Remembering Sam Emerick

Editor’s note: The Rev. Samuel Emerick, 96, a Habitat for Humanity pioneer and first chair of the organization’s international board of directors, died Jan. 13 in Port Charlotte, Fla. Memorial services will be Feb. 11 in Port Charlotte. Clive Rainey, Habitat’s first volunteer and a longtime staff member before his retirement in 2010, remembers Sam.

My first memories of Sam date to the very earliest meetings of the Habitat for Humanity International board of directors, which I attended as a volunteer charged with taking minutes. That early board was made up of people deeply steeped in the social gospel, all of whom had experienced the social challenges and changes of the 1960s.

All were, in a word, passionate. Sam was charged with guiding their discussions. Not an easy task! By-laws and incorporation documents existed, but the mission and its exact meaning were reimagined and reargued at every meeting with passion, love and respect.

Fortunately, God had provided Sam to lead and, with his many years of experience as a pastor, he led with grace and dignity. His quiet calm and gentle smile were all that were needed to bring order to any heated discussion. But for all that surface calm, Sam, too, was on fire with the vision of Clarence Jordan.

Once, at a groundbreaking for a Habitat affiliate in Immokalee, Fla., we stood together in an empty field of weeds and sand that had been acquired as the site for the first homes there. Sam’s words that day are burned in my memory: “Habitat is a crazy idea! It’s an insane idea, but it works!”

I cannot end this without a word about Patsy, Sam’s loving wife of many years, who preceded him in death. I cannot think of them separately, for they truly completed each other. When I remember Sam’s joy for life and his deep reserve of calm and peace that guided Habitat’s early development, I also have to think of Patsy’s beautiful smile and of their deep and obvious love for each other. Who could have such a life partnership and not reflect that love everywhere and to everyone else? Who having that kind of a blessing could help but give their lives to a crazy, insane idea and help to make it work?