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(Note: Hobart passed away at 10:00 pm on April 3, 13 hours after I posted these observations)
My friend Hobart has been dying for two months. He has a coronary problem that can’t be corrected or treated, so the decline has been slow and steady. Today marks 14 days without water and he has been nearly five weeks without food. Like his family members, who have been by his side, I’ve had a while to think about his character and qualities.
I became his pastor in 1995. What first stuck me was his genteel Southern accent. People in other parts of the country often group all Southern accents into one category, but true Southerners can distinguish a Texan from an East Tennessean after a single spoken sentence. Hobart’s particular accent comes from a region below a line that runs from Atlanta to Birmingham to Jackson. It’s warm and sounds like education and charm at the same time. You might even call it aristocratic.
A 1997 article by Peggy Noonan caused me to think about Hobart’s manners. Noonan wrote about teaching her son to be a gentleman, including instructions to hold the door for others. He complained bitterly that being a gentleman would mean he had to go last for the rest of his life. Yes, Noonan told her son, unless he met another gentleman who held the door for him. Not long after reading the article I realized I had never gone through a door behind Hobart. Though my senior by more than 30 years, he always held the door for me. In fact, he always held the door for everyone. I realized then how manners reflected the core of his personality. He had been holding doors for others all his life. With this realization I set out on a mission: to hold the door for Hobart so he didn’t have to go last. In the sixteen years that followed, I held the door for him once. That moment resulted in a friendly wrestling match which I won. Clearly, however, he had not been waiting for another gentleman. He did not want the door held for him. Going last was a decision he had made long ago. The incident must have steeled his resolve because he never let me hold the door for him again. I tried, I promise I did. I use the example of holding the door, but it is only one way he demonstrated his chosen path of personal deference to others.
In a world that prizes a high grade in assertiveness training, many people misjudge manners. They mistake politeness for subservience – graciousness for weakness. The impolite assume the mannerly are acknowledging the superiority and the inalienable right of the impolite to go first, no matter how long others have been in line. They are wrong and Eric Hoffer is correct when he observes: “Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.” Anyone can be rude by accident, but manners only happen on purpose. It takes patience to be polite, especially when your efforts are misinterpreted and others treat you as inferior because of a choice you made. St. Paul reminds us patience is in the hierarchy that includes self-control, and there is no self-control without strength of character. Rudeness is weakness. It is insecurity at its worst. Manners, on the other hand, take focus and genuine perseverance.
The next time you watch a news clip of Black Friday shoppers knocking each other down over a doll, ask yourself if the world would be a better place with more rudeness or with more manners. Many people would say manners, but they are afraid to take the first step for fear they will come in second or look weak. What was that Eric Hoffer quotation? If your happiness depends on knocking someone out of the way to get a discount on a present, you have more issues than the present will solve.
Josh Billings observed, “One of the greatest victories you can gain over someone is to beat him at politeness.” A better way to understand his logic is this – politeness can change your attitude about life to one where manners define the outcome. For instance, if you are polite on the interstate, other drivers don’t cut you off because you already made the decision to let them into your lane. Your actions are not defined by how others act; rather by how you want to act.
Manners are one expression of what Jesus taught when he said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48).
It is pagan only to treat well those who treat us well. The sun rising means God gives life and opportunity to both the evil and the good. Rain is a blessing in the arid Middle East and God gives it to the just and the unjust. God chooses to bestow good things on everyone, even the undeserving. That choice is what makes God’s love unconditional. If we want to be like God, we will do good to everyone simply because it is the way we choose to be.
If St. Peter really serves as the doorkeeper of heaven, he may have met his match. Hobart is coming – manners and all. My advice, give it up, Peter. You are about to get schooled in a job you’ve had for 2000 years. For the rest of eternity Hobart will be going last. Because he chooses to.
The tears are flowing. How honored (and profoundly embarrassed!)Hobart would be to read your words!!
Thank you for them and your loving thoughts of him! His has been such an integral part of my life and Daddy’s best friend, that your words will be a treasure for all of us!!
You are right, Ansley. He would not want any mention of his character – which is what makes him so respected.
I am the granddaughter of Robert Norton, and therefore have known Hobart my entire life. He delivered me, he kissed my cheek at my wedding, and loved me like family everyday in between. Tears fall from my eyes reading your precious words, because you are so accurate in your description of him. My mother has always said that Hobart is an angel walking among us. I pray for him to be at peace and with his beloved Jane soon. I already miss him.
Thank you, Elizabeth. I don’t know how he made it through the day today. We all pray the time is soon for him to rest.
So true. He will be missed.
What a fine Christian gentleman was Dr.Hobart Hortman and you have characterized him exactly. Janice and I feel blessed to have called him friend. He always had a positive word and was the definition of ‘gentleman.’ We miss him and look forward to seeing him again.
Joel, Mary and I have just now read your message and tribute to Hobart and his manners and character. I first met him while in the delivery room with he and Mary when Kathryn was born. We moved to FBC 6 years later. Hobart was a special man, and this is a special tribute to him. Ken
Thanks, Ken and Ron. One of the great things about Hobart is the fact everyone experienced him the same way. I appreciate each of you bearing that out.
Wow! What a gentleman he was! Your observations of him are such a beautiful reminder of what a beautiful soul he was. Having known him for most of my life, it wasn’t until I became part of the Reynolds family that I actually had the privilege to share family times with him and his family. He was such an intregal part of our family. He was such a blessing to us when Natalie passed. A true friend, a true gentleman and a true Christian man along with other fine qualities, will he be remembered. Love to his family!
This picture of Dr. Hortman
is a perfect example of what Jesus Christ wants all of us to be. This world would be Heaven on Earth if each of us followed his example.
Joel, this was a wonderful and beautifully tribute to this great man. He was all that you said and more. Thank you for writing this. I know his children and grandchildren will treasure this.
Hobart was a gentle giant. We all will miss him!
Thanks to Myra, Laura, Marie, and Gwen for expressing similar experiences with a wonderful friend.
I’m encourageed by each of your comments.
a lovely tribute , mixed with tears and laughter, for a lovely man….you truly captured his essence.
This is such a beautiful way to remember him. I recall that about him,too, many, many times. Such a Gentle Man!
My brother-in-law sent me your web site with “Hobart and Manners”. It is a beautiful tribute to a wonderful man I never knew. I also enjoyed reading your “bucket Books”. Please, I want to read more. sign me up!
Thanks, Mary. I’ve been off for a week, but back at it now. Check for more tomorrow.