Bill: 51 and Aging

An editorial from THE WITNESS by the founding editor, Bp. Irving P. Johnson, Bishop of Colorado {ret.}…Apr. 4, 1943:

The calendar informs me that Bill Spofford will be fifty-one years old this April. In spite of the calendar Bill has never grown up. I find it difficult to realize that it was about twenty-five years ago that I sent out an S.O.S. call which Bill answered. THE WITNESS had had a precarious existence since its inception in January 1917. It was started by a number of clergy who had gathered at the General Convention which met in 1916 at St. Louis. Most of the group wrote an article or two and then stopped. John Sage and I were the goats. He became business editor and I became editor-in-chief. We engaged the Rev. C.J. Shutt to act as business manager and the Rev. L.W. Applegate offered to print the paper. It was difficult getting started and Mr. Shutt died under the strain. This happened when I was in Texas holding a mission. Bishop Sage had also passed away. I hurried to Chicago to consult with Mr. Clarke who had taken over the printing. That issue of THE WITNESS was composed by a Roman Catholic and a Hebrew in the printing office. I had accepted the office of literary editor with the strict understanding that I would not be responsible for the business end. It was when I reached Chicago that I sent out a signal of distress which was answered by Bill Spofford. At that time he was trying to finance himself by acting as a referee between labor and capital in a clothing establishment and was also carrying on the work of a mission for the exercise of his ministry. Bill offered to assume charge of the business end of THEWITNESS while I could look after the literary end. It was a curious combination. No two men could have been found who placed such different emphasis upon the function of the Church and no two men could have had a pleasanter association. We agreed to disagree and did so without becoming disagreeable to one another. Owing to the fact that Bill found an occupation that was agreeable, he took over the policy of the paper more and more.

We have had a good time even though we do not see many things eye to eye. Bill is a born enthusiast whether it is for the Yankees or the underprivileged. Because of this enthusiastic devotion to a cause, he isn’t always choice in his selection of epithets by which he describes his opponents, yet when you really know him he turns out to be as friendly and as unbelligerent as one could desire. It is that he has never grown up and has a childlike wonder toward those who could feel differently toward his enthusiasms. Like “THE VIRGINIAN”, he smiles when he says things. I never knew a man who could so upset the temper of his opponent and yet at the same time keep his own temper, one of smiling friendliness.

Bill is always a friend of the underdog even though the underdog happens to turn out something of a cur. It was a matter of sincere regret when I felt obliged t o give up regular editorial work for THE WITNESS. I felt that I had told the public all that I knew. It was time for others to take over the active responsibility. I think Bill must find it hard to keep step with his new academic board even though he agrees with them in most of their thinking. This new board has asked me to write my autobiography for THE WITNESS. If I do, it will be because I have known such interesting people, and Bill is one of them.  I think Bill has made more readers angry than any editor I know; and yet if people only knew him they would understand that it is his devotion to a cause that leads to the extravagant language, and that it is not personal or malicious. I know of nothing more trying than editing an Episcopal Church paper in such a way as to make both ends meet financially and ecclesiastically. It is greatly to Bill’s credit that he has kept his good nature and has done a good job. May Bill continue to keep young for the next fifty years and continue to operate THE WITNESS for the next twenty-five years. Now that he is a grandfather, I hope that he will grow more dignified and less contentious in his attitude towards those who differ from him. –

Bill Jr  As far as I know, Bp. Johnson never wrote his autobiography for THE WITNESS board. That is too bad because, to this day, stories about him circulate in the House of Bishops. He used to visit our home on occasion when he came east and I remember him as rumpled and friendly. He was known as a wit and story-teller and a few still surface now and again. Dad’s favorite was about the time the General Convention was meeting in New Orleans during a hot and muggy September. Bp. Johnson, from mile-high Denver, had brought no warm weather clothes. He sent the following telegram to his wife: ‘B.V.D.’S – P.D.Q. – A.S.A.P. – C.O.D. – I.P.J.’ Editorial brevity, surely. Cheap, certainly. Get’s the message across, absolutely!  No wonder the Bishop and his young editor got along and stayed that way. They tell of the House of Bishops lining up in proper order for a procession. I.P.J. observed: ‘SOME LOOK ANGLICAN AND SOME LOOK ROMAN…BUT THEY ALL LOOK THE SAME AROUND THE ABDOMEN.’ Also, the Bishop was on a train with his face buried in a book, hoping that no one would bother him. But, of course, someone sat next to him and soon observed: ‘I don’t believe in God.’ I.P.J. said nothing. Soon the statement was repeated. With a sigh, the Bishop asked: ‘Do you see that cow out there? She doesn’t either!’  And back to the book.

He missed in his prophecy about Bill, however. It did take Dad some getting used to a more hands-on supervision by Dr. Frederick Grant, Biblical scholar of Union Theological Seminary, and the board from the metropolitan New York area was active, concerned and feisty. The group would meet at Union or at one of the churches where a board member was a rector or warden, and, through such gatherings, they hammered out editorial stands, negotiated differences and, once a year, had a party which, if memory serves, could have been like a few at Psi U at Trinity pre-1914. So, too, the Bishop missed out in the last paragraph. Dad never did really grow more dignified or less contentious, and he continued to operate THE WITNESS, not for 25 more years, but for 29. Both would have chortled over that.