[Written by Fay Rowe in 2001; published by Gillian Fritzsche]
Publisher’s note: this is the tribute that my mother, Fay Rowe, wrote for her father when he passed into glory in 2001. As I was searching through my files recently, I came across it. It comforts me to know her own thoughts of when the first of her two parents flew to heaven. She was excited for him, as I am excited for her.
Every man’s life carries a predominant message. By the way in which he spends his life’s resources, he says, ‘This is what is important. This is what really matters.’
One message of Garfield Sparkes’ life has been echoed in the stories we’ve heard from many of you in the last couple of days as you’ve kindly shared with us your memories of our father. It’s heard again in this story from my childhood. One fall in the late fifties, Dad went to the U.S. to attend, I believe, an Oral Roberts meeting. He came home bearing gifts, and for me he had a beautiful, blonde, blue-eyed doll. She was so pretty I put her on a shelf and wouldn’t play with her. Sometime before Christmas, I think it must have been for a school project, I was asked to give away one of my toys to a gift box for needy children. I had another favourite doll, an old cloth-bodied, baby doll that needed some TLC. I took it out, washed its clothes, scrubbed its face and prepared to say goodbye. Dad walked by and saw what I was doing. He watched for a minute and said, ‘Fay, when you give something, you should always give your best.’…… The beautiful blonde, blue eyed doll found a new home that Christmas. In looking back at that incident, I realized my father recognized a teachable moment, and generously took the time to teach.
Over the forty some years since then I watched my father give… quietly, naturally and with joy that was evidenced by a smile and the spring in his step. He gave vegetables and eggs, time and money, houses and lands, encouragement and corrections, and always, always, unconditional acceptance! It seemed as natural to him as breathing. On his 85th birthday he received a book called Jesus CEO from my sister Marilyn and her husband Harold. In it the author, Laurie Beth Jones, eulogized a friend’s father by saying, “Last night a beautiful man went to Heaven. God filled his heart with generosity and he in turn poured it out on us”. When I read those words recently I thought of my father.
It was that generosity of spirit that gave my father the courage to spend over 70 years sharing what I believe he considered to be his best gift, his faith. When I was younger I thought my father’s faith was based on a life lived well. Growing up, we had so many rules I thought surely Dad was determined to make us holy. When I had my own child I realized the rules were intended for my protection more than for my holiness. In later years as Dad would talk about his life and his faith, I found out that my father’s faith was firmly based, not on his own goodness, but on a strong belief in God’s Grace. He was truly amazed by Grace. He was unswervingly and joyfully convinced that all through his life he could boldly stand before God in prayer, and after his life on this earth he could stand before God in person confidently, not because he lived so well, but because the privilege had been bought for him by someone who loved him well. Grace said simply believe the fact that Jesus took any and all punishment you deserve, and go free. ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved’.
To many it’s a beloved creed; to my father it was a truth that sustained him in good times and bad. He discovered it as a young man in a little mission in Bay Roberts and he still spoke of it with shining eyes many years later, as a man expecting to soon leave this earth. The Bible that told him that story of Grace was his favourite book. The truths held in that book were his passionate pursuit. He studied them, debated them, defended them, loved them, and tried to live by them.
It was that very passion that made him a bit of a terror to his pastors over the years. He loved to challenge them over scriptural accuracy. I hope most of them came to understand that his challenges were not meant to be personal rejection.
Dad and I spent many many hours discussing, debating, and… yes, it was arguing… over the meaning of one Bible verse or another. But when we had exhausted our Biblical arsenals, we’d laugh, find something to agree on, and set aside the topic of contention for another day.
(When we lived in St John’s I was invited several times to speak at church or para-church events in the city. I would tell my father about them after the fact. He asked me once to let him know ahead of time so he could come. I never did because I knew a critique would be harder on me than a debate. I’m expecting he’s too busy today to be listening, but if he is I’m sure he’s already planning a rebuttal!)
To be very honest, his contending for the faith was something that I loved and respected in my father, as I did the intellectual honesty that made him a seeker of truth for over seventy years….I admired his courage to search where many would not because of fear of what they’d find.
Today I’m excited for my father. The tenacity of his faith has won him a great prize.
A beautiful man went to Heaven on Monday. I’ll miss him a lot.