Interviews don’t always go as planned but sometimes they find ways to become memorable anyway.
Last month was one of those for me with R.T. Kendall, a Christian author of 70 books and a noted theologian who spent 25 years preaching in the Westminster Chapel in London. He needed only two years to finish the three-year program at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville with what was then the top academic scores ever. Southern recommended him to Oxford University where he earned his doctorate. He is a brilliant man, a tremendous author and speaker.
No matter how much preparation — and I did plenty — I was going to be in over my head. He has forgotten more than I’ll ever know.
My only ace card was Ashland. It turns out Mr. Kendall was born in my hometown where I’ve lived for nearly 63 years and he still has a special affinity for the old girl. Truth be told, it may have been one reason he was attracted to speak with me in the first place. In an email request, I told him I lived in Ashland, his hometown and mine.
We spoke for about five minutes with mostly pleasantries. I learned not only was he born in Ashland, but he and his wife planned to be buried here at the Ashland Cemetery and I’m pretty sure he could take me directly to the plot. He lived in Ashland until graduating high school in 1953. He was having some phone issues and asked if I could FaceTime with him. I said sure and immediately called him back.
We were reconnected and he very quickly said to me, “I can see we’re going to have a problem.”
Not the words you want to hear when interviewing anyone, let alone someone of his prestige.
My mind was racing (or at least fast walking). What had I done wrong or said?
“I’m a Yankees fan,” he said.
Upon getting the FaceTime snapshot of me, he noticed I was wearing a Cincinnati Reds T-shirt. (I didn’t think about getting dressed up for the interview since it was going to be over the phone).
I laughed and asked him where he went wrong? How can anyone become a Yankees fan while growing up in Reds Country?
Mr. Kendall proceeded to tell me it was because of Joe DiMaggio, the Yankee Clipper, whom he followed during home run chases. He said he was 34 years old when he met DiMaggio and “was as excited as if I’d been 10 years old” to shake his hand. “I ran into him two more times. I feel like I know him a tiny bit.”
But as to how it happened that he chose the Yankee pinstripes over the Reds stockings, he said that will have to be a heavenly question. “That I don’t know,” he said. “I’ll have to ask the Lord. ‘Why was I a Yankee fan when everybody in town was a Reds’ fan?’”
I told him of a time in Ashland history — remember, I can hold my own there — when DiMaggio and the 1940 Yankees played the Brooklyn Dodgers in an exhibition game in Ashland. He said when he met DiMaggio and told him he was from Ashland that Joltin’ Joe said, “Ashland, Kentucky. I think we played an exhibition game there once.”
From there we went on a nostalgic trip (for him) back to his hometown. He remembered the street where he lived, Hilton Avenue, and where many of the area churches were located and so much more. It was remarkable. I may have even learned a thing or two about Ashland (turns out I don’t know everything).
Both of us became relaxed with each other as we shared names of people from Ashland’s past. Most of mine were of the sports legends in the town, the Tomcats who I’ve written about and who Ashland adored liked Earl “Brother” Adkins, a basketball great from Kendall’s graduating class of 1953 who went on to play for Adolph Rupp at the University of Kentucky. Mr. Kendall had a special memory about Brother Adkins.
“I once outjumped Brother Adkins in a game at Crabbe Elementary,” he said.
I told him I spent 42 years at The Daily Independent, including as managing editor and editor the final dozen years ending in 2017. He told me one of his first jobs was delivering the afternoon Ashland Daily Independent. In the morning, he passed the Cincinnati Enquirer. He remembered the street name of the Nazarene church he attended growing up, “the one on Bath Avenue near the park,” he said, and was honored as a Kentucky Colonel during a service at Oakland Avenue Baptist Church in nearby Catlettsburg. “They called me Col. Kendall when I went back to England,” he said.
He’s always been proud to reference Ashland in his books and it’s remarkable how Mr. Kendall has risen to such heights in Christian life. Who would have dreamed this Kentucky boy born in Ashland in 1935 would become the pastor of Westminster Chapel? From Kentucky to the Buckingham Gates — only God can make those dreams come true.
MARK MAYNARD is managing editor of Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org