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TRIBUTE TO DR. LARRY RUSSELL FAIRBANKS (1949-2008)

Five years ago today (July 31), my brother died at the 58 years of age. I still miss him! I felt as though I had lost my “elder brother” of sorts. We were very close, and talked together often.

I talked with him by phone the evening before he died early the following morning.

Our conversations during the last few months of his life often focused on how we want to be remembered on earth when, at the end of our lives, with nothing but memories to look back upon and nothing but death before us. Larry wanted to remembered first and foremost as a holy man of God. To this vocation and calling, my brother was radically committed.

I remember my brother as:

#1. A pastoral theologian of grace

Larry never doubted that God “graced” us bountifully over the years in ways we could never comprehend. We were indeed, “sinners saved by grace.” The gospel song that includes these words, “That God would love a sinner such as I…” echoes our testimonies of the amazing grace of God at work profoundly in our lives. To grasp that we were the blessed, gifted, called and graced children of God was for us, overwhelming!

Even more humbling was the realization that God’s amazing grace was not only extended to us to redeem, transform and empower us, but that He extends His grace through us as we reached out in His name to serve others.

We were nothing, so we thought. But God, by His mercy and grace found us and transformed us, chose to call us and use us! We never doubted that God extended His grace to us, but what overwhelmed us was this realization that God extended His grace through us to others in need of “grace greater than our sins.”

This “Liberating Grace of God” became a theme and refrain of Larry’s pastoral and preaching ministry.

He and I were increasingly challenged to see and focus on the potential in people rather than on their problems. Even now I can hear him sing, “He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater…to added affection He extends His mercy…He giveth, and giveth and giveth again.”

Larry and I talked often about “the pain of leadership.” Pain experienced when, in the exercise of pastoral or district leadership, good and godly people with whom you work and live sometimes differ, even collide, with you as leader or vision and values. We talked often and with tears in our eyes at times about the imperative to be Christ-like in our responses.  We had no option but to be channels of grace and mercy to others who had honest differences with us regarding our leadership vision and values.

larry_at_church

I remember my brother as a pastoral theologian of grace. I also remember my brother as:

#2. A powerful preacher and consummate churchman

Regardless of the ministry assignment, Larry was first and foremost a pastor and preacher. This was his DNA. He had an amazing ability to relate the grand themes of scripture to the human experiences of those who were listening. He connected. Over and over again, people would walk away from his sermons believing that Larry had spoken a word from God to them personally.

Two days following Larry’s death, Dr. James Couchenour, former chairman of the Mount Vernon Nazarene University Board of Trustees, called me. He recalled in detail the devotional Larry gave almost ten years previously to the MVNU Board. Larry had an amazing ability to intersect the gospel of God’s grace to the life conditions and human life concerns of others. He connected and brought connections! Amazing!

It was perhaps old fashioned, but for Larry, words like “loyalty, respect, commitment, faithfulness, and responsibility” to his church assignments and church leaders were not options for Larry. He was not a “lone ranger.”

As district superintendent, Larry defended his pastors, believed in the district camp, focused on local church Board development, and was intentional regarding the professional development of the district pastors. He also served as secretary of the Finance Committee of the Mount Vernon Nazarene University Board of Trustees. He relished his involvement on the Nazarene Bible College Board, and took very seriously his responsibility as a delegate to the Church of the Nazarene General Assemblies.

Eight months prior to his death, Larry traveled to Ethiopia and was amazed at what he learned from African leaders.  We talked often about the mission trip he took two years prior to his death to the Asia Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary in Manila, Philippines.

During the year just prior to his death, Larry was most engaged and energized by the training that he and his district pastors and advisory board members received on “Strengths-Based Leadership” provided by the Gallup organization.

larry_with_lebrons_family

I remember my brother as a powerful preacher and a consummate churchman. I also remember him as:

#3. A passionate family man and loving husband.

His loving wife, Kathy, died approximately five years after Larry’s death. He called Kathy, “his best friend.”

Both Larry and Kathy thought that she would be the first to die. Larry cared for Kathy during her illnesses, and the increasing challenges of her Parkinson’s disease. Larry’s concern for Kathy was both deeply moving and reflective of the passionate concern he had for his beloved wife and best friend. The examples are too personal and numerous to share. Just ask Julie or Russ, Savannah or Sidney, Carolyn or me.

Just two weeks prior to Larry’s death, Savannah and Sydney were in St. Mary’s, Ohio for their annual week at the grandparents’ home. What therapy and pure delight the grandchildren brought to Larry and Kathy.  They gave priority time to their grandchildren whom they loved so very much!

Just recently Russ reflected on the plans of Larry and Kathy to move to Chattanooga on Larry’s retirement as district superintendent, and to assist Russ in the new church plant he is leading. He depended on his dad for counsel not only as his DS, but also as his mentor and greatest supporter.

larry_with_family

My brother is not longer with us. I continue to miss our discussions. I find myself, five years after his death, stating, “I need to talk with Larry.” He was also my closest friend.

Family members and friends especially remember him today, July 31, on the five- year anniversary of his death. We continue to remember him as:
#1. A pastoral theologian of grace;
#2. A powerful preacher and consummate churchman; and
#3. A passionate family man and loving husband.

larry_fairbanks

Most of all, we remember him first and foremost as a holy man of God.  And that he was. Well-done,  good and faithful servant. You continue to be greatly missed, but your testimony and influence remains. May all who come behind you find us as faithful. Well done.

Comments

Brenda Lewis July 31, 2013

Larry was an inspiring leader in the face of personal suffering. I often reflected on our District Superintendent as the suffering srrvant. We loved Larry and Kathy dearly. They both taught us, by tremendous example the Grace of God.

Carlton Hansen July 31, 2013

Larry was a wonderful friend. We first met on Northwest Indiana as fellow pastors. George Scutt was our DS. We enjoyed serving together at MVNU, as fellow DSs and at various other meetings. Larry had a wonderful passion for training ministers. He is missed. We praise God for his life.

Angela Menton July 31, 2013

LeBron, I only knew Larry as a teenager. Even at that young age he was such a good a compassionate person. I know you miss him very much. I met Kathy on facebook when she contacted me. I learned by our contact back and forth that she too was a wonderful person. She often told me how much she missed Larry. I know that Larry helped a lot of people here on earth and that he and Kathy are rejoicing together right now in Heaven. He will be missed by many. Angela

Stephen Smitley July 31, 2013

Larry was the best friend I ever had. We shared tears and counsel together. I do miss him. He had an unusual sense of what was the right political thing to do.

Larry Dennis August 1, 2013

Thank you LeBron for an opportunity to revisit my friend’s legacy. Larry and I studied together as students, pastored together in Ohio and were DS colleagues until his death. Your words are fitting, accurate and well deserved. Larry was A true Christian gentleman and faithful friend. .

Aaron R. Abney August 4, 2013

Larry Fairbanks and I began our friendship as freshmen at Trevecca Nazarene College. We shared a college dorm room for some time. More significantly, we began a public ministry of music and preaching during those years with the help of Steve McCoy (Larry’s brother-in-law). Then, throughout the years of pastoral ministries in different areas of the country, we remained good friends and took advantage of all-too-rare opportunities to visit. LeBron, thank you for providing this forum to recall fond memories, blessings and growing in grace.

Bud Hafley August 5, 2013

Larry and I both pastored churches on the Southwest Ohio District during the 80’s. I had known Kathy since High School and both of them from my Trevecca days. I loved Larry’s passion for people and his memories of even the smallest details about them. He held people he knew in high regard. Thanks for sharing this tribute about your brother!

Ken Perdue August 17, 2013

I did not have the privilege to know Larry for many years. A year or two after I moved back to the NW Ohio district as an unassigned elder Larry became the DS. To my surprise Larry began inviting me to preach in some churches on the district during pastoral transition and such. Even though I am no longer in pastoral ministry, I never got the feeling that Larry considered me a “2nd tier” minister on the district. I owe much to him for the gracious consideration he extended toward me during his tenure as my DS.

Timothy Johnson July 29, 2015

I write this just 2 days before the 7th anniversary of my dear friend & DS’s passing. I seem to measure my time on earth these days by the anniversary of Larry’s homegoing. Larry Fairbanks wasn’t just my DS but my dearest friend. I was so honored to travel with him to Ethiopia in November of 2007 to experience how God was moving in the horn of Africa. I find that even after 7 years I still find myself wishing I could talk to him for just a few minutes. He was always so encouraging and loyal to me and all the pastors of his district. Every Sunday evening in the months before his death, he would call me and we would talk about our day and then plan a morning of golf. My goodness! I still miss him so much. He was such a wonderful man of God. I want to honor him and our God and wish also to be remembered as “A holy man of God.” Larry – my dear friend, your passing still hurts me so deeply. I can hardly wait to see you again as I know you will be one of the great cloud of witnesses to greet me when I too one day walk through that heavenly gate. You are deeply missed. My tears are flowing today, because your friendship & leadership taught me more than any seminary or seminar ever has. You taught me how to be a pastor that glorifies the LORD. I love you so much my friend, my brother in Christ. Please be waiting at that Eastern gate when I arrive, OK? I’ll need some hugs. I look forward to being together with you in the place of no shadows, and no parting. You’re the best!

Carson Castleman July 31, 2015

Dr. Larry Fairbanks was a kind gentle soul who made everyone feel valued and cared about. Thinking of the Fairbanks family on this day.

Brenda Wickersham July 31, 2015

How it thrilled me, yet made me cry to read your post. It was my priviledge to grow up with both of you and Carolyn. I remember your dear sweet Mother how proud she would have felt to know how her boys had served the Lord and made such an impact in many places as they served in various jobs. I know my Mom was sure proud of you for she was your Sunday School teacher and she got to see just a little bit of earthly rewards for her faithfulness. She went home to glory 4-18-2015 so I indeed know what it is to miss someone. I have never had the opportunity to serve worldwide like you and Larry have done but serving where God wanted me has been a joy!

Claude & Jan Nicholas August 1, 2015

Janet & I had the privilege of visiting with Larry & Kathy in their home the afternoon before he passed away the next day.
We had a wonderful time of fellowship and prayer together. I was one of the evangelist that year at the St. Mary’s camp meeting. It was such a shock to receive word that day of his passing. Larry was a faithful friend who believed in his men and encouraged each of us along the way. His gentle spirit and leadership is greatly missed. Thank you for sharing the beautiful tribute to your wonderful brother.

Timothy Johnson August 1, 2015

I still think of my friend and DS everyday. And, even after 7 years I find the ache in my heart never goes away. Dr. Fairbanks became a very special friend to me in the last 4 or 5 years of his life. I was so honored to go with him to Ethiopia in November of 2007. I loved playing golf with him and he was such an encourager to me. While I was going through a rough time in my church and was ready to walk away, he came to me and encouraged me and kept me going when I wanted to just toss in the towel. He was the best DS I have ever seen or known. I look forward to seeing him when I walk through that heavenly gate. He was a truly Great Man Of God! He used to tell me often “Tim – I want to finish well, that’s all the matters.” I wish only to emulate his life of service, love, holiness, & faithfulness. I miss you Doc! I wish I could just call and talk to you awhile. Yet, I know I’ll see you again soon. Your friend Timothy Johnson

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