In that era no government programs existed to provide for them, so his mother, an Irish immigrant, moved in with his paternal grandparents. His grandfather was a blacksmith, and his grandmother operated a boardinghouse in their home. That phenomenon, a relic of the past, entailed taking in single men or those away from home, who slept and ate at the house. This arrangement at times provided a less than wholesome environment. The family on his father’s side tended toward alcoholism, which gave them a bad reputation in town. These cumulative circumstances resulted in my father beginning life with two strikes against him.
The defining point in his life occurred one evening when he and a group of friends noticed that something was going on at the church a half block up the street from his home and decided to drop in. As my father told it, at the end of the sermon as the congregation was singing an invitation hymn, “Have Thine own way Lord, have Thine own way, Thou art the potter, I am the clay,” the boys decided to move up further to get a better look at what was happening, and he ended up kneeling at the altar, where He received Christ.
His mother, though not a practicing Catholic, nonetheless maintained Catholic disciplines, and told him that if that was the church of his choice he had to be there every time the church lights were on, and she could see them from the house. She was so committed to this program that the pastor had to pay her a visit to let her know that it was not necessary for him to attend the women’s missionary society meetings.
My father’s relationship with the Lord profoundly influenced virtually every aspect of his life, resulting in his maturing into a man of godly character who sought to apply biblical principles in all he did. This, in turn, shaped his work ethic, which, along with a quick mind and dynamic personality paved the path to promotion.
With only a high school education, he began working at a company that made universal joints as a forklift operator but rapidly received several promotions resulting in his soon becoming the company chief financial officer, with about 30 employees working under him. Throughout his business career he would begin each day by putting his Bible on his desk and claiming the wisdom of James 1:5, and then using that perspective as his guide in dealing with the challenges of the day.
When he was 42, he transferred to the banking business where he began as a teller. There also he found rapid promotion, soon rising to the position of vice president. The bank went through two mergers, both times being bought by larger banks. Against all odds, in both mergers the larger bank retained him in the comparable position. Ultimately he became senior vice president and corporate secretary of a large Philadelphia bank, the position from which he retired.
My father’s commitment to Christ also led to a significant speaking ministry. He was a gifted orator and received many invitations to speak. Churches in the denomination to which he belonged held annual rally days each fall, which comprised the major event of the year. My father was asked to speak for rally day in almost every church in the denomination. He also frequently spoke at churches on other occasions, at baccalaureate services, at service clubs, and in other venues. I recall one month in which he spoke 26 times, some of them at large and even televised events, while maintaining his demanding job.
His speaking capacities were demonstrated when the leadership of his denomination was seeking to establish a seminary. At a general conference meeting they put the matter to a vote only to have it voted down. The bishop then asked my father to address the conference on the issue. After he spoke for about 15 minutes on the need of the denomination to have its own seminary, the conference voted unanimously in its favor. That seminary is thriving today.
Despite his own limited education, he served on five school boards and as I recall ultimately was selected as president of all five. These included boards of public schools and also of the seminary already mentioned. He was also on the board of the church retirement community. At one point when this institution was on the verge of going under financially, he used his influence to restructure the debt and reorganize the community management, transforming it into a thriving retirement center.
With all of the demands on his time, my father nonetheless did not neglect his family. He was home for supper virtually every night and provided a loving but firm influence. He and my mother maintained a warm and loving relationship. Throughout my growing up years I never heard them exchange an unkind word.
I have an older and younger brother. He kept a steady hand on us without being oppressive. He possessed piercing blue eyes that contributed significantly to his success in business and also his effectiveness as a father. The prospect of that cryogenic stare prevented the thought of disrespect or challenging his authority from ever crossed my mind. That said, however, he was a kind and affirming father to me. Often the whole family would accompany him on his speaking engagements, but when they did not, I would ask if I could join him, and he always allowed me to go along. Those were wonderful occasions for me. I still recall some of the sermons he preached. My father continued to show me support and encouragement and provide me with wise counsel throughout his life until the Lord took him home at the age of 86.
My father left a legacy of a phenomenal example of character, wisdom, morality, godliness, and service to the Lord and the community. From humble and difficult beginnings, his relationship with the Lord instilled in him qualities that both honored God, blessed those whose life he touched, and enable him to enjoy success in every dimension of his life. As I reflect on his life, the sentiments expressed by the Apostle Paul come to mind: “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you.” (Philippians 1:3 NKJV)
Paul Brownback grew up in a small town near Philadelphia, he graduated from West Point, and then served in the Army in Germany and Vietnam. Paul received a Masters of Divinity degree from Talbot Theological Seminary, a Masters in Human Relation from University of Oklahoma, and a PhD from New York University. He has served as Dean of Word of Life Bible Institute in Schroon Lake, NY, president of Citadel Bible College, as a pastor, a counselor, and hospice chaplain. Paul is married to Connie, and they have two grown children.
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