Faith, hope and love received a serious setback in the past couple of weeks.
Wayne Johnson, a gentleman of faith; Emilie Towler, a woman of hope and Mike Stewart, a man of love, departed from this world and left a void in the lives of those who knew them.
All three of these individuals had ties to Aiken, and their lives had crossed paths with mine. One of the cruel ironies of growing older is that we get to meet lots of people with each advancing year, yet we also have a greater chance of feeling the pain of loss.
Wayne Johnson grew up in Aiken, and we were friends during the years my family lived in College Acres. Wayne was a year younger than I, and his sister Vickie and I were in the same class. They lived on Clemson Drive, and in those days of the late 1950s it was not uncommon for neighborhood kids to bounce from one house to the next to find someone to play with and something to do. So there were times when I would be in the Johnson home.
The neighborhood guys – and there were lots of kids in the area in those days – got together at the field beside the water tower to play sandlot baseball on many summer afternoons. Wayne and I would be among them.
Even after we moved from College Acres to another part of town, Wayne and I went to the same schools and would greet each other. With many people who we go to school with, after the last day of class we go our separate ways. That happened with Wayne.
I went to college. He completed high school the following year, and then his journey and mine took separate paths. Until last week I didn’t know that Wayne had gone into the ministry and made a career of serving churches in South Carolina and Georgia. From the obituary information I read, Wayne was well loved by his congregations and was a real man of faith.
Emilie Towler was a woman of hope. Understanding the human brain and all that goes into our behavior is nothing short of hope. She was the original head of the psychology department at USC Aiken and built it as the local university grew.
She impacted hundreds of students who went through her classes as well as faculty and staff at USCA who benefited from her interests and energy. She also helped with the creation of the Tri-Development Center, an organization that supports and provides hope for those with severe disabilities.
When in high school, I first knew Mrs. Towler as the mother of one of my classmates, Marianne. Marianne was one of the really brilliant girls in that class, and I would see her, her parents and her siblings on Sundays since we went to the same church.
Mrs. Towler (see how I call her Mrs. Towler, even after all these years? Old habits die hard.) and her husband were also involved in the world of music locally.
Mike Stewart was a man of rare music abilities. Since much of the music he wrote is about love, I dubbed him the man of love for this piece. Like Wayne, Mike was an acquaintance from my College Acres days. We played ball in that sand-spur laden field, rode bikes on the streets of he neighborhood and rode the same bus to Millbrook Elementary.
Mike’s passion for music showed in high school, and he took that love with him to Nashville. He made a career of writing songs and commercial jingles, working with some of the big names in Nashville for three decades.
A few years ago I got a phone call at my office at the Aiken Standard. It was Mike, who remembered my name from way back when. He was thinking of moving back to Aiken with his wife and young son. After all that time in the bright lights, he had never lost his love for the city where he grew up.
He asked about the schools in town and what area might be good to live in so his son could get a good education. Mike continued to spread love through his music after returning to the city he loved.
Wayne, Emilie and Mike. Faith, hope and love. Their passing filled family and friends with a great sense of loss. But these three continue to give and will continue to do so for a long time.
Wayne’s life of faith has been passed down to those who he led in worship.
Emilie’s life of hope continues in her five children as well as those she mentored in the academic world at USCA and those who continue to find lives of hope through the Tri-Development Center.
Mike’s gift of love through his music will live on each time one of his songs is played.
Jeff Wallace is the retired editor of the Aiken Standard.