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Mrs. Giddens

By Mike Ruffin I was visiting Mercer University sometime during the summer of 1975. The Admissions Office staff member with whom I was chatting said, ‘What do you plan to major in?’ ‘Christianity,’ I replied (that’s what they called a Religion major at Mercer back then. They call it a Religion major now). ‘Then there’s someone you need to meet,’ he said. He made a quick phone call, then we headed over to Knight Hall. I spent the next hour talking with’”mainly listening to’”Dr. Howard Giddens, who would become my mentor and, in every sense but the biological and legal ones, my father (which I very much needed him to be after the untimely demise of my father, the late great Champ Ruffin, in 1979). Dr. Giddens died in 2008 at age 97, just three days shy of the sixty-eighth anniversary of his marriage to Gladys Holder Giddens. Mrs. Gladys Giddens died on December 8, 2020, four days after her 103rd birthday. To call Mrs. Giddens a force of nature is to give nature too much credit. You of my generation will remember how the Tasmanian Devil would arrive in a whirlwind in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Mrs. Giddens was more of an angel (although she wasn’t above a little devilment), but that’s the effect she had whenever and wherever she showed up. Over the years, Dr. and Mrs. Giddens took hundreds of Mercer students under their wings. A highlight of every year was the Baptist Student Union spring banquet. Mrs. Giddens would have lots of the girls to her house (she and Dr. Giddens lived on campus) to make decorations and prepare refreshments. I understand that a grand time was had by all (boys weren’t allowed). I have heard that she was known to sometimes break out the fake champagne. Dr. and Mrs. Giddens were the only people to make the long trek to Louisville, Kentucky to see me receive the Master of Divinity degree in 1982. They returned to see me receive my Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1986. (I want to acknowledge with gratitude that my Uncle Sandy and Aunt Dot Abbott, along with Gary and Louise Spann, also attended that ceremony. It is not lost on me that with Mrs. Giddens’s passing, all six of those wonderful people have passed on.) I could tell lots of stories, but I’m going to limit myself to one. It was early December in 1980. Debra and I were in our one-bedroom apartment in Seminary Village (also known by residents as the Gospel Ghetto). The phone rang. It was Dr. Giddens. He got to the point quickly. ’I guess you’ve heard that our boys are going to play in a little football game down in New Orleans.’ (I knew that the ‘boys’ were the Georgia Bulldogs. Dr. Giddens was pastor of First Baptist Church in Athens from 1948 to 1967, and from 1949 until 2006, he and Mrs. Giddens missed only five home games and one Georgia-Florida game. She continued attending for several years after his death). ’Yes sir,’ I replied. ‘I’ve heard some talk about that.’ He said, ‘Well, would you and Mrs. Ruffin like to go?’ ’We’d love to,’ I said. ‘But as you know, I’m just a poor seminary student. We can’t afford it.’ ’Do you still believe in Santa Claus?’ he asked. I said, ‘Dr. Giddens, if it’ll get us to the Sugar Bowl, I’ll believe in the Easter Bunny.’ He chuckled. ‘Well, do you think you could get to Macon?’ I told him I thought we could manage that. And so it came to pass that we were present in the Louisiana Superdome on January 1, 1981, to see the Georgia Bulldogs defeat the Notre Dame Fighting Irish to claim the National Championship. We probably didn’t spend twenty dollars on the trip. That was fun. But my friends, you haven’t lived until you’ve tried to keep up with Gladys Giddens as she darts from one place to another in the French Quarter on New Year’s Eve. Mind you, she was the age then that I am now, which means I was twenty-two then, and I could barely keep pace. And now she’s gone. She had her faculties until the end, and she died peacefully at home. We are grateful. Had the good Lord allowed me to make a suggestion, I would have asked that she go in a whirlwind. That way she would have died as she lived.

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