George H. Fox, Pastor Emeritus of Grace Bible Church in Pleasant Hill, made a profound influence on me in just 9 months. I wrote these thoughts shortly after his death.
Meeting a Spiritual Giant
I met George in 2010. His skillful handling of God’s Word, combined with his expert diction and British accent, made him one of my favorite preachers. He also taught two or three classes each quarter at Cornerstone Seminary.
A little over 20 years ago, his wife suffered a serious stroke. Without hesitation, he resigned as teaching pastor to tend to his wife as her primary caregiver. Even though she had a dense hemiparesis, her mind was completely intact. He cherished his wife, describing his time caring for her as his happiest. Two years ago, his wife passed away.
For the next 18 months after she died, I never picked up the phone to call Dr. Fox. I never once asked how he was doing. Finally, in early March, I called Dr. Fox and asked him to meet me for breakfast.
First Breakfast at Country Waffles
We met at our church parking lot, and his first words to me were “Brother Pedro!” He gave me a firm handshake and the warmest smile. Dr. Fox was not just a skilled expositor; he was also a kind shepherd.
He drove me to his favorite breakfast spot, Country Waffles. When we arrived, he fired a series of questions, asking about me and my family. I shared my testimony, how I met my wife, and how I came to our church.
Then he began sharing with me about his childhood living in a missionary family in India. He told me stories about his adventures in Canada and his movie making career in Southern California. He recounted his courtship with his wife. He explained to me God’s unconventional way of leading him to vocational ministry.
We shared about our favorite books. We discussed several topics of theology. We talked about marriage and parenting. We made an instant connection.
After conversing for over 3 hours, Dr. Fox asked me if we could meet again next week. I was shocked. Did Dr. Fox really want to do this again? Without checking with my wife, I looked at my calendar and confirmed our next date.
Transformation From Pastor to Friend
Dr. Fox and I met at least twice a month in the subsequent months. Our meetings were always surrounded by food. It was usually breakfast, but sometimes lunch. He was a diabetic, but you couldn’t tell by the food he had ordered.
I felt compelled to address him by his last name. But whenever I addressed him “Dr. Fox,” he would correct me.
Finally, during one of our meals, he bursted out, “Look, Pedro. I don’t call you Dr. Cheung. Friends don’t address each other by title. Please, call me George.”
From that day forward, I called my friend “George.”
A Tour of George’s Two Bedroom Apartment
After one lunch, George asked me if I could come over to his apartment. He wanted to show me how he lived and spent his time. I eagerly accepted.
His apartment was immaculate. When I arrived, he offered me coffee and cookies. He showed me his vast collection of toy dolls and stuffed animals, mostly foxes. He brought out old family pictures. He even showed me poetry he had written for his late wife.
He invited me to one bedroom which he used as his office. He showed me proudly his file cabinets housing all his sermons notes. He opened up his laptop to show me how he prepares his sermons.
He confided with me about his finances and how despite his negative cash flow, he was trusting God. As an 83 year old man, he had been swindled a couple of times by people who prey on our elderly population. Even during my visit, he received a call from a scammer; I quickly advised him to avoid giving out his personal information.
George told me he was lonely, but he was never alone. We talked about one lady who had caught his attention. When I asked him if I could set them up on a first date with Janice and myself, his rosy cheeks flushed bright red. Like an adolescent boy, he fidgeted but said, "Not now."
I asked George if he would visit my home and spend time with my family. He told me, "Pedro, I would love to."
George Visits My Family Home
On a wet, rainy day in early December, George came over to our home for dinner. He told me because of his diabetes, he wanted to have beef and vegetables and no carbs. Having been treated for pneumonia in the hospital 6 weeks earlier, he was much more careful about his health. We prepared him a prime ribeye steak, sous-vide to a perfect medium rare.
My children were excited to eat dinner with George. He told a hilarious story to help my children memorize in order the first 13 American colonies. My wife and I are both introverts, naturally taciturn. George had no trouble filling our home with joyful conversation and laughter.
As our evening was concluding, George reached out to grab Janice and my hand. He told me he wanted to pray for my family. His prayer trumpeted like a Sunday morning benediction. Despite his gradual failing health, he only thought of my family and future.
The kids asked us if George will come back to visit again. We told them, "Of course."
To Live Is Christ, To Die Is Gain
Four days later, George experienced more fatigue, weakness, and dyspnea. Even getting out of bed, he began feeling chest tightness. So he drove himself to his local emergency room. He was diagnosed with angina accompanied by severe aortic stenosis.
When I learned George was in the hospital, I told Janice, "Sweetie, I've got to go see George. He is my dear friend. I cannot risk not seeing him at least one more time." Janice wanted to come and bring the kids, but I told her George was not ready to receive visitors. So I went alone.
At the hospital, pastor Tony Sanelli was already at his bedside. Despite receiving not one but two cardiac catheterizations, George greeted me energetically like our first day. With a firm handshake and the warmest smile, he called out, "Brother Pedro!”
He told me he needed to get better. He longed to see his daughter's family in Southern California this Christmas. He had just begun his teaching series in Systematic Theology at an Indian church in San Ramon. He was leading his community group through the Psalms. His two seminary classes were starting January 4th. He was preparing to launch his blog, ByGeorgeFox.com.
It was nearing evening, and George had not eaten the entire day. I asked him what he wanted to eat. He said, "Chicken and vegetables." I ran across the street and saw a Vietnamase restaurant. Without looking at a menu, I told the server, "Chicken and green beans to go. Quickly."
When I returned, George's face lit up. "Smells delicious," he said. I opened up the box and prepared to feed him a first bite. But then He sighed deeply, changing his mind. "Maybe later."
He then said, "To live is Christ, to die is gain." I told him that like the Philippians, we still had much to gain from him. He nodded and grinned.
It was my time to pray for him. We held each other's hands. My prayer for him was joyful yet sober. I told him I might not visit again until the weekend.
I never saw George again. Brother George died two days later.
George's Giant Footprints
Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for a while, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same.
I live now marked by some of George's footprints.
- Read the Bible daily: George began each morning reading his Bible. He never allowed our breakfast meetings to conflict with his morning devotional time. Earlier this year, I committed to doing the same.
- Write poetry: Inspired by George’s poetry, I wrote my first poem to Janice.
- Love people, not meetings: George didn’t care for meetings, but he loved spending time with people. Following George’s example, I started spending more time with other Christians for the purpose of cultivating gospel partnership and Christian friendship.
- Make new friends: At age 83, George invited me to be his friend. Never stop making friends.
- Finish strong: Until his last breath, George pressed on to live every moment for Christ. He did not doubt. He never wavered.
Perhaps you never met George. Or perhaps you have known George your entire lifetime. Whichever the case, let’s reflect on the footprints God has left behind through his faithful servants. These were nine months I will never forget.