My roots go deep in the mountains of Northeast Georgia and Western Carolina. So driving through Toccoa, GA, or Asheville, NC, can become somewhat emotional for me and it’s difficult to explain why. So many people, so many memories…that sort of thing. About two years ago, a beautiful trip and a family gathering brought back a memory…
During the 1940s, my grandfather was a pastor of a large church in Asheville. My uncle, Lee Bandy, told a great story at his funeral, and I respectfully repeated the same story in my eulogy at Lee’s funeral years later. Lee was a renowned Southern political journalist and just about the coolest uncle you could possibly have. So for the record, I was a wee bit nervous as the church was packed with family, nationally-known politicians, friends and journalist colleagues. It was humbling to be quoted in The State the next day, but I don’t think I ever shared my eulogy publicly beyond the funeral. It reminds me of who I am and where I came from. So for what it’s worth, here it is:
Leland Bandy was my uncle and there was never a day that I was not incredibly proud of that fact.
I knew Lee longer than probably all but a few people in this room today…
And I’ve heard a LOT of his stories. But one of the most interesting he told was about his dad. You see, his dad was a pastor’s pastor, I know because as a missionary kid I actually lived with my grandparents on and off for years. Just as Lee shaped the careers of many journalists, his father shaped the calling of many pastors. But this story occurred with his Dad I believe when he was at a local baseball game in late summer of 1945 in Asheville, North Carolina. Suddenly, in the middle of the game, it was announced that the Japanese had surrendered and World War II was finally over. Lee remembered his dad ran to the car, eagerly listened to the news on the radio and then drove all the way to their home singing either God Bless America or The National Anthem at the top of his lungs while blasting the horn on his clergyman-marked car. Lee said he laughed his head off and that he had never been so happy, or so embarrassed, all at the same time.
My first memory of Lee was actually one of him being a soldier. He had been stationed in Alaska, in army communications in the late 50s and early 1960. The first thing he did when he came home was to put his army hat on my head and let me march around with my toy gun and that army hat. Hey, I was THE FIRST nephew! But I was absolutely fascinated by not only his military paraphernalia, but his wonderful trays of 35mm color slides showing incredible Alaskan scenery, winter camping, the biggest cabbages I’d ever seen in my young life, golfing at midnight…and pictures of John F. Kennedy’s memorable campaign stop in September of that year (they started a little later then). Somebody asked why in the world Kennedy would go all the way up to Alaska first. Lee carefully explained that Alaska’s state slogan was THE LAST FRONTIER…then he reminded us what Kennedy said his in DNC acceptance speech …we stand today on the edge of a New Frontier — the frontier of unknown opportunities and perils…
That was just like Lee…insightful, entertaining and completely enjoyable. I always had a feeling he was going to have a lot of adventures. I loved being with my Uncle Lee.
Two things fundamentally shaped Lee’s life… His family and his faith. But I think we can all vouch for the fact that Lee was not so “heavenly minded” that he was of no earthly value.
Lee grew up in a gentle family that loved being together. Celebrations were a centerpiece of family life. When Lee and his sisters would announce their return for the holidays, Grandma would go into overdrive decorating, menu planning, gift shopping and jacking up my Christmas buzz factor to record heights. Everybody was coming home! The excitement of knowing my aunts and uncles were all coming together was almost more than I could bear. Why? Because from the moment Lee walked into the room with my Dad and the rest of the family…the food, the joys and laughter were everywhere. Sometimes I couldn’t breathe on the living room floor of Grandma’s house because I was laughing so hard.
He was just the best kind of uncle you could have as a little boy, because he liked shooting guns, singing crazy songs, and lighting large fireworks as much as I did.
Lee also loved family.
I can remember how proud and happy he was the night he introduced a young, beautiful woman named Mary to the family. The day my family prepared to embark on a 20-year adventure to Germany, we got a very excited call from Lee that his first son, Ryan, had been born. I can still see him holding little Alexa and the twinkle in his eye when Michael was born. IF you have not read Alexa’s lovely letter to her Dad that was in The State earlier this week, I’d tell you to invest the time. It’s a wonderful reflection of what Lee was all about.
When you visited Lee in Washington, he was the world’s greatest host. He knew the best places to go. The most interesting new exhibits at the museums. As you walked through the capital building with him, it seemed 20 important-looking people would say hi to him in a matter of minutes. But he never name-dropped. And he always took us to a great dinner. When I visited Washington for a conference with my freshly-minted journalism degree, Lee proudly introduced me to all his friends like I was his own son. Years later he and Mary generously opened their home to both my brother and sister as they worked on graduate degrees in music and medicine.
Now I told you that the second thing that influenced Lee was his faith. I teach my college students that these days just about all media is influenced by someone’s political leaning, their philosophy or their worldview. And that you can get a fairly good handle on someone’s point of view by how they honestly answer some fundamental questions about origins, destiny and purpose. Where did we come from? Why are we here? Why is the world in this situation? Is there a solution? Where are we going?
My uncle, Lee Bandy, knew the answers to these questions. He knew that human beings are made in the image of an almighty God who loves us extravagantly and therefore we EACH have a fundamental, intrinsic value. In the movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the question is asked, “Why do people have to die?” The answer, “Because dying reminds us of how important they are.” Lee knew that his purpose in life wasn’t all about what was in it for him. The whole essence of his personal faith was exemplified in him loving God and loving people. But Lee would no more preach you a sermon about this than he would tell you who he voted for. Oh, he lived it and he was certainly not afraid to talk about it, but he saw the truth of his faith as something to humbly share, not to wield as a blunt object.
Lee knew he was fallen and fallible, just like everybody else. Yes, he was one of the funniest guys I ever knew, but trust me when I tell you that he was a man who was acquainted with suffering and sorrows. And he knew that the God of the universe has provided a way, a salvation, a Savior for each and everyone of us that can bridge the abyss between a dark, fallen, existence and the ultimate reality of a joyous eternity with our Father God. And because he believed this, Lee knew where he was going.
This day, this moment, Lee is in the presence of God. I’d like to think he and my Dad are once again cracking jokes and keeping Grandma in hysterics. But it is my absolute hope and joy that he’s singing something loud with his Father. And that he’s amazingly happy and he’s home.
Lee Bandy was my uncle and I am so glad he was.