Today’s column is a tribute to my father, the Rev. Dr. Argus James Hamilton Jr. who died Jan. 6 at the age of 92 in Oklahoma City, a wonderful man, a terrible golfer and a spellbinding preacher from the Methodist pulpit who was born into the old Methodist Episcopal Church South, into which he was baptized in 1923.
Dad served as head minister to congregations in the Oklahoma conference throughout a distinguished career from 1950-1990, and enjoyed a long and healthy retirement with his wife, Claudia, after raising their three kids, Argus III, Billy and daughter Mary Jean.
Dad was a staunch church conservative, but with a sense of humor. “The church has seen a lot of changes over the last 400 years,” Dad loved to say, “And the Hamiltons have been against every one of them.”
Like so many old southern families, Dad’s Hamilton ancestors were on the losing side of the English Civil War in the 1640s, resulting in the execution of King Charles (and the Duke of Hamilton), the abolition of the Church of England and the House of Lords. It forced countless noble families to send their second, third and fourth sons and daughters to their Stuart land grants in Virginia and the Carolinas.
Looking back, it seems like every time the Hamiltons lost a war, we had to move west, first from England to South Carolina, and then to Alabama and finally Oklahoma. I like to tell Alcoholics Anonymous groups that the Hamiltons lost the English Civil War; we lost the American Revolution; we lost the American Civil War, and in the war on drugs, I fought for Colombia.
A typical member of the Greatest Generation, Dad served in World War II as an Army Air Corps pilot in the Pacific, as Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s meteorologist’s pilot. Right after Japan’s surrender aboard the Missouri, Dad was in the first U.S. jeep convoy into Tokyo, tasked with setting up an officer’s club in the General Electric Building. We intentionally didn’t bomb there, just for that purpose. You see, we used to plan our wars really well.
Daddy also did a nice business on the side in the Pacific as a personal banker to his fellow flyboys between paydays, the interest rates financing a beautiful Nash convertible after the war. Afterward, Dad went to school at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and graduated in 1950. His noble ancestral aversion to Puritanism surfaced in class when he told a theology professor that “an atheist is anyone who watches SMU play Baylor and doesn’t care who wins.”
The greatest thing about my dad was his love of his family, and how he would drop everything to give his time, effort and means to help his kids solve a problem or reach their goals. He was a lifetime golfer, fisherman and hunter, who sadly outlived so many of his close friends and parishioners in Oklahoma City, Lawton, Ponca City and Bartlesville.
Dad was so funny. Last month I sent him a copy of the 1562 Book of Common Prayer for the nurses to place at his bedside for inspiration, the same book John Wesley used in his ministry. Dad told me he’d have preferred that I send him the latest issue of Golf Digest.
As Dad lay on his deathbed Tuesday, after a heroic bout with kidney failure, my brother Billy arranged for me to talk to him via speaker phone from Los Angeles in his crowded hospital room. We joked that he was on a morphine drip and surrounded by beautiful nurses, so there’s no way he’s leaving us for a better world than that one… And then he died as he lived, bless his Cavalier soul, laughing.
Dad’s favorite joke was about the Southern Baptist who wandered into an Episcopal Church service. Following the solemn opening Introit read by the minister from the Book of Common Prayer, he shouted, “Hallelujah!” at the top of his lungs, and the congregation reacted with shock.
Later on, after the Apostle’s Creed was recited by all, the Baptist again shouted, “Hallelujah!” and 400 sets of eyes glared at him in remonstrance. Finally, during the Prayer of Humble Access during the communion ritual, the Baptist shouted, “Halleujah! The usher walked over to him and asked him discreetly to be quiet during worship.
“But I have found the Lord!” shouted the Baptist. Replied the Episcopalian usher, “Not here you didn’t.”