Who Is Number One

James and Martha Newby to the left, my mother to the right.

James and Martha Newby to the left, my mother to the right.

This past November was an unusual month. I began the month officiating a Celebration of Life Service in Forrest, Mississippi, on Saturday November 1 and concluded the month helping my adopted son in the ministry in a COLS in my home church. The service was for a sainted lady who I have known since childhood. She just happened to be our next door neighbor and a dear friend of the family. Her husband was a career public servant serving three terms as Tax Assessor and four as Probate Judge. I always knew him as Mr. James. He was a man of unique wisdom.  He was the sage of the community. In a church business meeting, he was the E.F. Hutton: once he spoke it was settled. He did not speak quickly or often but when he needed to speak up, he did. He could articulate his thoughts in such a way that we were left spell-bound. Although he spent 40 hours a week at the courthouse, he managed a farm operation on the side. In the early 60’s it was primarily three tracts of land and one was a dairy farm. From 80 acres of cotton in 1965 they grew rapidly into hundreds of acres by the late 70’s. I don’t know the actual numbers but today they row crop in the neighborhood of 5,000 acres in two states and three counties. They also have a few thousand acres of pasture land. The matriarch of the gigantic family farm operation was Mrs. Martha: the sainted lady that I mentioned above. I put my feet under her table many times. In the old days, she feed us lunch Monday through Friday. She was a near perfect wife [as close as I have seen anyone get] and a home maker. I never saw her on a tractor or even walking across the pasture.  She was the supporter, the encourager and to Mr. James, she was the Queen and he treated her as such. He was her protector, her knight in shinning armor. He honored her in all things. He treated her with the utmost respect and demanded that others do the same.

As Bro. Tim was concluding the COLS, he shared something that I did not know and it touched me. I grew up with the boys but that didn’t take long. I worked with them and for them for only 5 years and then a bit in college but not much. When I started working for them, I was 13, Jerry was 15 and Jimmy was 17. I graduated college in the Summer of 71 and moved to New Orleans to attend Seminary. Then for the next 45 years I served churches and did not get to spend much time with the family but when Tim told the story, I could see it all as if I were there. At the family get-to-gathers. Mr. James would get them in a circle for the blessing. After someone lead the blessing, he always had a word for the family and he always closed with this question: Kids, who is number one? Their answer in unison was “Mama” [Mrs. Martha].

Someone said, “Behind every great man there is a great woman. The first record of this quote comes from a Port Arthur, Texas newspaper in 1945. A man by the name of Meryll Frost said after receiving some reward, “They say behind every great man, there stands a greater woman.” Then someone changed it to successful man and good woman. Bro. Tim says, “behind every great man there is a greater woman.” I not here to argue the point but I have no doubt that the husband makes the wife. I know women that lost their soul trying to please men who treated them like a prostitute. I heard a black preacher say some years ago: “Look at your wife: if you don’t like what you see, remember she is what you made her.” I got a little angry at that statement and vowed I would prove him wrong. Some twenty years later, I came to the conclusion that he was right. I don’t know many perfect couples but James and Martha Newby seemed to have been made for each other and they certainly made each other.


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