At 4:43 a.m. this past Saturday morning, my cell phone buzzed on the nightstand where it was charging after a long day of meetings in the Big Easy. It was a text message from a friend of nearly 25 years, Kentucky pastor and mission strategist Dr. C.B. Scott. The message didn’t mince words. C.B. never does.
“Karen went to be with the Lord last evening,” he wrote. “Her suffering is over. Her race is run. She finished well.”
For more than two decades Karen battled multiple sclerosis, a progressively debilitating neurological disease that affects two to three times more women than men and cuts the average person’s life span short by as much as ten years. Every year, around 20,000 people die from complications associated with MS, and about 200 new patients are diagnosed every week in the United States.
I remember the first day I met Karen Scott. As a new student at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, I went to the business office in Stealey Hall to pay the first installment on Fall 1996 tuition. Sitting behind the counter at her desk was a dark haired woman with big, kind eyes and a voice so soft you could barely hear her.
Karen had come to Southeastern with her husband, C.B., who was completing his M.Div. and concurrently working on campus in the department of plant services. Meeting Karen was a joy. Meeting C.B. the first time was unsettling, and perhaps intimidating. The two were a perfect complement to one another.
Some days after that while entering the Ledford Center, a stocky man with blonde-gray hair wearing a blue shirt and paint-stained pants stopped me between the double doors and abruptly announced, “You’re Ben Cole.”
“Yes,” I answered. “And who are you?”
“You’ll figure that out in time,” he responded. “I know who you are, and I’m watching you.”
He turned and exited the building, leaving me standing there in a state of confusion and concern. Was this man threatening? Did he intend me harm? Or was this some weird practical joke? I went immediately to an administrator’s office and described what had happened and profiled my then-anonymous would-be stalker.
“Oh, that’s just, C.B.,” I was told. “He’s harmless.”
And that’s the first and last time I regarded C.B. as harmless. In fact, he’s one of the most dangerous men I’ve ever met, not because he is deranged as a Southeastern trustee once alleged. And not because he was physically threatening, as a Southeastern administrator once feared.
But C.B. is dangerous because his commitment to the truth is stronger than his impulse for self-preservation. When faced with the option of fight or flight, C.B. will always fight. Any man who hurts a child or hits a woman, can be assured that C.B. Scott will hunt them down till the day they are brought to justice. And by justice, C.B. is not just concerned about criminal justice. He’s concerned about eternal justice. Inside his belly is a unquenchable fire to protect innocence. His fists are solid steel, and he’s had to use them on more than one occasion to stop an attacker.
But as hard-scrabble and rawhide as C.B. is — and he’s never written a book on manhood because he didn’t have to — his wife, Karen, was the textbook definition of quiet grace. With C.B. by her side, she never had to fear for her safety or that of her children.
But with Karen at his side, C.B. never lost his bearings. To be honest, every demon in hell is probably afraid of C.B. But the Devil himself was afraid of Karen.
Few people have prayed as consistently for so many people. Her handwritten notes of encouragement fill folders in my archives. For the past years as MS ripped into her body, Karen was less and less able to get out of the house. But she sat in her wheelchair, day after day, reading and studying God’s Word and writing little notes of encouragement to hundreds of people to whom she’s ministered as a pastor’s wife, seminary employee, denominational servant, and mentor.
The last time I called Karen was during the Southern Baptist Convention. C.B. was in Birmingham for the annual meeting, and left Karen behind in Kentucky because she was still fairly able to take care of herself, though it was getting more difficult.
I gave her a blow-by-blow of what was going on at the convention, and then she asked me the question: “Is The Hat there?”
“Yes,” I told her, “The Hat is here with her lady’s maid and manservant.”
Karen laughed a little.
In the last 72 hours, I’ve gone back and read threads of messages Karen and I exchanged over Facebook in the last 12 years. We talked about C.B.’s termination from Southeastern Seminary because, in part, he stood up to administrators who had engineered an improper transfer of title for a 2002 Pontiac Grand Prix to a seminary official. We talked about his termination from a Baptist college in Georgia, also for standing up to a school official who was abusing both his office and his family.
We talked about Southwestern Seminary a good bit, and Karen was always on point to remind me of small details about the misuse of school funds — usually with documentation — and various instances of financial mismanagement and shady accounting. On more than one occasion, Karen would fact check a claim in a draft blog post to ensure narrative accuracy. She was meticulously attuned to details, and never wanted the slightest exaggeration or misstatement to compromise the full force of truth told well.
And then, she would tell me how much she laughed at the way I was writing the story.
C.B. told me that in these last years, he could hear Karen from the next room laughing out loud at one post or another. “Get in here, C.B.,” she would call out from her office. “You’re not going to believe what Ben just posted. They’re really going to hate him now.”
These last few months, Karen was particularly chatty on Facebook. Like the time she found furniture online she considered purchasing for a home in Parker, Tex. Or the time she nearly overdosed on afternoon tea. Or when she got a chuckle out of thinking about all the staff it would take to keep the Sandy Creek Foundation mansion fully operational.
That last one really got to me.
Here was Karen, her body wasting away and wondering if she would have enough strength to draw her next breath and unable to walk at all, remembering how the former First Lady of Southwestern moaned and bellyached about ironing presidential shirts through arthritic pangs.
Side note: I’ve never seen C.B. Scott in a wrinkled shirt. And I’ve never seen an article about Karen’s homemaking prowess.
No, there will never be a building on Southeastern’s campus named for Karen Scott. And there won’t be a lecture series at a Georgia Baptist College named for her either. But she wouldn’t have wanted those things anyways. Her husband, her children, and her grandchildren are her true legacy. And they have all gathered in the mountains of Appalachia this week to say goodbye.
Tonight at the First Baptist Church of McDowell, K.Y., the family of Karen Scott will pay tribute to her life and remember her faith. Most importantly, they will pay tribute to the Lord who gave Karen the strength to stand alongside one of the strongest men many of us have ever known, and to do so while her own physical strength was fading day after day.
And from Nashville, Tenn., we have paused this afternoon to pay our own small tribute to Karen, and we’re hoping she will get one more good laugh.
In her honor, we have made today a small designated contribution to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“To be used for the replacement of missing presidential home furnishings.”
4 thoughts on “A true homemaker has gone home”
Thank you for this, Brother Benjamin! It is most fitting, and completely in line with what Peg and I have seen over the last dozen years or so.
Best stuff you’ve ever written.
Good heavens you are an excellent writer.
God bless her. I always liked her; sweet, humble, model of Christianity.