You would expect a guy named “Lacoste” to wear Izod, and he did. But it was his Friday tennis ties I remember most about Lacoste Munn. Those ties signaled the end of another week and the anticipation of our Friday tennis matches.
Now nearly 92, Dr. Munn (he always insisted I call him Lacoste but it’s still hard to do) can only remember those glory days on the tennis courts of Fort Worth, Texas. Today, instead of patrolling the courts, he’s lying in a rehab facility in South Carolina recovering from a bad fall, battling depression as much as he is the four staples in the back of his head.
When his daughter Carol reached out to Baptist News Global suggesting a piece about her dad and asking for prayers for him and other retired seminary professors, my friend Mark Wingfield asked me to write this. Waves of memories flooded back to me, recalling both Munn’s prowess on the tennis courts and his love for the New Testament, especially the Book of John. He taught New Testament and Greek at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for 40 years, shaping the minds and spirits of thousands of students.
He was my professor in the classroom and my adversary on the tennis court. In the classroom, Munn was a kind soul, always patient and guided by his love for the Scriptures. I’ve never forgotten his description of the Book of John as being “deep enough for a small child to play in or for an elephant to bathe in.”
And while he took the Bible seriously, he never did the same with himself, except on the tennis court. He was a fierce competitor who did not suffer fools or easy shots. If a lob came across the net in his direction, you knew it was coming right back at you with his full force. Better duck and run. And of course, he knew all the rules and followed them to the letter. He probably had exegeted the entire rule book at some point. Tennis was serious business.
Now, recovering from his fall, Carol says he is focused on the Old Testament, especially Psalm 23 which he quotes “dozens of times a day,” she says. “Each day he focuses on a different part of the familiar psalm.” He was especially excited the day he emphasized “He anoints my head with oil.” Remembering my friend’s wry and dry sense of humor, I can imagine he was being both serious and a little witty.
When he retired from Southwestern and his wife died soon after on Christmas Eve, Munn moved back to his native South Carolina and married his high school sweetheart, who was a widow. He was 70, and they were married 18 years when she died of cancer. Then the pandemic hit and he was alone. His adult children live in Texas, and he is uncertain what the future holds when he leaves the nursing home. But one thing Carol knows is he needs the prayers of his former students and others.
“I want others to know about how and where an old professor ends up.”
“I want others to know about how and where an old professor ends up,” Carol says. “He needs many prayers.”
I spent nearly 10 incredible and interesting years at Southwestern Seminary as director of public relations. Incredible years because professors like Lacoste Munn treated me as a friend and equal. Interesting because those were tumultuous years. Walking to our cars after tennis one Friday, Munn summed it up in his own dry way with words I’ve remembered for 30 years: “What with the (SBC) controversy and people leaving, I can’t hardly get a tennis game anymore.”
I was one of those who left after the firing of Russell Dilday in 1994. My tennis days ended and so did a big part of my life. I found new life three months later at Buckner International in Dallas. Among the many serendipities of being here is the opportunity to stay in touch with Dilday, who settled in Dallas. We began regular lunches together, remembering and even laughing about those Southwestern days. Today, Dilday, like Munn, is living in a retirement community, a Buckner one in fact, meaning I still see him.
Many of those professors and staff from my seminary days have died, and it has grieved me to find out months or years later about their deaths. I stay in touch with some on Facebook and hear about others from time to time. So I was thrilled to get Carol’s email about her dad and to catch up with him.
“Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.”
The writer of Hebrews encourages us to “remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.”
One commentator says this verse challenges us to follow the example of those who shaped our lives through “their service, the whole course of their lives, from start to finish. By precept and example, they showed the right path to tread.” That’s a daunting task for all of us, but especially for those of us whose examples are seminary professors who not only taught us but lived out the precepts of Scripture with their lives, people like Lacoste Munn and Russell Dilday.
Carol Munn has a simple Christmas wish. She’s asking us to remember and pray for people like her father. And I would add as we remember and pray for them to consider the result of their conduct and imitate their faith.
Scott Collins serves as senior vice president of communications for Buckner International. He previously served as director of public relations at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.