I clinch my teeth and ball my fists as I see him pilloried in some publications. His mischievousness has sometimes got him in trouble. There were his younger days (he became president at the age of 32) when he would feed lines to the media such as The Nation just to get a rise out of them. Unfortunately, those statements have taken on a life of their own. His fervency has also often been misunderstood, as with language of an old time prophet he would make allegorical and metaphorical statements to make a point. Now all of that – which comprised such a minuscule part of his accomplishments and character – has been used in an attempt to paint him as something he simply is not.
I know, I know, I’m just a hack. I’m expected to say nice things about the man. However, I will freely admit he is not perfect – and indeed, to me, that is one of the most endearing aspects about him. He knows he isn’t perfect. He depends on and lifts up those around him. He deflects the praise and absorbs the criticism. A better boss I could never have – well, I could at least have one as good.
The photography shoot is over. The family is heading out of Stephen's office to attend the special luncheon with dignitaries from the government as well as representatives of various other universities. I turn my back on the scene before me to go over to help the reporters. Dr. Stephen Jones, the new president, is standing there alone being asked questions by the local television station.
Another flood of emotion hits me. Here is a man, my peer. He is not his father. He is not his grandfather. He is not the founder. He is the college classmate who was a dear friend. He is the drama team member with whom I traveled around the northeastern United States - during a time when he was struggling with his future. He is the guy who shares a love for coffee and admiring a well-made automobile. I’ve seen his compassion – in ways I would never reflect on in a forum such as this. I have seen his resolve. I have seen his intelligence.
Bob Jones University is in good hands – I’m sure Stephen would say those hands are the hands of God. He would be correct, but I am glad God has chosen this man to lead in the carrying out of His will in this place.