It was an agonizing week for Lois, his mother and me.
No one, of course, but a mother, can describe or fully appreciate a mother’s love for her son. But fathers love their sons, too. And my affection for Richard David had been greatly deepened by the special circumstances under which he had been born.
My Time of Trial
It is, of course, natural for every father to want a son. When our first child was a girl, I was not disappointed. Few fathers would be. Nor was I disappointed when our second child was another daughter. But when the ranking most famous obstetrical specialist in the world, in a Chicago hospital pulling my wife through a near-fatal mid-pregnancy toxemia eclampsia with 30 percent albumin in the urine, warned us gravely that she could never undergo another pregnancy without fatal results to her and the child, I was disappointed beyond words to describe. I had to resign myself to a “sonless” life.
And this medical pronouncement was confirmed by two other doctors.
We didn’t know then, and I’m not sure these doctors knew, the real reason. Apparently not too much was understood at that time by the medical profession about this negative-positive Rh blood-factor condition. But my wife and I were opposites in that regard.
I had been forced to resign myself to a future without possibility of ever having a son.
Then, eight years later, in Portland, Oregon, Mrs. Armstrong had been—as recounted earlier—suddenly, completely healed of several serious complications by a positive miracle resulting from believing prayer. We knew then, by faith, that whatever had been the disturbing factor to render another pregnancy fatal had been removed by this healing.
I knew then that God would give me a son.
And ever since, I felt that the day Richard David was born was the happiest day of my life.
I was perfectly satisfied then. God had blessed me with a son. He had been conceived less than a year after my conversion.
But the great God had plans I did not know. I was perfectly satisfied with the one son. We did not plan to have another. A year and four months later, Garner Ted was born—and I then felt doubly blessed—with two sons.
But when God took from me—or allowed to be taken—my firstborn son, on July 30, 1958—less than three months before his 30th birthday—well, it seemed that I could have some little understanding of how Abraham must have felt when he expected to have to give up his son Isaac—or even God the Father of all, in giving His Son Jesus Christ for me as well as for the world.
Dick’s death occurred early Wednesday morning, July 30, 1958. The accident had occurred the preceding Wednesday morning. The funeral was set for Friday, August 1. The day in between, Thursday, July 31, Mrs. Armstrong and I shared a very sorrowful 41st wedding anniversary.
On Wednesday we conferred with Messrs. Roderick Meredith, Herman Hoeh and Norman Smith regarding funeral arrangements. They felt unanimously that it was my duty to officiate at the funeral, which we planned for a simple graveside service only. Through the day I drove in my car to inspect cemeteries—which I had not had occasion to do before in Pasadena. I do not now remember whether Mrs. Armstrong and Lois went along. Necessary arrangements were completed. Lois accompanied us to the mortuary to select the casket—selecting one in the type of wood Lois said was Dick’s favorite.
To say that my comparatively brief graveside sermon was an ordeal would be a gross understatement. I had learned, many years before in conducting many funerals, to steel my nerves and remain calm with controlled emotions. But speaking at Dick’s funeral was altogether different. I found myself speaking in a louder, more concentrated voice than usual in a supreme effort to prevent emotional loss of control.
I remember quoting a portion of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address regarding the duty of those of us remaining to carry on the great Work to which God had called us.
My first impulse was to remain away from the Saturday afternoon college church service. I didn’t want to see anybody. Nor did Mrs. Armstrong. But then I realized it was my duty to attend.
I thought of entering at the last moment and sitting in the front row before anyone could speak to me or offer condolences. But then I realized that some of the students had erroneously assumed that ministers were under such divine protection that no such tragedy could occur to one of them. Dick’s accident and death might shatter this faith. I knew I had to bring a message that would bolster and strengthen, not destroy, faith.
These experiences were perhaps the most severe test I had ever been called on to experience. But of course I knew where to go for strength, wisdom and help.
We Travel to Springfield
Lois’s parents had come for the funeral. She and they planned for them to stay on a while with her in the home she and Dick had purchased new just over a year before. Lois felt that perhaps, with her parents in the house, she might adjust to remaining there without Dick.
I had assisted Dick and Lois with the down payment for the purchase of the property, and it probably was still less than half paid off. But Dick had been thoughtful in providing insurance which paid off the property in full. He also had provided insurance for Lois. And there was an additional $15,000 due Lois from group insurance carried by the college.
However, the few days of attempts at adjusting to living in the house without Dick had convinced Lois, by that weekend, that she could not live there alone.
Mrs. Armstrong, Lois and I planned a trip to get away from the trauma-shock we had undergone. I had learned that nothing is so quieting and relaxing to distraught nerves as a long trip on a train. So we planned a trip to Springfield, Missouri, to meet Ted and be with him for the final service of his evangelistic campaign. The death of Dick had caught Ted in a campaign he could not leave at the time.
We left almost immediately, taking either the Chief or the Super-Chief of the Santa Fe Railroad as far as Kansas City, changing there for a train to Springfield. Little Dicky—Richard David ii—was carried in a sort of crib basket.
It did Ted and his wife a great deal of good to have us with them in Springfield. He, too, had undergone a most severe ordeal.
After a few days there, we journeyed on down to the location in Texas that later became the third campus of Ambassador College. We were then building there, of comparatively inexpensive all-steel construction, what we believed to be the largest “church auditorium” in Texas, as a tabernacle for an annual eight-day festival or convention—seating 8,000.
After a day or two there, we journeyed back to Pasadena. Soon we were engrossed in the many responsibilities of carrying on the Work to which the living Christ had called us.
We had, shortly before this, acquired the mansion of Mediterranean architectural design located between Mayfair (girls’ student residence), and Ambassador Hall. We had done a certain amount of remodeling to convert this property into another girls’ residence on campus—renamed Terrace Villa.
Since Lois felt she could not endure living alone in the home she had shared for a year with Dick, we converted one wing of the ground floor of Terrace Villa into an apartment for her and little Dicky.
This proved to be the best solution possible for Lois. She was on campus, where there was much activity. Many other girls were under the same roof, though she had the privacy of her own apartment. Also, she was abundantly supplied with babysitters whenever needed.
Frequently, from that time, during the next few years, we all dreamed occasionally about Dick. It often seemed, in my dreams, as if he had come back from the dead and was living again—as indeed he shall—and in the not too distant future.
On Sunday, January 4, 1959, Ted and Shirley called at our home for Mrs. Armstrong and me. They had arranged a few days before that we four should go to a restaurant for dinner that evening—since it was the 25th anniversary of The World Tomorrow.
It was midwinter and they were wearing coats. We didn’t notice that they were in evening dress. After driving a couple of blocks Ted suddenly said: “Oh, by the way, Dad and Mom, I wonder if you’d mind stopping off at Ambassador Hall first. We’ve plenty of time, and Shirl hasn’t seen the big new chandelier we just installed in the Grand Hall. I’d like to show it to her. Would you mind?”
Of course we didn’t mind.
Entering fabulous Ambassador Hall, we found it all dark which was natural on a Sunday evening. I switched on the lights in the Grand Hall. Shirley was thrilled. For a few moments we four stood admiring the ornate chandelier of Czechoslovakian crystal. Then Ted suggested we have a look at the new crystal ceiling light fixtures installed, at the same time, in the Rosewood Room. When the doors to the Rosewood Room were opened, a mystified Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong were bewildered. For there seemed to be many obscure and shadowy figures in the very dim, partially candlelit room.
The lights suddenly flashed on, to the shouts of “surprise!” coming from 70 voices.
All—except Mrs. Armstrong and me—were in evening dress, sitting around beautifully decorated banquet tables forming one large “U” shape filling the large room. Huge floral arrangements of red and white carnations decorated the immaculate linen-covered tables gleaming with sparkling crystal, china and silverware.
Accompanied by enthusiastic applause, Ted and Shirley escorted Mrs. Armstrong and me to the head table. There, for all guests to see, a red and silver banner at the base of the large floral arrangement read: “25thanniversary.”
Student waiters appeared in full dress, and began serving a banquet of superb cuisine, probably prepared by girls in the Home Economics class. Then I glanced over the room to recognize the guests. There were all the ministers so far at the time ordained and their wives (except two who were in England); all faculty members of Ambassador College and wives of male members; intimate personal friends of Mrs. Armstrong and myself who had been associated with the Work since the early days; and those business and professional men, who were closely associated in a business or professional way with the Work, and their wives.
Perhaps the keynote of the banquet was the playing of a recorded “Memory Tape,” prepared by Mr. Norman Smith, director of our radio studio. It recounted through loudspeakers, by means of re-recording old recordings, even back in the “electrical transcription” days, many memories of the early days of the broadcast back in Eugene, Oregon. There was a running commentary tracing the history of The World Tomorrow, outlining the beginning and progress of the Plain Truth magazine. We were vividly reminded of the days in 1934 and 1935 in the stuffy little windowless office, devoid of ventilation. In that little room many mimeographed editions of the Plain Truth were edited and printed.
Mrs. Helen Starkey, who had been our first employee in that unventilated office, was present with her husband, and at my request she rose to relate a few personal experiences of those days.
At Ted’s request, I rose to give our guests (or was not I—with Mrs. Armstrong—the guest?) a glimpse of the happenings of those days.
Highlight of the Banquet
Perhaps the highlight of the “Memory Tape” was the reproduction of a portion of a World Tomorrow broadcast, in which the listening audience had been taken to Paris, where Dick cut in with our first “on-the-spot” broadcast, along the Champs Elysées, reporting the military display of the Bastille Day parade.
But the highlight of the entire evening was a presentation to Mrs. Armstrong and me of a most unusual and superb gift, commemorating a quarter century of broadcasting. Garner Ted read the presentation. He said:
“No anniversary would be complete without a gift. But a gift presents a serious problem. Mr. Armstrong has repeatedly said Mrs. Armstrong was fully 50 percent of his ministry. She has been with him through much of the actual programming during the last 25 years. No run-of-the-mill gift would do. And so, in selecting an appropriate gift for the occasion, I found the article I wanted could not possibly be purchased on such short notice, not even at the finest jewelry stores, silversmiths or trophy makers on the Pacific Coast.
“I found it would have to be made by silversmiths in San Francisco. And so I had to decide whether to have a gift to present to Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong tonight, or to sacrifice presenting it tonight in order to have a wonderful memento specially created by master craftsmen as a permanent, lasting memorial of this first Sunday of 1959, the 25th anniversary of the World Tomorrow broadcast.
“I decided in favor of the quality instead of the time.
“And so, it gives me great pleasure to make this special presentation to Mr. and Mrs. Herbert W. Armstrong.
“As a lasting memorial of this 25th anniversary celebration, we are having made by silversmiths in San Francisco a beautiful desk set. The thick, long base is to be one solid piece of specially rolled and carved sterling silver! Beautifully matching pens will be specially made by the Sheaffer Co., and they’ll also be of sterling silver! They’ll repose in sterling pen holders, on each end of the base. In the center, a specially cast, hand-engraved miniature microphone, also of solid sterling, will stand beside a hand-finished miniature solid sterling silver world!
“In the center, immediately in front of the mike and the world, a gold inscription plate will read: ‘To Mr. and Mrs. Herbert W. Armstrong. In deep and lasting gratitude for unselfish service as instruments in the hands of God through 25 years of radio broadcasting.’”