Monday, December 15, 2008

Robert Rector

My friend Robert Rector died Friday morning on his way to Texas. I had the privilege of being pastor for two and a half years to him and his wife Nancy and their children. Sunday night is the visitation, and Monday at 2pm will be the funeral in Oxford, NC.
Robert Rector with wife Nancy receiving the prestigious  James E. Broyhill Lifetime Achievement Award from the North Carolina Republican Party in 2007.

Click here for the Robert Rector Wordle.

Robert Rector was proud of his family. Many times he would keep me on the front steps after church let out telling me about some new exploit of one of his children or of Nancy. Robert and Nancy were married for 34 years. Last night Nancy told me a story I had not heard about Robert. When he asked her out, she said she didn’t know why, but she said yes. He wanted to pick her up at her house as a gentleman would, but Nancy offered to meet him in Oxford since she was not about to try to tell him how to find his way on the little roads in northern Granville County. No, he insisted, he’d come to the house, and that night, with rain pouring, he amazed her by pulling into her driveway right at seven o’clock.

It turns out Robert had done his homework. Before he asked her out, he had driven to the Virgilina post office, told the post mistress he was looking to buy some land on Route 3, and needed help knowing the route. The post mistress gave him the entire route, so he began at Route 3, Box 300-something and started down the route looking for Nancy’s house. I don’t know how he knew what he was looking for, but she lived at Route 3, Box 2. Robert demonstrated right there that he was a man determined and persistent.
And Robert was a proud daddy. His son Rob learned to wave and shake hands after watching Robert and Nancy walking door-to-door campaigning. And he loved to travel with them. When the children were preschoolers, they went with him to his historical conventions. When they were in school, he would reward their good grades with a trip with him. Whether it was on some back road on a wild goose chase for a family cemetery or at the Republican National Convention, his kids were with him. He took them twice to Canada, San Francisco, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and a hundred other places, and yes, they always found back roads and wondered how they got there. They made it a family tradition to go to baseball parks across the country before they closed. Because of the disruption of September 11th, the game in which they had planned to see Cal Ripkin turned out to be Ripkin’s last.
Robert loved to play golf with his kids. Robert made sure he was at Andrew’s high school golf matches. There were clubs in the car this past Friday when he and Andrew were on their way to Texas. And he had a dry sense of humor. When Amanda was born, a faculty member at Louisburg College asked him what they named the baby. “Wilhelmina,” he answered. Poor Amanda still can’t go near the faculty offices to this day without hearing that endearing epithet.

Psalm 127:3: Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. Robert Rector was a Texan, and Texans by reputation like things bigger than life. Maybe that is why he was a John Wayne fan. If Robert’s body could have handled all the plans and dreams that brewed in his highly intelligent head, he would have been a Texas-sized superman. As he was, he was still pretty super. And determined to get the job done, no matter how big it was. For example, Robert loved to catfish. He loved everything about it. But I’m not sure Rob was so thrilled about it. Robert decided to teach Rob how to clean fish the night they caught seventy-five. Robert was about his business and always thinking about the next thing. He always made a list before going anywhere, and he was determined that everything on that list had to get done. Accordingly, like a symphony conductor (or perhaps a drill sergeant!), Robert would get the family in a rush. Then he would get a little frustrated with them if things were not more like clockwork and spout off, “This is a Chinese fire drill. We might as well sell tickets to the show.”

Robert was – let’s say – thrifty. Nancy says “cheap.” Robert never threw anything away, and he was a firm believer that somehow it could be fixed. Just think about that little yellow truck he drove. And Nancy could add to that list, I’m sure. Whenever they went to Texas, Robert thought it was great to take the family to shop at Goodwill. He would have the family try on clothes and buy them. That wasn’t so bad. The bad part was that they then had to wrap them up for Christmas and act surprised on Christmas morning.

Anyone who knows Robert knows that his colors were clear in the arena of politics. He was gracious, but he was clear and determined. Robert was a well-respected leader in the North Carolina Republican party. He had won numerous awards. During this last Presidential campaign cycle, when his health could not possibly keep up with his keen mind and determined will, Nancy told me they were planning to attend the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. I stopped Robert after church and asked him if he thought he was being wise in regard to listening to his body. Robert looked at me with that sharp and determined eye that must have cut through the heart of a lonely freshman at Louisburg College many a time: “I will go to this convention. Then I plan to give it all up. This one will be my last hurrah so to speak.” When the convention was going on, I called Robert the night after Sarah Palin spoke, and he was on top of the world, caught up in the swirl of party jubilance and energy. “Oh, it was great, Gene,” he told me. “Sarah was great.” I could hear his heart agreeing with his body that he was satisfied.
Robert’s passing will deeply affect the North Carolina Republican Party.
NC GOP Chairman Linda Daves said, "Robert was not only a great American and committed Republican, he was a dear friend, a beloved husband and father. We were blessed to have his commitment and hard work set the tone for countless campaigns over the years, but we were more blessed to have his friendship and his presence. His effect on the Republican Party in North Carolina cannot be overestimated. Robert never saw a hill too steep to climb. Robert symbolized everything that is right about the grassroots. Through his mentorship of younger Republicans, he was able to pass along the wisdom and tools for a new generation of committed conservatives. His legacy in North Carolina politics will not be forgotten. As we honor him now, we are thankful for his work but we are more thankful for his friendship."

Because of Robert’s incredible abilities at understanding and uplifting the grassroots voter for over thirty years, he was honored in 2007 with the prestigious James E. Broyhill Lifetime Achievement Award by the North Carolina Republican Party. Robert was also inducted into the North Carolina Republican Party Hall of Fame. Robert began his political career by organizing the Louisburg College Republicans in 1976, then became the Franklin County GOP chairman in 1987, a position he would hold for 14 years. The year after Robert took the helm, the Franklin County Republican Party won the Holshouser Award in the Five Star Program as the number one grassroots organization in the state. At the urging of the state Republican chairman Robert Hawke, Robert founded and organized the North Carolina Republican County Chairman’s Association, which he led until 2007. In 2001, Robert became chairman of the Granville County Republicans, and in 2005, chairman of the Republican First District, positions he held until his death. In 1984, Robert served as an alternate to the Republican National Convention, and in 1992 and 2008 as a delegate. He was a presidential elector in 2000 and 2004. In 2004 he also served as President of the North Carolina Electoral College.

Robert would probably chuckle at this Bible verse taken out of context from Ecclesiastes 10:2: The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left.Robert is a recipient of the Order of the Long Leaf Pine from Governor Martin, the highest honor that can be given by the State of North Carolina. He has been been involved in the Rotary Club, the Gideons, the Boy Scouts of America (where he achieved Eagle Scout as have two of his three sons by the time of his death, with a third close), 4-H Advisory committees, and the Dixie Youth League. Mr. Rector has been vice-chairman and chairman of the Franklin County Livestock Association. He was a charter member of the Poplar Springs Grays Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Louisburg, NC, and until his death a member of the Maurice T. Smith SCV Camp in Oxford, NC. Robert was a member of Amis Chapel Baptist Church, Oak Hill community, Oxford, NC, where he served as church moderator and president of the Middle Adult Sunday School Class.

Psalm 16:6: The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage. There were few things Robert didn’t know something about. I found myself constantly playing catch up with him in any conversation. Robert was an expert in South Carolina colonial history, genealogy, and the War Between the States. It is ironic that he died in Columbus, GA, a city named for the one who inaugurated the colonial history of America. He was going to Columbus to research an ancestor named William Wilson, and I just wonder if the Lord was thinking, “Robert, you’ve been trying to find William Wilson for a long time. Would you like to meet him?” Robert and I and another friend rode to the Southern Baptist Convention together in June 2006, the last time it was in North Carolina and probably the last time it will be in North Carolina in any of our lifetimes. We talked South Carolina history the entire ride there and back. I'm a South Carolinian schooled in local and state history, and he knew something or more about everything I brought up. Our families met together monthly at the Sons of Confederate Veterans meeting in Oxford. Robert often chuckled that his students at Louisburg College might not like it, but before they could pass his class they would know the plan of battle and troop movements in every major campaign and battlefield of the War Between the States.

Robert would be unsatisfied with this last lecture if we talked completely about him and not about Robert’s living Lord. He would want you to hear the good news about Jesus Christ. Like all of us, Robert was not perfect, but he owned a perfect Lord. He was a complex individual, but he owned a simple faith. That faith was that every person has been created by God in His image for a relationship with God. The problem is that sin in our hearts has cut off all possibility of such a relationship with that loving but holy God. But the good news is that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, came and lived among us and died in our place to take away the penalty for sin, adding to his authority by defeating death forever by His resurrection. By receiving that free gift that Jesus’ sacrifice provides through belief in Him, you, I, or anyone who would receive it may have a relationship with God and live forever beyond the grave as well. This is the ground, Nancy and children, for our surety and confidence of seeing Robert again, next time in the fullness of perfection, next time in a body that can handle well his Texas-sized mind. Robert would today suggest to each one of you that you also may have that confidence and surety if you would receive Christ Jesus as your Lord and Savior. On Robert's behalf, I invite you to do that today.
We will close with the reading of the twenty-third Psalm.

OXFORD, NC -- Robert "Bob" Elmer Rector a resident of Oxford died Friday, December 12, 2008. He was a native of Zionsville, Indiana and was the son of the late Elmer Virgil and Lera Wilson Rector. He was a Professor of American History and Government at Louisburg College, where he has taught for over 36 years. He was a graduate of East Texas A & M at Commerce, Texas and did his graduate studies at the University of South Carolina. He was a member of Amis Chapel Baptist Church and the Gideons. He was involved in Scouting and was an Eagle Scout. Mr. Rector was a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the Granville County Republican Party Chairman, the First District Chairman and a member of the Republican Party Association. 
Funeral services will be held on Monday, December 15, 2008 at 2:00 PM in the Gentry-Newell & Vaughan Funeral Chapel by the Rev. Gene Brooks and the Rev. Terry Howard. Burial will be in Douglas, Texas. 
Surviving is his wife, Nancy Lamp Rector, a daughter, Amanda Elizabeth Rector of Oxford; three sons, Robert Rector, Jr. of Creedmoor, Andrew Jackson Rector and Jeb Stuart Rector both of Oxford; two brothers, Baker Rector of Dallas, Texas and Virgil Rector of Commerce, Texas. 
In lieu of flowers memorials may be made to the Granville County Republican Party c/o Treasurer, Bayne Steele, 9505 Frog Hollow Rd., Oxford, NC 27565 or to the Douglas Baptist Church, Douglas, Texas. The family will receive friends Sunday from 6:00 until 8:00 PM at the Gentry-Newell & Vaughan Funeral Home, 503 College St., Oxford, NC 27565.