Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 16, 2012
SALISBURY — Dr. J.W. Loy Jr. has a gentleness about him. It’s in the slow cadence and undulating pattern of his voice. It’s in his eyes as he talks with you, making it seem as though you are the only person in the room.
He describes his listening and ministry skills like this:
“I am directly being indirect,” he says.
Loy also treads gently, as he heads down the hall at Salisbury Gardens toward his surprise 90th birthday party.
“I’m tongue-tied,” Loy bellows, as he realizes that all the family, friends, balloons and cake are for him.
“That’s the first time,” shouts JoAnn Rabon, a dear relative.
Loy built his life on speaking from the pulpit, writing guest columns for the newspaper, sermonizing on Salisbury radio, holding tent revivals, leading congregations, authoring booklets, writing poetry and building friendships one person at a time.
Though he is long retired as a full-time pastor, Loy never stops being a minister, never ceases looking for a way into people’s hearts.
“I try to be ready at all times,” he says.
Loy likes to say that he has always carried a spare tire in his trunk, and that spare tire is the Bible. He has followed another guiding principle, especially outside the church proper:
“People don’t like preaching,” he says.
Rather, he has made it a point to be a witness for God, and through him — in a directly indirect way — reach out to people every day.
It gives him a sense of accomplishment, Loy says, stressing that it’s not his achievement but the Lord’s.
“Opening up the window to glorify him a little more,” he says.
Before he himself became a resident in assisted-living centers, Loy used to slip away from holiday family gatherings so he could visit nursing home residents who had no one visiting them.
His daughter, Shari Keller, says Loy also would sit at the mall and wait, knowing the Lord would lead someone to him so he could be a witness.
“The circle takes in everyone,” Loy says, quoting a psalm.
In earlier days, too, Loy would load up his car with toys and fruit and drive to poorer areas at Christmas to hand out gifts to the residents.
He relives traveling one holiday to the White Rock neighborhood of Granite Quarry where the children were chasing his gift-laden car down the street.
“And you talk about a party,” he says. “That was my most memorable Christmas.”
Shari remembers her father also carrying food and toys to migrant worker camps in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
“The most humble, unpretentious, selfless, loving man one could ever hope to meet,” she says.
J.W. Loy Jr.’s father, Jesse William Loy Sr., worked at Cone Mills in Salisbury for 49 years. The son graduated from Granite Quarry High School in 1939, attended Catawba College from 1941-44, then on to institutions such as the Clarksville School of Theology, Piedmont and Immanuel bible colleges and the Southeastern Baptist Seminary at Wake Forest University.
Along the way, Loy had a weekly Saturday morning radio show in Salisbury. He held weeklong tent revivals, and in 1943, organized South Albemarle Baptist Church.
Wife played piano
He met his wife of 66 years, Darthy Ragsdale Loy, at the new church, where she served as the pianist. Before they were married, she also played for Loy’s tent meetings and at the beginning and end to his radio shows.
They married at South Albemarle Baptist in 1946.
Other churches followed for Loy over the next 20 years — Centerview Baptist in Albemarle, Lexington Avenue Baptist in High Point and First Baptist Church in Locust, where he stayed from 1955 to 1965.
Loy led four church building programs as a pastor. He wrote two widely circulated booklets: “The Gospel Tide” and “Anchors for the Soul.”
His WSAT radio show in the 1950s was called, “The Word of Life.” He wrote some newspaper sermons for the Salisbury Post in the 1970s.
Loy and Darthy, who goes by “Dot,” raised their daughter Shari, a nurse, and a son, J.W. “Chris” Loy III, a psychologist.
J.W. Loy Jr., the pastor, loved to fish — many times at City Park. He also flew a Piper Cub airplane and rode a vintage Indian motorcycle.
In 1961, he received an honorary doctor of divinity degree from Trinity College in Dunedin, Fla. The school’s most famous graduate is evangelist Dr. Billy Graham.
Loy served on Trinity College’s executive board for seven consecutive three-year terms. In 1981 the school made him an honorary lifetime member of its executive board — only the third person who had received that honor.
“He’s got to be the smartest man I’ve ever met,” says Wesley Hart, a grandson of Loy’s. “I guess he’s kind of my hero.”
His grandfather’s intelligence, Hart theorizes, springs from his patience. He remembers watching Loy work daily for months to have a squirrel eat out of his hand.
Hart has heard Loy’s sermons as a guest preacher and considers him top-notch. But the individual lessons he taught in his interactions with family and strangers were like sermons unto themselves, Hart says.
“You can never get a straight yes-or-no answer without a preceding parable, so you will understand the answer,” says Keller, his daughter.
Christy Dawn Hart, a granddaughter, describes Loy as “an amazing storyteller.” She cherishes all the Sundays she has been to church with him.
“I can’t imagine — at 90 years — what all he has seen,” Christy Hart adds.
‘A mind for any topic’
Loy’s blessings at the dinner table or for large gatherings are legend in the family.
“You just can’t beat the old fella,” says his son-in-law, Rex Keller. “We wouldn’t know what to do without him. He’s fun to talk to. When you sit down and talk to him, you get a lot out of what he’s saying.”
Dot Loy laughs when she remembers how shy she was when she married J.W. She served as church pianist or organist at several of his stops and has been giving piano lessons for more than 50 years.
“He doesn’t dwell on religion with you,” Dot Loy says of her husband’s ministry style, reinforcing his belief that people don’t like preaching. “He’s a smart man. He has a mind for any topic.”
J.W. Loy says he’ll often break the ice with someone by asking whether he or she has time for him to relate an experience or story.
No one has ever turned and run from this kind of personal approach, he says.
“Preaching, yes, I’ve had them run,” he laughs.
But sometimes he has had to preach. He tells the story of attending a packed house at a large church one evening to hear an internationally known guest speaker.
As the time approached for the speaker’s address, one of the church’s deacons slipped back to where Loy was sitting and asked whether he could fill in.
The speaker had not shown up.
Loy protested that he hadn’t even brought his Bible in from the car. “But he knew I was willing to jump into deep water,” Loy says.
He retrieved his Bible — from the trunk, no doubt — and that evening did his best to address a not-so-average congregation.
“Whether all the water went off the duck’s back or whether any soaked in, I don’t know,” he confesses.
But he was ready, as always.
Like a vise
Loy has been a resident at Salisbury Gardens since Jan. 25 and already has made a lot of friends, as if that were ever a question.
Dot and other family members pay regular visits. His best friend outside the family, Donald Schumacher, also stops in, and Loy appreciates their good chats.
There is something not so gentle about Loy and that’s his handshake. He grabs your hand like a vise and doesn’t let go.
Also, when the time comes for Loy to be direct, he says he heads posthaste for home plate.
“And that’s the love of God.”
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@ salisburypost.com.