Day 55: Russell and Melda Strickland

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Dear Russell and Melda,

There was never a cooler couple who made their home in small-town America.

Russell, you were the Renaissance Man of your generation in our little town. Melda, you were just one of the most downright nicest and most unpretentious people I ever knew.

Melda and Russell Strickland

Melda and Russell Strickland

For 20 years I sat right behind you in church. Our families attended all the local charitable benefits together. We even worked together later in life when you contributed a sizable land tract to the charitable foundation where I worked. And all the while, I stood amazed and awed at how “different” and progressive and good you both were.

Annual ski trips, African safaris, traipsing unscheduled sojourns across Europe, New Zealand explorations – your travels were unending – every continent, I believe, except Antarctica.

You were philanthropists, conservationists, community volunteers, and pioneers. Russell was 20 years ahead of the most progressive cotton and soybean farmers in the South. The idea of raising cotton without cultivation in the early 80s was unthinkable. But you did it, and today, that’s how it’s done.

And that undeniable voice in our little Methodist choir. I can hear Russell singing now just as he did every Easter Sunday carrying the bass line on He Arose. This is for you, Russell.

Melda, the manner in which you cared for Russell in his final years was among the most beautiful things I’ve seen.  As his condition ultimately required a nursing home (which was the last thing you ever wanted) you didn’t just put him there. You moved in with him, stayed until the end, and beyond. If there’s ever been a greater demonstration of love and commitment, I don’t know where.

Thank you for your impression on an impressionable young man growing up in small-town America. Thank you for showing me it’s okay to be different, curious, independent and to go your own way. I never stopped watching you both and think of you often today.

Monette was just a little more cosmopolitan, and had just a little more flair because of you, and that’s God’s honest truth.

Your grateful admirer,

Steve Watkins

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