Today marks the birthday of one the humblest and most Christ-like men I have known. While it would be strange to use the word “great” to describe someone who sought no attention for himself, Bob Rolston was a great man, a great man of faith in God, a great servant of Christ and His Kingdom, a great friend, who also happened to be my father-in-law, and a great father figure in my life. He left a rich legacy and heritage to his children, which includes me, and my daughters. We are truly blessed to have known Bob.
Bob did not have an easy life, far from it really. He was left fatherless in his early years. His dad was killed by a drunk driver. It was a hit and run accident, and this was in the 1930’s, so you can well imagine how difficult life was for a single mother with five kids, to make ends meet and raise the kids as best she knew how. Bob’s mother remarried eventually, and became known as Grandma Wallace. She died before I ever had the opportunity to meet her. But I soon discovered her reputation was legend, and I often reminisce by recalling the stories that Lori, and her Dad, Bob, would tell over and over again, regaling all the while, and crying tears of laughter at some of the most hysterical stories. That is how I remember Bob.
I remember his story telling. In many ways he was more than equal to the task of my own father’s story telling. Both Bob and my own Dad, as pastors, developed the art of story telling that always enhanced their sermons. That was one of the funniest parts of their own relationship. They both loved to tell stories, and both got along so well. Now that they are gone, I must say I do miss both of them a lot these days. As I get older, I come to realize just how important a Dad is to a man (and his daughters). Funny how the years just make you appreciate what you took for granted, or what you simply could not appreciate at the time. Time and age gives one a perspective on life that eludes us when we are young.
Last November, we lost Brad, Lori’s brother, to a very sudden unknown condition. It was only before the funeral that the pathology report revealed that Brad had a benign brain tumor that had grown, some think that this was growing over a ten to fifteen year span to time. Brad did not show the normal signs that accompany even a benign brain tumor. He literally died in his sleep, last November, at peace with God and at peace with where he was at in his life. He had much disappointment in his life and he struggled, but in the end, he had peace with God, which does bring comfort to us all.
Brad was not unlike his father, Bob. Both had a great sense of humour and love to tell jokes and carry on with great stories. Back in the mid 1990’s, the family lost many of it’s patriarchs; Uncle Dave, Uncle Alf, and Bob, and it was all within a year and half span of time. All three of these men had a great ability to spin yards, play tricks and tell wonderful stories and jokes. Brad would come along and tell stories with the best of them. They would howl for hours on end at family and extended family get togethers. We had for the longest time a yearly family reunion and met at Bethany Evangelical Missionary Church. Family would come from miles around, as far as Meaford, Stratford, Niagara, Listowel and KW. The highlight was usually to story telling that took place between all these men, along with Uncle Harold, and Brad. We sure enjoyed each others company. I miss them all today and think fondly of them.
I remember when Bob had his liver transplant in London, and we took our first born, Carragh down to see him. She was just starting to walk. She would put herself against the clear glass of his isolation room and stare at her grandpa. He would beam a huge smile back at her. A few years later it would be reversed when Carragh was diagnosed with cancer at age two and a half. Her diagnosis and adversity over a seven year span took its toll on Bob. He really ached at seeing his granddaughter battle for her life on several occasions, finally succumbing to the dreadful disease four days before Christmas 1993. Bob was devastated, as if it was his own child. He wept with me, and all he could do was look at me with those eyes filled with heart ache and cry with me and try to console me. He kept telling me, “I cannot imagine what this does to a father. It is killing me, and I am the grandfather.” He loved Carragh so much. He loved all of us with all that he had.
Bob pastored for almost five decades. He loved proclaiming the Kingdom of God. He believed and taught divine healing and miracles. He constantly prayed for people, and many had dramatic healings. Yet, he himself never was healed. I often wonder why, but I don’t dwell there. My Calvinist views on the sovereignty of God is such that I believe that God heals and restores, but I also know that our days are numbered and are in His hands. God is always sovereign and we never rise above what His will is for our lives. We simply need to continually rest in God, put our faith in the finished work of the cross which includes healing, miracles, signs and wonders, and just call on God to do what only He can do. As long as we have breath, we continue to call on God and proclaim healing for others and for ourselves. Bob demonstrated absolute trust in God and was faithful to the end.
He was delighted when I received my ordination in 1994. He constantly affirmed me and through the years, from the time I was in Bible College until he finished pastoring full time, he would call on me to preach regularly. I was always honoured and preferred by him. He treated me like I was flesh and blood, and not simply an “import” on the family “team”!
When Bob retired from full time ministry he became as busy as he had always been. He relocated from Meaford where he had pastored in the Nazarene Church there, to Kitchener. He became a volunteer chaplain at Grand River Hospital. He never stopped. He visited the sick, and prayed for them and gave them comfort. Some were healed physically, and all were strengthened spiritually. He did pulpit fill in on a regular basis during those years in the early 1990’s, in churches that either needed someone on short notice, or to do special meetings. He just loved to teach and preach the word of God and so much wanted to serve God with everything that was within him.
The best part about Bob and Joyce moving to Kitchener, is that our family living in Waterloo, got to spend a lot of time with them, and they with us. Our daughters were truly blessed by their Grandpa Bob and Grandma Joyce, and for that we will always be grateful. What a great blessing and legacy was passed on to our girls, through Bob’s devotion to God and family. We got to be even closer in those days, and I am thankful that he treated me and respected me like I was his son. When Bob was struggling with his health in 1997 he told me just how much I had come to mean to him, and how much he appreciated how I loved and cherished his daughter, my dear wife, Lori-Anne. He cried at the table at the Old English Parlour, in Waterloo, as we were eating fish and chips, as he told me how much he loved me. I cried as well and reciprocated the feelings of love and companionship we shared. He loved me so much that when it came to his funeral, I was asked to give his eulogy. I was honoured and I was deeply moved to be so accepted by this man as one of his sons.
Today, I remember Bob Rolston. He was the son of a Northern Irish Protestant immigrant from County Armagh (I am from County Antrim). He loved God passionately and wanting nothing more in life than to serve Jesus with all that he had, which he did, through sickness unto death. The day before he died, he preached in the morning, and did a baby dedication in the afternoon, and preached at night! Little did we know that in less than twenty four hours, Bob would graduate to glory to be with Jesus, Carragh, my Dad, Uncle Alf, Uncle Ron, Uncle Dave, his mother, and all those who died in Christ before him. When he died, I felt the prayer covering which had been over me for nearly a fifteen years disappear. That is how much this man cared for me and prayed for me constantly. He is absent in body but he is present with the Lord.
The wonderful thing I cling to, is that as a believer, death is but a door way into the presence of God where true abundant life is experienced. We have no idea this side of heaven just how alive our departed brothers and sisters in Christ are. They are more alive than we could ever dream or imaging.
“Bob, I know you loved cake and ice cream on your birthday and loved to tell jokes to cheer us all up. Today, for just a moment, I want to say “thank you” for loving me as a son, and for all that you poured into my life. I cherish all the memories, and I rejoice that your legacy as a graduate of Emmanuel Bible College, not only went to Lori (one semester) and to myself (B.Th., 1987), but to your granddaughter Erinn, who is currently a student there. You would be so proud of Caitlin and Erinn. They are just like their mom, your awesome daughter Lori whom I love and treasure. Thank you for sharing your whole life with me. I am so thankful for you and all that you were and are in my life. One day I will see you again, and I hope to hear one of those funny stories again, face to face, with you, Brad, Uncle Alf, Uncle Dave, Uncle Ken and all the others who are waiting for me up there. I miss you Bob.”
Forever in Christ Jesus,
Sam, your son-in-law