MEMPHIS, Tenn. (BP)–Ed McAteer’s political activities put him in the spotlight. But at his funeral Oct. 8 at Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., the emphasis on his life fell on his love, compassion and faith.
“A giant has fallen,” said former presidential candidate Howard Phillips, who with McAteer was a driving force in forming the Moral Majority. “Ed was an example of what a Christian ought to be. He was a man who was unblemished in his personal life … a man who showed character and compassion to others.”
McAteer, a former Sunday School teacher and Southern Baptist layman, succumbed to cancer on Oct. 6 at his home in Memphis. Faye, his wife of 55 years, was at his side. McAteer, who was 78, played a key role in introducing evangelicals to Ronald Reagan in 1980 and remained a leading figure in the Religious Right over the years.
“All of us have so much we want to say about Ed,” said Bellevue Baptist pastor Adrian Rogers, who concluded the service with an invitation to accept Christ as Savior. “He loved people, he loved Jesus and he loved to talk.”
The former Southern Baptist Convention president prompted hearty laughter with a story about flying to Switzerland once for a Billy Graham evangelism conference. Rogers said he had the “bad judgment” to sit next to McAteer.
All night long McAteer would giggle, talk and regale him with stories as he slapped Rogers’ knee.
“I had a red spot there,” Rogers said. “I didn’t want to be rude (and) say, ‘Ed, I want to get some sleep.’ To me, it’s a precious memory.”
The pastor expressed his gratitude for McAteer, whom Rogers said loved his Lord, family, church, pastor and nation.
McAteer also loved Israel because of his belief that the Bible teaches the Jews are God’s chosen people, Rogers said. As evidence of McAteer’s ties with Jewish people, Rogers read a statement from Andrew Groveman, president of the Memphis Jewish Federation.
Groveman wrote that it is rare to meet a man who had such a profound impact on millions of people.
“This man has left a legacy that has touched so many people in so many ways,” Groveman said. “It is difficult to describe or comprehend. He … always found the right words at the time to educate those who were listening.”
For an hour before the funeral, Faye McAteer and other family members greeted a constant flow of friends. More than a dozen bouquets and baskets of flowers lined the stage behind the Naval veteran’s flag-draped casket.
Although in the public eye –- he was featured on a “60 Minutes” television program and also was a candidate for U.S. ambassador to Israel -– his family maintained a private stance. No cameras were allowed in the sanctuary and family members declined to conduct any interviews.
His son, Tim, read two of his father’s favorite poems during the 75-minute service while three grandsons delivered tributes.
Grandson Daniel McAteer recalled how his grandfather showed him what he could strive to be in life as an outstanding Christian example. If his grandfather walked into a room and he asked how Ed was doing, his grandfather would reply, “Better, now that I’ve seen you.”
“He referred to Grandma as the ‘girl of his dreams’ when he didn’t call her ‘babe,’” Daniel said. “We’re going to miss him but he’s left everything behind for us to learn from.”
Halting several times as he choked back tears, grandson Jon McAteer noted how impressed he was at the impact his grandfather had had on so many people.
Jon said he probably took 100 calls from friends, former co-workers and neighbors. One man hadn’t seen his grandfather for 30 years, but broke into tears offering his sympathies, Jon said.
McAteer was friendly to everyone, Jon said.
“You could just pick up the phone book and get his number,” Jon said. “It didn’t matter who you were, the producer from ‘Larry King Live’ or someone who just needed help. You called and you got his undivided attention.”
An orphan who grew up during the Depression not knowing where his next meal would come from, Ed McAteer helped elect Ronald Reagan, Jon said.
Yet through it all, “Dad,” as Jon called him, was always real: “Like it or not, what you saw was what you got. He could be long-winded at times but nobody’s perfect.”
Michael McAteer said his grandfather taught him how to shoot a gun, box, play baseball and drive, but nothing more important than to love and trust Christ.
In recent months Ed had many struggles because of the cancer that claimed his life, but one incident in particular affected Michael. His grandfather had fallen on the floor and his wife was trying to help him up when Michael walked into the room.
“Faye, my tribe hath increased,” Ed said.
“Being there on the floor and having that kind of positive outlook -– that touched me,” Michael said.
Phillips talked of traveling with McAteer during the 1970s, fighting such political battles as arms control and the treaty that ceded U.S. rights to the Panama Canal.
Many times he saw his friend comfort a stewardess struggling with personal problems, which Phillips said Ed also did for waitresses in restaurants.
Outlining some of his other qualities, Phillips said McAteer exemplified sacrifice, service, courage, energy and vision.
“His concern was that Christians would be ghetto-ized — that they would be in their corner of the world when he knew God’s Word applied to every aspect of life,” said Phillips, who comes from a Jewish background but accepted Christ in the 1990s because of McAteer’s influence.
Ed loved his family and his wife, Phillips said. Although he didn’t know them personally, Phillips said he knew them vicariously because Ed often spoke of them.
“He was as good a friend as anyone could ever have,” Phillips said. “I am proud he called me his friend and I was able to call him my friend.”
After opening music and prayer, Arkansas pastor Randy Coleman led off the service. Instead of delivering the obituary, Coleman said the family asked him to share personal memories.
Coleman talked of visiting the hospital several years ago when McAteer had heart surgery. Expecting a dreadful scene, Coleman told of being surprised to see Ed sitting on the edge of his bed while talking on the phone. Nearby, papers spilled out of an open briefcase.
After greeting him, McAteer told Randy he had been getting ready to call him.
“What shocked me was Ed would have my name on a list of people he wanted to talk to,” Coleman said. “When you were talking with Ed, you felt like the most important person in the world.”
Rogers recalled visiting Israel with McAteer.
One night McAteer tried to witness to the doorman by handing him a Gospel tract written in Arabic, Rogers said. When the doorman said he couldn’t read, McAteer walked over to a cab driver and asked him to read the tract to the doorman.
“Only Ed could have one Muslim witnessing to another one,” Rogers said as laughter erupted. “It was a remarkable thing. I don’t know if he was reading the tract or just speaking in Arabic, but Ed would say, ‘That’s true.’”
This soul-winning emphasis started at home, Rogers told Baptist Press after the service. Years ago McAteer led many young men to Christ in the Sunday School class he taught. Today, many of those young converts are deacons and pastors, Rogers said.
“Then Ed got a larger ministry and he ministered to America and the world,” said Rogers, who will step down from the pulpit next spring. “There would be many Sundays when Ed would not be in the pew but he’d be in a pew or a pulpit somewhere in the world.”
A book about McAteer was released earlier this year. Copies of “The Power of One: The Ed McAteer Story” are on sale at Bellevue Baptist Church and several other bookstores in the Memphis area. The book can be ordered through the mail by sending a check for $16.95 to Daniel Johnson, P.O. Box 341841, Memphis, Tenn., 38184.