“Tell me a story. In this century, and moment, of mania, tell me a story. Make it a story of great distances, and starlight… Tell me a story of deep delight.” Robert Penn Warren
Honoring Ed Christman
By Edwin G. Wilson’43, Provost Emeritus, speech given at Ed’s retirement dinner 2003
In one scene of Jim Dodding’s exhilarating production of The Servant of Two Masters, a member of a merry dancing troupe calls out “Waiter.” No one appears. Then she yells, “Landlord.” Still no one comes. Finally she shouts, “Anybody.” This time, to the surprise of everyone in the audience, Ed Christman emerges from behind a door: a white-haired Venetian named Cameriere within the context of the play, but obviously, to those who know, the Chaplain himself.
Thus, last week, did Ed Christman give us a cameo performance in an unlikely and unexpected place, recalling his appearances in earlier seasons as God in the Passion Play – type casting, some people said—and as Arvide Abernathy in Guys and Dolls, tenderly singing – singing, no less! –“More I cannot wish you than to wish you find your love, Your own true love this day.”
Ed Christman gladly accepts such small roles on the Wake Forest main stage and interprets them in his own inimitable way, but offstage he is more often seen as a major supporting actor, wisely and generously giving guidance and friendship to the stars of the occasion: a young man and a young woman planning their wedding, a student confused about the direction and purpose of his life, another student confronting despair or rejection, a faculty member injured or ill and facing uncertain recovery, parents whose son or daughter has been killed or is dying.
Fortunately, more often than not, the scene is a happier one: a moment of success or triumph or reconciliation. Either way, Ed is on call; he is available; he is there; through his words, through his quiet and patient presence, he gives support.
Ed is also a director. Week after week he is responsible for a morning chapel service, and every fall he plans the several days of a pre-school retreat, designed from his own original blueprint. The setting is a camp in the country; the atmosphere is relaxed; the cast of speakers have been recruited from here and there on campus; the audience is made up largely of students who are new to Wake Forest and who have come to the retreat expectantly and eagerly. They will have their first taste of what being a college student means, and guiding them through this first act of their Wake Forest lives will be the director Ed Christman.
My own first memory of Ed Christman takes me back to a classroom in Wait Hall on the old campus where perhaps fifteen or twenty people were planning what was then called “Religious Emphasis Week.” I was a novice faculty member, and Ed was an undergraduate. Who else was there I cannot say, but Ed is the one I remember. Why? I’m not sure, but I think it was the way he listened, the conciliatory way in which he spoke, his attentiveness to everyone, his somehow conveying the impression – a correct impression – that he had a personal commitment of some kind that was larger than the details of our discussion.
That meeting was more than fifty years ago. I was not sure at that time that I would stay at Wake Forest, though I hoped I would, and I could not have foreseen that “after many wanderings, many years of absence” Ed would come back, also to stay. But I knew that Ed – besides having a gift for small but significant gestures and in addition to showing talents for supporting and directing – was destined to be become a star.
Since 1969 – as Chaplain of Wake Forest University – Ed has been that “star” – a star in one of the longest-running shows Wake Forest has produced. Ed, of course, is a Baptist – if I may say so, in the best sense of that sometimes exalted and sometimes maligned word — and he has ministered in a brotherly way to the Baptist Student Union, to Poteat Scholars, and to others who live within the oldest of Wake Forest’s religious families.
But he has been a Chaplain to everybody – to those of other faiths, to those of no faith, to those on the road somewhere. And I have known – and still know – students and professors, disposed not to like – certainly not to accept – chaplains in general, who have none the less found Ed Christman a friend whom they could respect and honor and trust. They know that he loves them, whoever they are or whatever they believe.
When one faculty member was asked what he wanted in our next chaplain, he said, “A clone of Ed Christman.” Wake Forest will doubtless find a splendid new chaplain, but, I must say, he (or she) will not be another Ed Christman. There is no other Ed Christman. Ed stands apart. He is unique. We of a Wake Forest world which is now drifting into memory are blessed to have known him and to have been his friend.
Ed’s Friendship Since 1950
By Lonnie Williams ’50, JD ‘53, Wilmington NC
I entered Wake Forest in the fall of 1948 after serving in the Army following high school graduation in 1946. Of course I saw Ed around the campus, but I did not actually meet him until 1950 when Ed and I entered the law school and joined Phi Delta Phi legal fraternity. We roomed in Hunter Dorm and Ed and I ended up in the same suite – which was actually three closets from a division of one closet. Ed was in the outer closet which I walked through to get to my closet, so he had no privacy at all.
When one first sees Ed, he looks different, odd, strange. It takes about 15 minutes of conversation before you forget all about his looks and focus on him as an individual. He was not sensitive about his looks even though he was always teased. A number of people would call him the White Whale. George Martin, who lived on the floor with us, said, “Ed, you have to get colored sheets. When you are lying in bed on white sheets, I can’t see you.”
I double-dated with Ed and Jean a number of times. When Ed married Jean, he rented an apartment from the college. It was one of the units which was left over from World War II, located on what had been tennis courts on North Main St. Jean graduated and got a job teaching in a town several miles away. She stayed there during the week, so I roomed with Ed during the week. We were the original odd couple. When Jean came back on Fridays, I either went home or bunked at the fraternity house. Those apartments were made of cardboard and you could hear everything that occurred in the adjoining apartment. When you went to the bathroom, it was like being in a two-seater.
After I met Janice [Garrett] and we became a couple, she came up to Wake Forest to visit several times and stayed with the Christmans. We all became even closer friends. Janice and I married in 1955, and I wanted Ed to marry us, but he could not get ordained in time. After we were married, we were frequent visitors to Wake Forest and always visited with the Christmans. They would also come to Wilmington or to the beach and visit every summer.
A favorite story is the occasion when Ed’s mother came up from Florida to visit. When they were walking across the campus, they ran into Dr. Owen Reid, head of Philosophy and Psychology. Mrs. Christman asked him what he thought of the move to Winston-Salem. Dr. Reid responded, “When a man carves a home in the wilderness and lives there twenty-five or thirty years, he is not prone to want to move (after several deep breaths…) ANYWHERE!” He could have been heard down town.
Although appearing to be old, Ed was always young. For as long as he remained on the staff, he could sit on the floor with his legs folded under him and talk to young students as though he was one of them – a trait I have never seen in anyone else.
When we graduated from law school in 1953 and were going to be studying to take the bar exam, Ed told me for the first time that he had decided to enter full time Christian service and would be attending the seminary in the fall. I had the feeling that after finding out just how bad I am, he needed to be in full time Christian service to make up for me.
With the passage of time, I had the honor of serving on the Board of Trustees of Wake Forest for twenty-four years and thereafter as a life trustee. That allowed additional times for us to visit. During those years, our respective children were visiting, becoming friends, growing to adults with two of my children attending Wake Forest for seven years and five years, respectively, and being under the watchful eyes of the Christmans.
Ed married my daughter Jan and her husband Larry Murdoch in the gardens at Clemson University in 1999. Their dog, Lika, a standard poodle, was in the wedding party and acted as best man. When Ed asked who gives this woman to be married, Lika woofed.
As he did with so many, he introduced Janice and me to Frederick Buechner, for which I will be eternally grateful. Buechner has the greatest ability of anyone I have ever read to express in words what you feel deep down in your soul. I place him next to C.S. Lewis.
The following quotes sum up Ed and Jean to me:
Ed is complex and always examining beliefs and always taking time to make friends: “[t]o see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” [Georgia O’Keeffe quoted by Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World, p.22.]
“To leave the world a bit better . . . to know that even one life has breathed easier because you lived – that is to have succeeded.” [Ralph Waldo Emerson quoted by Harold S. Kushner, Living a Life That matters, p. 157.]
“Either life is holy with meaning, or life doesn’t mean a damn thing. . . Never assume that because you have taken it one way today, you may not take it another way tomorrow.” [Frederick Buechner, The Truth of Stories/Secrets in the Dark, p.137.]
Friendship with Jean
Mary Forehand Partin ‘53, Edenton, NC
I was a student on the Wake Forest College campus in the early 1950s. It was at that time that I learned of Ed Christman, a campus leader, and of Jean Sholar Christman. In the summer of 1954, while enrolling in the Duke University Graduate School, I learned that Jean and I had been assigned as roommates. At the time, I was pleased to be rooming with someone I knew. Little did I know what a wonderful experience it would become!
At Duke, Jean and I studied long hours working towards a Master of Arts in Teaching. Duke lived up to its reputation as a research school, because we spent numerous hours in the library, sitting in our carrels writing research papers. Every afternoon at 5pm, Jean and I, plus 6 or 7 other girls, would come out of our carrels and eat together in the dining hall. We laughed and had fun together before returning to our studies.
Jean had a lovely spirit, and she was gentle, kind and compassionate. She connected easily with others on campus, especially those with whom she had common interests.
She was also smart as a whip. Regardless of the tasks assigned, Jean always maintained much enthusiasm and met the academic and intellectual challenges with success. All this motivated me well in my rigorous English program. Jean studied math and history, and she really lit the light of love of history for me.
We graduated from Duke at the end of the summer in 1956. I was a teacher in the Rocky Mount area, while Jean and Ed moved to Winston-Salem. Jean and I stayed in touch throughout the years, and I have enjoyed it so much. For example, in July 1968, I drove to Winston-Salem with my daughter Annette, picked up Jean and her daughter Kim, and we rode to Cherokee, NC, stopping at every tourist site that would entertain two girls ages six and seven.
The next summer, 1969, we were invited to vacation in New York City where the Christman family was living while Ed studied at Union Seminary. Even though I have made a number of trips to New York since then, that one was the most memorable because I was with the Christmans. They had planned a wonderful agenda — Broadway plays, numerous museums, tourist sites, and the Bronx Zoo — all were covered. It was such fun to be entertained so richly by my friends.
We also visited at my home in Edenton and at the Outer Banks plus during trips to Winston-Salem to see Wake Forest football games. Like any good friends, we have many shared interests. In 1973, we had many conversations about horse racing when Secretariat won the Triple Crown. Jean, being Kentucky-bred herself, could hardly contain her excitement.
As a public school teacher, Jean was so passionate about her students and their success. In her later years, that same passion and enthusiasm were expressed when she served as a volunteer in the literacy program in Winston-Salem.
Jean is brilliant, a loving mother, proud grandmother, and a devoted wife to husband Ed. I am grateful for the friendship and opportunities I have had with Jean and her family. I realize how fortunate I was to have had Jean Christman, a former Demon Deacon, as my roommate at Duke and my lifelong friend.
A Memorable Man
By Seiki Kinjo ’55, Japan
Ed is one of the most memorable and cherished persons in my life. My Wake Forest days are unthinkable without him. Most likely he was a Southeastern Seminary student when he first said “hello” to me on campus, since a white haired guy with a thick heavy looking book (a Greek Bible?) is a lingering image of Ed on the old Wake Forest campus.
A farewell party Ed and a group of students gave me is still fresh in my memory： I was so overwhelmed with gratitude and literally unable to utter even a word of thanks. It was around the time of commencement in 1955.
The world has been shrinking rapidly since then. In 1960, when I was a graduate student at University of Michigan, Ed and Jean generously hosted my wife Yoneko and me at their Morningside Hights apartment in Manhattan. He was pursuing further study at Union Theological Seminary. They took us to see an ocean liner Queen Elizabeth 2 and a musical production of “My Fair Lady.” Yoneko remembers pleasing Carolyn by mending her doll, the only act on our side that approached a kind of reciprocation, if one can be allowed to use that word. Whenever we have an opportunity to extend kindness to our neighbors, especially to foreign students in our vicinity, we can’t help thinking of Ed and Jean.
We were happy to be able to cross the Pacific twice to take part in the 40th and 50th anniversary reunion on the new campus. I confess that seeing Ed and Jean was no less of our motivation than seeing old classmates and growing alma mater. I now regard it symbolic that it was at the Chapel that the four of us spent longer quietly chatting than strolling together along the beautiful and vibrant campus, interrupted every couple of minutes by their old friends. Yoneko became Christian and active in church activities.
I cannot recall Ed ever even suggesting going to church to me, but, in retrospect after about 60 years, I find him an embodiment of the wonderful qualities of Wake Forest, whose motto is Pro Humanitate. To me, an immature foreigner from an occupied island of Okinawa then, Ed was a shining fellow living up to like his name Christman.
A Tribute to Ed
By Becky Brown ’65 Winston-Salem, NC, essay for the BSU, January 2016
“Write something about your memories of being Ed’s secretary,” Chris Towles said. “It’s for the BSU newsletter.”
My mind flashed back to sitting at the table by the door in Ed Christman’s office. He was then an Assistant Chaplain and the BSU Director. His one-room office had no anteroom for a secretary. And I was a student secretary—not a proper, grown-up one. I had met Ed when I was a first year student in 1961, and in the fall of 1962, I started working for him for two to four hours every afternoon. I did that until student teaching disrupted it during my last semester at Wake in 1965.
My job was to answer the phone, to be there if anyone came to look for Ed while he was out making his rounds, and to make myself scarce when it was obvious that students or faculty members needed a private conversation.
The job included things like ordering and distributing dozens of boxes of Krispy Kremes to sell for mission projects. There were Vespers services in Davis Chapel daily, and I set up the altar, made sure there would be an organist (or did it myself if I couldn’t find one), and reminded the speakers of their commitments. I drove Ed to speaking engagements or stayed with their children while Jean drove him. I typed letters and, occasionally, talks—not many of the latter because he didn’t often use a script when he spoke.
That is what I did. The work was mostly getting day-to-day things done.
Those things, for Ed, included getting Wake Forest integrated, loosening the school’s ties to the Baptist State Convention, and steering Wake Forest through the turbulence of the early sixties. When you read Wake’s history, the specific dates and events make Ed’s accomplishments look straightforward and inevitable. Real life was anything but. The work itself was done with slow steps: plodding, steady, and focused despite set-backs and discouragements. Hate mail and disgruntled phone calls and irate faculty members who wanted to maintain the status quo were a part of the job. I saw Ed angry and frustrated and sad. He taught me, during those days, about value systems and priorities, and persevering—lessons for life. He showed me the kind of person I wanted to be.
I remember, too, the fun we had. In the midst of turbulence, Ed carried such a spirit that even the hardest times would be shot through with lightness and ebullience.
I’d like to write, though, about what working for Ed meant—and what I’d like the current BSU students to know about the relationships they are now developing.
Ed was far more than a mentor. Those years at Wake set the stage for a friendship that lasted for over fifty years until his death last year. Let me give you snapshots.
A couple of years after we were graduated from Wake Forest, my husband took a year off from seminary and accepted a position in an all-black high school. He was the only white person. It was the mid-sixties, and tensions were running high. My high school friends disappeared, and there was no church where we were welcome. Had my parents not been well respected in that rural community, I’m pretty sure we would have been burned out. Ed heard about our difficulties. He called to set up a time for us to meet, got a driver to bring him to a restaurant halfway between where we lived and Winston-Salem, and met us for lunch. The conversation we had with Ed that day gave us courage. We knew we had a friend.
Almost twenty years later, my marriage ended. Again, Ed stepped in to offer comfort and support. For weeks, I would have a call every Sunday night from Ed: “How are you doing?” I don’t know how many others he had on his list to call like that, but I’m sure there was a list. He was still teaching me how to be a friend.
Time passed. We kept up with each other as our children grew up and married and started careers. The busy-ness of our lives didn’t allow a lot of time together, but I always knew Ed was there and, as we say now, “had my back.” When my dad died, he and Lu Leake (Dean of Women my last year at Wake Forest) drove two hours to attend his funeral.
At some time during those years (actually, May 7, 1995, according to the inscription inside), Ed gave me a copy of Frederick Buechner’s Listening to Your Life. It is a book that continues to nourish me. I suspect Ed bought them in bulk to help people along the way.
Ed’s friendship with me extended to my daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughters. Although they lived out of town, they saw Ed regularly at holiday parties and around town. Ed retired when my twin granddaughters were seven. On our way to one of his retirement parties, we were explaining to the girls the place that Ed had in the community: his work, his career, and his influence. I was delighted when one the girls said: “Are you talking about our Ed?” For her, as for many others, Ed was a friend first and foremost. That was what mattered to her.
Ed’s last years at Salemtowne were happy ones. I remember, one homecoming weekend, finding Ed and Jean sitting in the lobby surrounded by three couples who had come by to see them and were chatting away. The former students were telling them their memories, and Ed and Jean were responding as only they could.
“What was it like to be his secretary?” That’s a hard question to answer. “Lucky” doesn’t have enough gravitas. “Blessed” is a word that has been trivialized into meaninglessness. It was challenging, humbling, fun, educational, and nourishing.
Others have stories that are entertaining and capture his energy, his adventures, and his exuberance. Mine is the story of a quiet, supportive, life-giving, and life-changing friendship.
By Mel Williams ’65, Pastor Emeritus, Watts Street Baptist Church, Durham
Ed Christman: You have been the “Great White Father/Friend” to many of us at dear old Wake Forest. You have always been a splendid communicator, and you’ve known how to relate to a great variety of students. When Ed Reynolds came to be the first black student at WFU (1962), you were there to provide vital support as Reynolds became our suitemate and friend.
You laced humor with theological insight. I even borrowed your favorite slang word “frap!” which you gracefully used to express any form of consternation. When it came time for me to be ordained to the ministry, I knew immediately who I wanted to preach my ordination sermon—in 1969 at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh. I well remember your sermon title: “Christian Pragmatism.”
One of my favorite Ed Christman stories goes back to about 1962 when we had compulsory chapel attendance at Wake Forest. Students protested by sitting in Wait Chapel reading newspapers. When you got up to speak, you looked out at all those newspapers and spoke with ringing clarity: “Albert Camus has said that humans are interested in two things— sex and reading the newspaper. Since you’re already doing one of those, let’s begin with the other.” The newspapers came crashing down in a flurry. Then you began your sermon on sex! You got our attention!
Maybe “attention” is a good word to describe your ministry among us. You were always attentive to us, and we gave focused attention to you and your wisdom. What a gift! Thanks, Ed—and Jean—for your gifts of love, attention, good counsel, and friendship!
Ed as Partner and Mentor
By Richard McBride, WF Assistant Chaplain 1969-1979; Campus Minister, Gardener Web 1979-83; Chaplain, Elon University 1984-2009
Ed and I met in New York at Union Theological Seminary 1968-69 when Ed had a sabbatical year and I was in my final year of seminary. That year, he was invited to succeed L.H. Hollingsworth as Chaplain. That left his old job open. He invited me to become Assistant Chaplain – which I gladly did and served in that role at Wake Forest from1969-79. I have many powerful memories of our work together in the 70’s.
Ed, you have been a wonderful mentor to me. I recall that you called me at home many nights in my early years at Wake – 10:30 or 11:00 PM – and you would say, “Hello, Chaplain, how was your day?” With that greeting, you affirmed me as your colleague and helped me name my role.
You taught me that the chaplaincy must be willing to address every aspect of university life, all constituent groups, in ways that are both pastoral and prophetic. Befriend as many folks as possible, especially students. Be bold in “speaking truth to power.” You have always cared deeply about institutional integrity, especially that religiously affiliated institutions should never run roughshod over the people who comprise them.
And, as with so many others, you called me “brother.” It was always comforting – to know the truth of that relationship within our faith community but also at some more personal level that felt like family.
A favorite memory: We awoke one Easter morning to discover that some unhappy students had climbed the water tower and painted a slur against the Dean of Women. That afternoon you and I climbed the tower with brushes and paint buckets and transformed the slur into a sentiment more appropriate to the day: “Easter Joy.” The shouters from below who were seeing their earlier words transformed did not know that they cursed the chaplains!
I also want to celebrate the second reception you gave to me when I returned to chaplaincy after a traumatic interruption. You embraced me as a colleague in the profession, though at a different institution. It was crucial to my well-being that you gave me this second welcome – expressed, for example, through shared scheduling of programs like A Peasant of El Salvador coming both to Wake and to Elon.
Three Memories of Ed Christman
By Thomas A. Bland, Jr. ’78, Pastor Emeritus , First Baptist Church, Morganton, NC
Among many vivid memories of Dr. Christman, I wish to share three, which for me illustrate his very significant ministry as Chaplain.
First, as an entering freshman in August 1974, I found myself in awe of what impressed me as the austere, dignified persona of each member of the faculty and administration whom I encountered.
While I admired this quality a great deal, and had seen it in several of the legendary professors emeriti whom I had grown up observing in their retirement years in my hometown of Wake Forest, NC, I also found it intimidating. It was as if the collective, rather stoic and staid, personality, with all the great traditions, of ‘Dear Old Wake Forest’ were embodied in each of these persons!
Dr. Christman (I do not think that I have ever called him “Ed”) shared this characteristic, too, especially when I saw him “in action” at official University events and ceremonies, particularly those that occurred in Wait Chapel. But in Dr. Christman, there was always a difference. And that difference he established for me very early in my first semester, in that whenever he met me on the sidewalk, though he could not have known who I was, he invariably spoke a word of greeting! Not so much time passed before he began to call me by my first name–I have no idea how he came to know it!
But amidst all the gravity, if you will, of that wonderful Wake Forest ethos, there shined through Dr. Christman’s face and eyes an element of agape, which I did not know much about at the time, and which I hardly realized I was starved for. He never knew–but those were what I later came to understand as sacramental moments.
Second, also from my first semester, I recall very clearly what a dedicated athlete Dr. Christman was. In the course of taking freshman Physical Education, I and many others would encounter him quite often around the University track – warming up, running or returning from a long run. While, over time, I encountered a few other members of the faculty and administration in that setting, Dr. Christman’s constancy and unflagging determination set a great example for me and for my classmates. We had no excuses anymore not to run, for the class and for ourselves.
More generally, the sight of him out there so often inspired me with a sense that I could push myself to try new things, to excel in areas of life that (to some, perhaps) I appeared ill-equipped for.
Third is a memory that stems from my junior year, specifically from the rather harsh winter of 1977. I remember how very kind Dr. Christman was to me when, finally, I responded to an overture from him in the form of a card he had sent to me.
I made an appointment to see him in his office, and there, with some guardedness at first on my part, I laid before him what I saw at the time as my challenges and aspirations. My mother had died at the end of my freshman year, an event that frankly colored all of the rest of my time at Wake Forest, but a tragedy that I was very hesitant to discuss in depth with almost everyone, especially members of the clergy.
But I remember from that cold day the warmth that Dr. Christman extended to me as, gradually, in the course of that conversation, I opened up and shared something of that pain, along with whatever else, of a more trivial nature, happened to be on my mind.
He gave me a greater gift that day than he ever realized — a willingness simply to listen and not to judge. I have never forgotten his simple kindness to me, and I have tried in my years of ministry to extend it to others who, perhaps with even greater guardedness, have finally sought me out and shared whatever they needed to with me.
There is an old saying: “the Good Lord does have a sense of humor.” I never possibly could have imagined, during my years at Wake Forest, that, after a long and rarified journey through two graduate degrees (at Chapel Hill), God would call me into the Christian ministry, specifically as a “Baptist preacher!”
Though I have not seen Dr. Christman in a number of years, I am thankful that our paths have crossed a sufficient number of times since I have been a pastor for me to thank him for the simple, but incredibly significant, things that he did for me so many years ago. And I am grateful that I can look back on all of my ministry “role models,” shocked though some of them might be to see me today, and count Dr. Ed Christman as one of the most prominent ones!”
Knowing Ed and Jean
By Roger Pearman ’78 and ’81, Winston-Salem NC
Because Ed and Jean have so important to my life all I can do is summarize! I am so grateful for all they have meant to me and my wife, Angela.
When I arrived on the campus of Wake Forest in 1974, Ed welcomed me—as he did for thousands—to the first days of Freshmen orientation. The Chaplain’s Office hosted a student retreat at Camp Hanes which was my introduction both to Wake and Ed’s thoughtful and caring friendship.
Ed performed our wedding ceremony in Davis Chapel on September 24, 1983. He performed the ceremony for my mother and step-father. Ed was so generous to do the eulogy for my father who died in 1984.
Through the years, Ed and Jean gave us wonderful books to stimulate thought (Bechner series). And though our work and growing family meant we haven’t seen as much of each other as we would like but perhaps now that our adult children are now on their own journey we will get to visit. So we can enjoy their company.
All the qualities of thoughtful caring, splendid questioning, warm friendship make Ed and Jean among the most important people in our life. We would like to think that the lessons they have taught are also lessons our kids have learned. Thank you, Ed and Jean, for all of the kindness through the years.
A Few Words on the Retirement of Ed Christman
By Faith McClellan ‘82, Geneva, Switzerland, speech at Ed’s retirement dinner 2003
There were many portraits of Ed I could have drawn this evening. Over the 25 years that I have known him, he has told me many stories about his early life; I have participated in the making of a number of stories with him; and, true to my Southern upbringing, I have embellished most of these. But, in the interest of time, I have decided to limit myself to paying tribute to one thing I think is most characteristic of him, and that is the portrait of Ed as an encourager.
At the outset, I have to say that Ed does not need to know you personally to bolster you, boost you up, and affirm what you are doing. Jean will certainly recall one memorable example that took place in a café in Galveston, Texas. Across the room I pointed out George Mitchell, one of the richest men in the state, who was single-handedly responsible for the revitalization of our island. As Jean and I looked on in horrified amazement, Ed leaped up and ran over to Mr Mitchell and, at full volume (parenthetically, I must add that most of our adventures have taken place at full volume), thanked him for his vision, his projects, and – now he was at a roar – “but most of all, for your MONEY!”
A man like that, engaged with a perfect stranger, is a force to be reckoned with. Just imagine what it was like if he knew you, as he knew me and so many other students. Were you broke? Ed knew where you could get a job. Interestingly enough, the employer often seemed to be the Chaplain’s office. Did you need to hook up with a Wake Forester in New York or London or a village in Spain? Ed knew somebody or knew somebody who knew somebody, and he picked up the phone or wrote you a little note of introduction. Did you want to go check out Union Seminary the same day as a big Shakespeare exam, but were too afraid of Mr. Fosso to broach the subject? Or to speak to Henri Nouwen or Robert Coles or Eudora Welty, but were just too shy to try to make any of these things happen? Ed had some ideas for you. Did you just need to a place to go sometimes because you were lonely or mixed up or sad?
Ed might need you to drive him down to the soup kitchen or the homeless shelter or to drop something off at his house, where conversation and warmth and, of course, a cup of coffee, just happened to be waiting. Soon you and Ed and Jean would be laughing and talking and comparing clippings from newspapers that Jean always had at the ready – talking politics, religion, world affairs, looking at pictures. Had you fallen flat on your face, made some stupid mistake? Ed always reminded you of your highest and best self, picked you up an dusted you off, and coached you on your way. I am quite certain that virtually every major event I’ve faced in the last 25 years has been preceded and followed by a phone call to Ed.
Churchill said, “We shape our dwellings and afterwards our dwellings shape us.” I am deeply grateful and humbled to have known some of the people who have shaped this dwelling, and to have been shaped by it. And I am full of thanks and hope for those yet to come here, who will stand in the shadow cast by one of its great men. Like thousands of others who have been blessed by this dwelling, I have had the privilege of knowing one of the giants who has longed roamed this particular piece of earth. Tonight I am proud to honor Ed Christman and to call him mentor, confidante, friend.
This is a sad occasion in some ways, marking, as it does, the end of a singular era. But I look forward to celebrating with Ed and Jean new chapters in their story, and joining them in fresh and not doubt hilarious adventures. On their behalf, I borrow the magnificent exclamation of Dag Hammerskjold: “For all that has been, thanks! To all that shall be, yes!”
By Stan Dotson, Fairview, NC
One of my greatest blessings in life was to marry Kim, which meant I married into the Christman family. Some of the greatest pleasures we have had over the years have involved traveling each summer to the Baptist Peace Fellowship annual summer gathering, enabling us to visit cities all across the U.S. and Canada.
What amazed me about Jean was her incredible knowledge of politics, and her extreme confidence in her analysis of any current situation, which was always backed up by well-researched facts. That is to say, it was virtually impossible to ever win an argument over politics with her! And she was equally passionate and knowledgeable about art, so we had a wonderful guide through all the many art museums we visited in these cities.
What amazed me about Ed was how far-flung his impact and his relationships with WFU people are. It almost became a joke, that we couldn’t go anywhere in the world without someone coming up and speaking to Ed. He is hard to lose in a crowd, after all. But time and time again, people would approach him and talk about what he had meant to them at Wake Forest, and they would recount a story or two to illustrate.
And I was amazed and continue to be amazed at how his charisma is inter-generational in its reach. He is equally comfortable and at home talking with WFU alumni in their 70s and 80s and with current students in their late teens. And I’ve witnessed in recent years that his charisma — and Jean’s as well — reaches further down the age bracket, as they delight in their play with grandson Francisco. When Francisco was younger, Ed could spend hours on the floor playing blocks and talking gibberish with him.
I “married up” for sure, and have received blessing upon blessing from that stroke of good fortune.
A Not So Rusty Runner
By Carolyn Christman
Dad always loved to run. As a boy, he was a good runner and a fast runner, and he even ran on the track team in high school for a year. As an adult, he picked up running again, this time with a group of friends who called themselves the Rusty Runners. They had matching sweat shirts and pants. Though they sometimes ran on the track, the favorite path was on the cross country trails through the woods around campus.
He wrote later that jogging was like prayer. “It involved getting into a pattern and regularity; is something where a person can lose concentration and regain it, and have a sense of flushing out, clearing the air of any concerns, such as grief. When done with others, jogging, like prayer, benefits from encouragement, by thinking about folks who run. Folks see you on their way back, when you’re starting, and thumbs-up is my sign.” [From “Some Scriptures and Questions,” mid-1970s.]
In 1994, Dad had quadruple bypass surgery. His silver lining was entry into the Wake Forest Cardiac Rehabilitation Exercise Program. He would meet with the class three or four mornings a week, walking on the track, and doing some other exercise with the trainers and students in Exercise Science. Dad loved this activity and walking with old and new friends. He found the variety of people in the class, from all walks of life, to be enriching. Being out and about with friends made his heart problems a distant memory. He was a member of the Program for 15 years, until the move to Salemtowne in 2009.
By Carolyn Christman
Mom and Dad have always been loyal Wake Forest sports fans, especially during basketball season. As students on the old campus, they loved seeing games in the gym and hearing the chimes of the campus bells after big game wins. The idea was to ring the bells loudly enough for the other “Big Four” schools to hear.
In Winston-Salem, and especially after he became Chaplain, Dad would take us to roll the campus with toilet paper after the biggest wins. Truth be told, he did at times use his master key to find extra toilet tissue in Wingate Hall, but he never ever took the TP from the nursery school bathrooms. He did have principles.
Carolina was the Deacons’ biggest basketball adversary. Mom and Dad did really soften up on UNC, however, after long-time coach Dean Smith made a television commercial for the Nuclear Freeze. He then became a kindred spirit Democrat.
As sports go, however, Dad loved baseball best, having grown up listening to major league games on the radio. He was a Yankees fan for most of his life, but he also pulled for the Mets during the years we spent in New York. (Only an outsider could be so ecumenical!) We were in New York in 1968-1969 and got to see the “Miracle Mets” play; they went on to win the World Series. We were also there to experience a few of the “Broadway” Joe Namath miracles for the New York Jets football team.
After the Braves moved to Atlanta, and when there was local radio coverage, we all became Braves fans. TBS television coverage made it even easier later on to follow “America’s team.”
Dad also enjoyed introducing students to Winston-Salem’s minor league baseball team, a member of the single A Carolina League, which at that time played at Ernie Shore Field. One of his favorite memories is attending games with student Eddie Tomanus, who was blind. Eddie’s pleasure in the game just proved again to Dad how one didn’t have to see to see. By the way, Eddie T. became a Jeopardy champion and a USA Today sports writer.
Ed was my favorite person from my years at Wake Forest. From him throwing snowballs at me on the quad to telling anti-Carolina jokes, he was so funny.
I remember one time he started a “fight” with me at a BSU meeting and we were wrestling. It was so odd being an 18 year girl and the 60ish year old chaplain started wrestling you. He was so funny. And the name speech will forever live on. He was an incredible human being and the world is a sadder place without him. Wendy Class of ’92.