Memories Of James Marvin Powell
After J.M. Powell’s death on Jan. 25, my memories of our association were stirred. His close friends called him "Marvin," but because of the great difference in our ages, I always thought and spoke of him as "brother Powell."
I first met brother Powell when I was working on my biography of Foy E. Wallace Jr. I had read brother Powell's biography of N.B. Hardeman, and we hit it off at once as biographers of two of the most influential preachers among churches of Christ in the first half of the 20th century. From our first conversation to the last, I found brother Powell to be a gracious and generous man. He was 90 years old when we met. Although he loved the past, he did not live in the past. He was fully aware of where he was and saw the present as it was and not as he wished it to be.
Brother Powell was a very kind man and a lifelong member of the Democratic Party. One story illustrates both of these qualities. In 1945, when brother Powell lived in Atlanta, Ga., the Young Democrats invited Eleanor Roosevelt to speak in Atlanta. Two young Democrats, brother Powell told me, "were unalterably opposed to Eleanor on the grounds that she advocated integration between the whites and blacks. The opposition was so severe that Eleanor canceled her speech."
While the controversy raged in the Atlanta press, brother Powell wrote to Mrs. Roosevelt and apologized for the actions of the two young Democrats and told her that they did not represent the thinking people of Atlanta. On Nov. 12, 1945, Mrs. Roosevelt replied that it was "very kind" of brother Powell to write and that she was glad "most people in Georgia do not hold to the beliefs expressed by the two young Democrats."
Brother Powell had a keen eye for things historic. In 1959, he read an article in which former President Harry S. Truman made a passing favorable reference to Colonel Edward Dickinson Baker of Restoration fame. Powell wrote to Truman inquiring about details Truman might be able to share. Truman wrote him a long letter all about Baker. "He was a most remarkable man," Truman wrote, "and I have made some study of his life and accomplishments. I think it would be well worth your while to look into his background and study what he tried to do."
Brother Powell was a lifelong collector and pack rat. In this, he was truly a man after my own heart. He saved just about every letter anyone ever sent him. He had letters from F.B. Srygley, H. Leo Boles, J.F. Kurfees , S.P. Pittman, A.B. Lipscomb and, of course, many letters from N.B. Hardeman. Brother Powell enjoyed arranging his letters and other documents into binders and spent many happy hours rereading this material. Sister Powell told me, on more than one occasion, "Marvin's love of history has kept him alive."
Brother Powell and I corresponded as long as his health permitted him to write. I wrote to ask him about his brother-in-law, B.C. Goodpasture, being one of the first speakers on the Florida (then Christian) College lectures, about N.B. Hardeman, and many other things. He always wrote back with much interesting information and sometimes sending other materials. He was kind to lend me any letter or book in his collection and permitted me to make copies. I would visit him in person at the "Powell Mansion" several times every year, and he would always "have the red carpet out for our friend Terry Gardner."
I could speak with brother Powell about those men long gone as though they were still living. Brother Powell's favorite historical figure was T.B. Larimore, a man he had not known personally. Powell had many unusual Larimore items in his collection. Brother Powell loved books and wrote a pamphlet, "My Treasured Books," about his library. It is interesting to read how he acquired his various books and other items in his remarkable collection. On one occasion, I taped an interview with brother Powell, asking him to tell many of his classic stories.
I last visited with brother Powell in the fall of 2003. His physical condition weakened gradually during the time I knew him, but his mind was always sharp, and he was still keen to talk about history. His children worked hard so their parents could stay in their long-time home. I am grateful that he went to "where it is far better." Still living among his treasured books and papers is his lovely bride of more than 65 years. I am a better person for having known J.M. Powell.
-Terry J. Gardner, Gospel Advocate, July, 2004, page 40
Buried At Woodlawn
Memorial Park In Nashville, Tennessee