Cooper: Remembering Rev. Linda Bird Wright

It was her prayers that got me.

Several years ago, when the Rev. Linda Bird Wright served a short stint as associate pastor at First-Centenary United Methodist Church, she would occasionally give the pastoral prayer during Sunday morning worship.

Oh, her prayers always contained the mandatory pleas for healing for the sick, for peace in the world, for salvation for the lost. But she also uttered some of the most beautiful, heartfelt sentences I've heard from any pastor.

"Lord," Linda might say, "thank you for the way the sunshine pushes through the winter clouds to warm a back porch on a weekday afternoon. Thank you for the straight and tall pine tree that provides shade over the beautiful dogwood as it flowers. Thank you for the laughter of children who laugh and giggle when a bunny hops through their midst."

It was as if she and God were sitting in facing rocking chairs and having a conversation. And that's probably how she viewed it. The love flowing through her words was palpable.

The last time I saw Linda, in December as she stood and helped distribute the Holy Communion elements at a Christmas Eve service, she was full of joy.

After the service, seated in a wheelchair to save the strength that lung cancer had so greedily taken from her, praise was in her mouth.

The first thing Linda said in our presence was how appreciative she was to be a part of the service and to be able to get there.

She lost her battle to cancer last week but, in doing so, found ultimate healing.

"Just like her," a mutual friend, the Rev. Catherine Nance wrote on Facebook, "to die at the beginning of the Triduum [the three days of Christ's death and resurrection]. She always had to make a theological point."

When I first met Linda, then a fellow church member at First-Centenary, I found her a bit pushy and abrupt. I wrongly stuck that tag to her until I got to know her better through our then-pastor and his wife, the Rev. Ray and Jane Robinson.

It was about that time the wife, mother of four grown children and accountant went to seminary and became a pastor in the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Fortunately for me, our paths crossed several times in the ensuing years as Linda served a number of churches, including Soddy UMC and later Grace UMC. It was at those churches that I saw how she poured out her love to her congregations and tried to serve God to the best of her ability.

It was during her tenure at Soddy, for instance, after she told me about an upcoming Lenten service, that I assigned a photographer to capture a foot-washing she would lead. The photos were made and were appropriately poignant, but something with the film or the space available in the newspaper -- something -- kept them from running.

I felt ashamed to have explain the situation to her, but Linda was warm and embracing when I did.

Later, after her husband died, she donated $92,000 to establish a large private dwelling for lay workers and mission teams in South Sudan. The missionary home was named "Captain's House" in memory of Walt, an international pilot whom she referred to as Captain when their children were growing up.

"I would move over there tomorrow if I could," Linda told The Call, a Holston Conference newspaper, in 2010, the cancer already ravaging her body. "What I saw there was not a desperate situation. What I saw was a glorious opportunity, literally dropped into our laps by God.

"We have the chance to have an effect on the lives of young people -- to transform an entire nation with the love of Jesus."

In spite of the cancer, Linda returned to South Sudan on a short-term mission trip and later took a trip around the world.

Now, her earthly travels are stilled. But the legacy of this good woman goes on, not only in a suffering African nation but in the lives of all those who were touched by her love.

Contact Clint Cooper at or 423-757-6497.