In Memoriam: Michael Kilpatrick

(Michael Edward Kilpatrick entered eternity on Sept. 28, 2017)

I first became acquainted with Michael Kilpatrick through the letters that he used to regularly submit to the Macon Telegraph.  His views on politics, culture, and especially faith, corresponded closely to mine; and his style and wit, I had to concede, surpassed my own by some margin.  It became a daily ritual for me and Trena, who would look at the paper together over dinner, to ask each other “anything interesting on the op-ed page?  Michael write a letter?”


I decided to reach out to Mr. Kilpatrick on the occasion of Barack Obama’s first victory speech in Grant Park.  I wondered if he found it as interesting as I did, that not only did the President-elect say that this nation “is not, and has never been… a collection of individuals…”; but that the verbiage was excised from the official transcript of the speech that ran in the paper the following Sunday.  For some years, I had been (to borrow a phrase from C. S. Lewis) “flying the flag” of my Christian faith with my own letters in defense of it.  But I steered clear of politics, owing to the PC environment where I worked, and my need to draw a paycheck.  I hoped Michael might find my observation regarding Obama’s collectivist rhetoric, and the fact that it was excised, interesting enough to comment on it. 

So, I looked up his number, called him up, introduced myself to his wife, Teresa, who told me she would tell him I called.  A short time later, my phone rang.  By the end of our conversation, Michael had invited me and Trena to join him and Teresa for “date night” — dinner at the Cracker Barrel.  For two hours the four of us sat and talked, animatedly, the words coming out in a rush, punctuated with joyful laughter, excited and delighted to have encountered another couple whose view of the world was in accord with our own — complete with a shared, and somewhat mordant, sense of humor.   

Our friendship grew over time.  We watched Michael and Teresa’s lovely daughters grow, through the pool parties our families shared during the summer holidays.  Michael introduced me to the joys of target shooting at the range where he had a membership, in Twiggs county.  He once demonstrated his proficiency by putting two successive rounds through the center of a paper plate with a .38 revolver, at a distance — while leaving only a single hole.  We would get together for lunch occasionally — I now realize far too infrequently; it always seems like you have all the time in the world, until it runs out — and talk over the latest events; and find laughter (if only gallows humor) in the continuing degradation and decay of our society, as it steadily abandons truth and reason for a vague, incoherent, and corrupt politically correct secularism.  I invited Michael to bring his rapier wit and prodigious collection of quotations (from G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, Douglas Wilson, David Berlinski — scores of others) to an anonymous message board forum I frequented, and he brought his “Dirt Road Scholar” pseudonym with him.  The 350 or so posts he contributed (before getting bored with the vacuity of response) were far and away the best and most worthwhile ever to appear on the forum; including the thousands (I am somewhat embarrassed to admit) I composed there.  We would chuckle bemusedly over our engagements with the hopelessly fogbank mentality of the “Whateverists” — a term coined by Michael to refer to those who shared the amorphous belief in “something, nothing, anything, everything — Whatever.  As long as it is not the Biblical God.” None of them were able to muster competent rebuttals for Michael’s forceful arguments for theism; and when frustration led to their launching the obligatory personal attacks, Michael’s artful one-upmanship was a source of great amusement. 

But engagement in cyber-space was not sufficient to satisfy Michael’s call to confront the complacency of mush-minded secularism. He was, as Teresa put it, the quintessential “realist — always taking on reality as it came to him; just putting one foot in front of the other…”.  He craved the face-to-face encounter; and to that end, joined a regular meeting sponsored by the Philosophy department at Mercer U., that took place at a nearby coffee house.  Michael characteristically dubbed it the “Fool-osophy Forum”, and enjoyed his lone-wolf status among the smattering of self-described anarchists, atheists, and proponents of sundry other “ists” and “isms”, that huddle together under the umbrella of the afore-mentioned “Whateverism”.  And outside the rubric of truth.  I see Michael in my mind’s eye, like Paul at the Areopagus, the lone voice for faith and reason in the midst of endless wool-gathering and navel-gazing over Nietzsche or Bertrand Russell or Dawkins, standing his ground “with gentleness and respect”, leading to his sometimes being called upon:  “what does the Christian think?”  He offered me a standing invitation to join in the hijinks — one which I regularly declined.  The truth is, in those days I had not sufficiently refined my own arguments to be confident that I could address impromptu challenges to them, or to adequately express them verbally, without the reflection afforded by textual communication.  I well remember, though, his commenting to me that occasionally the plethora of absurdities advanced by the forum’s participants was a little overwhelming.  And the mild disdain with which he responded to my offer to attend, in order to “watch your six”:  “I think I can take care of myself.” 

And so he could.  Michael was a man’s man — a “badass”, in the words of Justin, his son.  A Harley-riding, pistol-packing, loyal member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans Mechanized Cavalry.  And yet there were few who could state the case for faith more eloquently — or eviscerate the lame arguments against it with more style, panache, and relish.  Unlike me, he had the sense to steer clear of the internecine squabbles over doctrine that afflict the Body of Believers.  He had pithy, ironclad reasonings at the ready to address the most controversial topics.  On Creationism:  “the question is not how God did it all in 6 days.  The question is why He chose to take so long.  He could’ve made everything in an instant.”  On Predestination (“Election”):  “can you tell me with assurance whether the next person who walks down the street in front of you is ‘chosen’ or not?”  On Eschatology (my favorite), and the “Pre-Trib vs. Amillennial" dispute:  “When He comes, I go.”  I used to try to interest him in the mind-expanding expositions by Dr. Chuck Missler on the boundaries of our space-time reality, and the implications of the latest discoveries at the frontier of every scientific discipline in terms of affirming Biblical truth.  But Michael was a few years older than I, and had been a stalwart, believing Christian for many more years than I had.  Such information, I got the impression, was rather “old news” for him, and somewhat academic.  Like a nuclear physicist going back to textbooks, when he really wanted to smash particles with a hadron collider in the real world.  That’s where Michael’s focus was — the real world; in which his calling was, as he put it, to “point to the King.”  As he did with the boys and young men who were taking an increasing interest in his daughters, as they passed through adolescence into young adulthood. 

I would be remiss not to point out, in this reminiscence, a great, and specific, personal debt that I owe Michael.  He casually invited me to attend a CMI event (Creation Ministries International — at Zion Presbyterian Church, when they were on Vineville Ave.  Michael said that was the church he would join, if he were to join a congregation — something that he joked that his “problem with authority” (another trait we shared) precluded him from doing.  At that time, I was compromising “long ages” and “vast amounts of time” with the Genesis account, through the standard vagueness and soft hermeneutics necessary for such a position.  I came to the lecture, by the estimable Dr. Jonathan Sarfati, armed with one question.  I can say without equivocation that his presentation totally rearranged my thoughts on origins and history, and I performed a 180-degree turn over the next days and weeks, upon examining the CMI materials.  Still, during the Q & A following his talk, I found my hand in the air when Dr. Sarfti asked “any last questions?”  I think he actually rolled his eyes a bit when I asked the classic “distant starlight problem” question.  It was summer — the old wooden sanctuary was quite warm during the evening presentation, and there was a potluck supper just moments away in the fellowship hall.  I think Dr. S. thought he was going to get away without having to address that question this time…

I will refer the reader to the CMI website for answers to the question of how the light from celestial objects known to be millions of lightyears distant could reach the earth in only 6000 years, as measured by clocks on earth.  

Another personal debt I owe to Michael is for the advice he gave me when Trena and I decided to embark on a musical endeavor — our husband and wife duo, The DOVES.  Our first performance was in our practice loft, for Michael, Teresa, Charity, Faith, Mercy, and Patience (as I recall).  It met with approval.  Michael’s review of our version of “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” was a Yogi Berra-ism: “you sound just like The Beatles — only different.”  And he offered one lasting exhortation, which I have tried to follow:  “if you’re going to do this thing, don’t hold back — give it all you’ve got.”    

Michael Kilpatrick was able to legitimately dispense such advice, because that’s exactly the manner in which he approached life. He was as uncompromising a man as I’ve ever encountered — an approach reflected in the quality of his work: as Paul urged, Michael made a living with his hands.  His paint contracting business made him independent and self-reliant; and though he never advertised, word-of-mouth insured that he never lacked for work, which often brought him into the homes of the wealthy, as well as the unsaved; providing an opportunity for him to bear witness in word and deed.  It was reflected in his quixotic mayoral campaign, with its droll slogan: “Kilpatrick — not each other”.  And it was reflected in the way he related to others.  If ever there was a man who of whom it could be said that he had no regard for race, color, or class, it was Michael.  He was equally at home with Mercer professors and other “elites” at the cocktail party soirees he was regularly invited to, as he was in a phalanx of fellow Harley-riding SCVMC, journeying to Confederate memorials across the land.  It was they who provided tribute at his memorial service —attended by perhaps a couple of hundred people (or more), from all walks of life, on a perfect early autumn day at Amerson Water Park — in the form of a bagpipe rendition of “Amazing Grace”; a three-shot cannon volley; and the playing of taps.  Strong, proud, and humble — all qualities which could be applied in describing Michael.  

Perhaps the most fitting tribute, however, was an informal one.  As I left the memorial service, I happened to overhear one of the Sons of the Confederacy — an intimidating, 6’5”, 280-pound mountain of a man — remark to a compatriot:  “…the man, the myth, the legend… has left us.”  

And so it is.  As his wife Teresa so elegantly put it:  “he has exchanged his ‘earth suit’ for a robe of righteousness.”  And has entered into eternity, experiencing the rest and reward of his Savior, with Whom he is in the direct presence of — just as all who have accepted His grace and mercy shall be.  Leaving a legacy of four sons, five daughters, and a number of grandchildren that will surely only grow.   All of whom will bear the imprint of his fiercely independent mind, unsatisfied with anything that does not conform to the truth; a truth which is perfectly manifested only, and solely, in the Person of Jesus Christ, our resurrected Lord, Savior, and King.  That imprint extends to the untold numbers who been confronted by the brilliance of his writings and/or conversation.  In the words of Ned Dominick, at the memorial service:  “Michael was an impact player.” 

For my part, I have lost both a brother, and a mighty comrade-in-arms in the spiritual war that we are all engaged in — whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.  But only for a short time — until “all those that are of the truth” (John 18:37) are gathered at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. 

See you then, my friend.  

— W. Wade Stooksberry II