In 1978, Gene Puckett was the major speaker at the retirement dinner for my father, G. W. Bullard, as executive director-treasurer of the Baptist Convention of Pennsylvania-South Jersey. He and dad had gotten to know one another in 1966 when Gene arrived in Maryland as editor of the Maryland Baptist news journal of the then Baptist Convention of Maryland.
Our family had been in Maryland from 1957–1965, but had moved on to Philadelphia where Southern Baptist work was organizationally supervised by Maryland Baptists. Dad and Gene hit it off well. They were in some ways cut out of the same cloth. Their speaking and writing were sharp. They were staunch defenders of classic Baptist perspectives.
In the 1970s when my father became the executive director-treasurer in Pennsylvania-South Jersey that role also carried with it the assignment of editor of the Penn-Jersey Baptist. This allowed dad and Gene to get much closer in their relationship as the Maryland Baptist provided the production services for the Penn-Jersey Baptist, and the national, international, and some feature content. This also allowed my mother and Gene’s wife Robbie to get closer as they were together at various meetings of the editors of the state Baptist news journals.
The relationship of the Bullards and the Pucketts grew deep. When my father prepared to retire he could think of no better person to both praise and roast him than Gene Puckett. It was of course a fine evening.
Gene knew my oldest sister, Carolyn Bullard Rock, because she had been on the staff of a congregation in Maryland and had been on the board of the state convention. He knew me because I was serving a two-year internship on the Maryland staff at the time of my father’s retirement. But he did not know my other sister, Judy Bullard Longshore; now Sanford. Judy lived in South Carolina and had not met Gene Puckett.
During the evening Gene said some wonderful things about my father and mother. He also said some gracious things about my sister, Carolyn, and me. He acknowledged he did not know my sister, Judy, but suspected there were fine things to say about her also.
Judy could not let the best go unknown. As the event concluded, she went up to Gene and introduced herself to him and told him she was the best member of our family and he needed to get to know her! Gene laughed, but he did later have opportunities to get to know her.
In 1990 Judy and her family joined St. Johns Baptist Church in Charlotte, NC, where she and John Longshore were married around 15 years earlier. At St. Johns they crossed paths with Gene and Robbie’s daughter, Janet Wade, as well as her husband Landis and their children. Judy would see and talk to Gene from time-to-time when he visited in Charlotte. She also taught his grandchildren in the children’s choir program. There is nothing like loving on a person’s grandchildren for them to decide you are the best!
From the perspective of our family, Gene Puckett was the best! He was prophetic and courageous. He was an excellent preacher and one of my favorite Bible teachers. He was Mr. Baptist who could speak profoundly into issues Baptists needed to address and into controversies where Baptists were divided. He spoke the truth in love, but also with a big stick. He had deep convictions about the key issues of being Baptist that shone even in his role as executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.
My father’s retirement in 1978 did not end the relationship with Gene and Robbie. My parents retired to Raleigh, NC. Four years later when Gene became editor of the Biblical Recorder, dad was selling real estate and was the agent that helped Gene and Robbie secure their Raleigh home. That provided several years of renewed relationships between the Pucketts and the Bullards. In 1985 my parents moved to South Carolina to be closer to two of their three children.
When my father died in 1987 and mother in 1994, they were buried in Raleigh. Once again, our family was blessed to have Gene Puckett speak words of affirmation and in this case spiritual comfort as he led the Raleigh portion of my parents’ funerals.
The prophetic voice of Gene Puckett still sings in our ears. In many ways he was the best!