Dr. Jon R Roebuck, Exec. Director
Jesse is one of those good southern names that you hear when you get deep into the Bible Belt. The name itself conjures up rural, southern living. It’s a Bible name. You remember the story of Jesse. He was the man from Bethlehem who had all the sons. Samuel, the last great Judge of Israel, anointed Jesse’s youngest and most unlikely boy as the future King of Israel. And so, Jesse is forever remembered as the father of the great King. Quite a legacy.
For the past 4 decades, I have known a friend named Jesse. Jesse Palmer, to be exact. He was not the father of a King, but was certainly a child of the Great King. He passed away just yesterday at the age of 67. He is too soon gone. Illness robbed him and us of the joy of sharing life together for many more years. He was a man of great faith, innovation, discovery, and encouragement. The list of those whom he mentored along the way is impressive. He collected friends easily and to have known him was a special gift of grace. He served churches, planted seeds, and nurtured many young ministers in the faith. Churches like Dawson Memorial, Brook Hills, FBC Opelika, and 16th Street all are better because of his ministry among the saints. He was a true renaissance man… gifted, talented, knowledgeable, and generous to a fault.
In my own faith & ministry pilgrimage, Jesse played a vital role. He was the Minister of Education at Eastern Hills Baptist Church in Montgomery at the time we first met. I was finishing my sophomore year at Samford University. He came to campus looking for a summer youth minister. We met. We talked. We found in each other a kindred spirit and within weeks, I became the Youth Minister at that vibrant and growing church. I was 19 at the time. Who but Jesse could see the potential within my life and take a chance on calling me to serve at such a young age? The two years I served in that capacity with Jesse as my mentor were two of the most important and formative years in my pilgrimage. Some of the books on my library shelves today are gifts that he shared with me. One of them is inscribed with these words, written in beautiful calligraphy by Jesse, “I thank my God every time I think of you.” (Phil. 1:3)
I actually lived with Jesse and his wife, Bonnie. They took me into their home and into their lives. “Bonnie and Jesse” (always listed in that order whenever friends spoke of them) were the best of folks. They shared life together for the past 44 years. You’ve heard the expression that “opposites attract?” There must be something to it. Where Jesse was calm and pensive and calculating, Bonnie was wild and sweet and gentle and crazy all rolled into one. Their home was always filled with cats, phones, computers, good food, and much laughter.
When I went away to seminary, Jesse continued to stay in touch. He called one week to tell me that he was bringing a group of Auburn students up from First Opelika for a special Missions weekend at the seminary. He invited me to join the group for supper. I sat across the table that night from a beautiful college coed named Linda Jackson. I walked away from the table thinking, “Wow, that girl is something special.” Three dates later we were engaged and nine months later we were married. Linda had known Bonnie and Jesse for several years and so when the connection was made they were excited to share in our relationship. Jesse was a groomsman in our wedding and Bonnie stood in for Linda during the rehearsal.
Back to the Old Testament story of the anointing of King David, son of Jesse. Everyone, including Samuel, was surprised that “little shepherd boy David” was God’s intended leader. Samuel even asked God, “Are you sure?” It was in the context of that story that God said to Samuel, “The LORD doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” It seems really appropriate that those words were spoken in the midst of a story involving a man named Jesse. It’s an easy connection for me to make with my friend, Jesse Palmer. Jesse saw the best in people. He looked at the heart and declared folks to be worthy, included, and welcomed.
Jesse had a life-long love with telephones. When I lived with them I counted 23 in their house… some were connected and some were just for show. I don’t know what fascinated him most about the phones. Maybe he just appreciated the way phones helped him connect with others. I’m told that when he died, he did so with a phone in his hand and a peaceful look on his face. I’d like to think that maybe he was talking with The Great King, who told him it was time to discover the full expression of his faith.
Thanks for everything Jesse, rest well.