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The gospel according to Butch

Dr. Butch Cochran touched the lives of many people. He gave people back their health. He shared his land with hunters and fishermen. He cheered his beloved Cottonmouths at the Snake Pit. He supported the arts and he supported children who needed a smile and a pizza. Dr. Thomas Andrew “Butch” Cochran died last week, and on Thursday Dr. Jimmy Elder shared the physician’s remarkable life in a service at the First Baptist Church of Columbus. These are the pastor’s words:

This is an unbelievable day for so many of us. It is a day when the deep faith and beliefs of Butch Cochran, along with our own, offers strength and help in these difficult moments.

The psalmist wrote in Psalm 121; 1 I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? 2 My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. 3 He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber; 4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. 5 The LORD watches over you—the LORD is your shade at your right hand; 6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. 7 The LORD will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; 8 the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

Butch came to me one day and handed me a tome that was essentially, the Gospel according to Butch Cochran. It was pretty good. While it was not always congruent with all my seminary professors’ ideas, it did reflect the revelation of God and the faith in the heart and life of Butch Cochran.

I have always preferred to see a sermon rather than just hear one, and in Butch’s life, I saw the proclamation of the love of God through the compassion and generosity of one very gifted man’s heart. I am only a mouthpiece who is to share this reflection upon his life. The voices are legion and I will share some of them with you today.

When word began to get out that Butch had died, my phone began to ring and texts began to come in at a frantic rate. People were shocked and overwhelmed by the news. They called to make sure what they had heard was right. They called to ask me to express their condolences. They also called to tell me things about Butch.

Dr. Butch Cochran planned to practice medicine near the beach but ended up on the banks of the Chattahoochee.

… People did not just say how much they hated what had happened, but they grieved and began to pour out the story of what Butch had done for them. One of the first came from a member of our First Baptist Family, who is also a Deacon. I share her words.

On August 2012, I was admitted in the emergency room of the Columbus Regional Hospital after two surgeries for breast cancer diagnosis and serious staph infection. I was admitted by Dr. Pippas of the Cancer center as all three of my doctors, which included my surgeon, was out of town. Also my P.A. daughter Kelly was on vacation out of town.

Three days later, my condition became worse as the infection began to spread toward my heart. I understand, Jimmy, that I can thank you and three other people that called Dr. Cochran and ask If he would check on me. He was not my doctor, but he showed up, talked straight as to what was going on, called my surgeon, who was out of the country, and said he would be back.

Day four, Dr. Cochran walked in my room and told me I could not wait for my doctor to return to do the surgery needed. He said, I can do it now with your permission, but it would have to be with local anesthesia with me awake. I overheard the night before that I would not survive much longer without surgery, so of course I agreed. He left the room within minutes, he was back with a bed, helping me on it and began pushing the bed to the operating room, as the nurses questioned what was he doing. He kindly talked me through everything he did, (which ended up saving my life) and then I heard him say,” Now I feel I can go on my hunting trip.”

He helped me, out of the kindness of his heart, no papers signed, no insurance questions. Jimmy, you just weeks before this preached a sermon on Angels. Later when I was released, I wrote Dr. Cochran a thank you note and mentioned your sermon and that he was my Angel that day.

Dr. Jimmy Elder delivered the eulogy for Dr. Butch Cochran.

I did not expect to hear from him, but several weeks later I received a note from him and he definitely typed it. I could not find the note, but basically it said, “I just wanted to get it straight, I am no Angel. Just glad it was something easy that I could help you with. Also glad you are doing well.”

… The irony of this, I was thinking a couple of weeks ago of this and July 9, I was asked to help serve the Lord’s Supper. When I arrived in the balcony there sat Butch Cochran with a smile on his face. Susan Peters is the Deacon, and she served Butch Communion for the last time. She wrote, “I am sure God has a special place for someone as kind and caring as Dr. Thomas (Butch) Cochran Jr.”

As you can see, Butch’s medical career was more than a career, it was a mission, a calling, a way for him to offer so much more to life. There is another story about Butch’s care for a person in need. We have a ministry in South Columbus. It has been a part of the work of this church for more than 35 years. Butch loved that mission and spent endless volunteer hours, countless dollars and a great deal of his efforts ministering there through the gifts he could offer.

Ken Corcoran, the one who has been the overseer of this ministry for most of the time I have been in Columbus said, He was an interesting person and God used his uniqueness at Victory Mission. As the Victory Mission overseer for most of his (Butch’s) tenure there, I observed that he truly loved the boys he worked with and would do anything for them. He made me nervous many times with taking all the participants to his place to swim, fish, etc. He never seemed to worry and God’s protection prevailed.

He took these kids to hockey games, delighting in giving them an evening out and teaching them about a game he loved so much. He made sure they had the full experience, refreshments and all. This was the joy of his week when he took them to the game.

As a part of the Victory Mission ministry team, Butch did not just go there and share and then leave. He, instead, got to know the kids and learned about their family members. Butch could not know about a need and ignore what he could do to alleviate the problem.

As the story goes, at some point during his time at Victory Mission, he performed surgery (not cosmetic) perhaps to remove a tumor on a Victory Mission mother. No other doctor would touch her and Butch took care of her. (There again, the director said that it made him nervous but God’s protection prevailed.)

Then, Ken, at Victory Mission, sent me an email that said, in part, I just got a phone call from a family that saw the news of his death and they were so sadden and wanted make sure their condolences are shared with the family. The mother said Mr. Butch reached out to her son to help him find his way and they were most appreciative of his efforts.

Another member of the Victory Mission team told someone recently that Butch still visits, periodically, one of the boys he worked with at VM who is in jail for a serious crime. He had a special bond with this boy and his brother.

Judge Bill Smith spoke of Butch’s life. He was faithful to the early service at First Baptist. Normally in the balcony or on the back row. He would come in late and leave as the service was ending. He was a member of the Fellowship Class, later in Jim White’s class. Bill mentioned that his work at Victory Mission was exemplary.

Bill and Louise wanted to do something for one of Butch’s birthdays, so they decided that the best thing would be to have a party at Victory Mission. They did. Louise was amazed at the patience and strength of Butch’s involvement with the kids there.

Alan Rothschild shared, Butch loved to hunt, and he would go out in the woods around the house and sit in a deer stand most days during deer season. I asked him once if he’d had any luck recently and he told me that he would only shoot at a deer if it was larger than the last one he killed. So, I asked him when was the last time he killed one. He answered, “eleven years ago.”

I also watched his incredible love as a neighbor to Fred and Susan Morgan. In the compound that they shared on Old Smith Road, they have walked with each other through health issues and struggles of all sorts. Butch and the Morgan’s watched out for each other every day.

There are doctors in town whose practice here was because of Butch’s help and encouragement. He was one who always wanted to see others succeed in what they were doing. Butch could run in any circles he chose. He had doctor friends who were in tears when I talked with them. His colleagues in the medical community placed private flags at half-staff in honor of Butch.

He and Susan were friends of the arts. She loved literature and in her memory he established a Faulkner program for student writers through Columbus State University’s Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians. The program kicked off in 2012, when he told the story of how they came to Columbus and chose to stay.

From The Ledger-Enquirer article by Tim Chitwood: He and Susan had planned to settle in Panama City, Fla., but through a turn of events, he ended up establishing a practice in Columbus. They started off in Panama City looking for an office and house.

It was 4th of July weekend and the place was crawling with teenagers. Susan burst into tears and said she did not want to live anywhere near that place, so Butch suggested they go to Chattanooga, where his family originated. They headed in that direction.

At about 8 o’clock in the evening they were coming through Columbus. Susan, who had fallen asleep in the car, woke up and saw the Columbus City Limits sign. Butch had done his residency in Dallas with Bill and Janet Amos from Columbus. They stayed with the Amos’, and as Butch put it, To make a long story short, we got up the next morning and bought a house.

For 40 years, Susan and Butch supported and encouraged the arts. She was a Symphony person and Butch was a C.W. McCall and Patsy Cline person. They both have left their mark on medicine, arts and education in the area. Butch’s passion to help others has left an indelible mark on the lives of troubled, underprivileged and struggling young people. Even as Susan was determined to give quality support to the arts, Butch was determined to give life experience and opportunity to others.

His determination to give of himself knew no bounds, as the stories that I have shared and many that you have shared with each other will continue to recount. His is a true living legacy in lives of others whose quality of life was medically improved, whose opportunities in life was greatly enhanced and whose hope was restored.

Just as in the case of patients where he was willing to take on a tough case that others would not, so he took on tough lives that others would never have embraced. He did not have to, for as a doctor, he could have lived in a different world. He chose his world, just as he chose the way to share his Gospel. His world was compassionate, loving, matter-of-fact and clearly to the drumbeat that was his alone.

I thought of the way that Jesus went counter to the conventional cultural approach to things. He was always people-centric and uncompromising and brave when it came to engaging in relationships with others.

I immediately thought of the account of Jesus being in the company of many important community leaders when women came with their children, simply asking Jesus to bless them. The disciples were quick to let the women know that Jesus was too busy with the important people. They did not need to distract Him or interrupt these high-level discussions.

Jesus turned from the conversations, rebuked His own disciples and insisted with a warm welcome that the children be brought to Him. You remember the story. Here are the words.

Matthew 19:13-15, 13 Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. 14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.

Butch was one of the people who really understood Jesus’ heart. It is all about the people—especially those who have no defender, protector, friend, person to engage them in life, person to open the door for them. Butch was the doorkeeper to the heart of God as he introduced people to the practice of faith with the same calm skill and dexterity that he performed magic with a scalpel. He hated to call attention to himself and was never overly impressed with himself.

Those who hunted and fished with him will tell you how he loved God’s world and how he respected it. He treated his animals—horses and others—with respect and love. He was at home in nature. It is appropriate that he died in the middle of the nature he loved. It is not surprising that he died with as little warning as he did. One of the most predictable things about Butch’s life was his unpredictability.

My deepest respect developed, however, as I watched the incredible care, love and faithfulness with which he dealt with Susan during her illness leading to her death. He was amazing. When I would try to offer my care and support, he pushed it off, preferring that Susan be the center of any and all attention. He was surrounded with incredible friends who loved he and Susan and did whatever he would allow them to do for them.

Butch’s love for Chris, Kevin and Kendall was without measure. He was proud of you and loved you with all his heart. He would do anything for you, and even faced difficulties with a determination to not give up on anyone, ever.

That is a spiritual gift. God is portrayed in the Old Testament as having steadfast love. Jesus spoke of love that was clearly unconditional. Butch had the capacity to offer this, live in this and never compromise it.

Chris, he taught you to fish and embrace life with all sorts of strength and gifts. I know he is proud of all you have done. Throughout this ordeal, I have seen your Dad in you and your ability to move things forward with strength, courage and wisdom. He will continue to be with you in your heart.

Kevin, you have been a blessing to your Dad as well. He engaged you in hunting for a period in your life. Your son, however, has taken up the mantel of fishing with a passion. Every time he wets a hook, your Dad smiles and his passion is lived out once again. Your ability to be articulate and open today is a legacy gift to your Dad. You and your brother have made good decisions and are what your Dad wanted you to be.

A wonderful Christian writer, Frederick Buechner, penned the words, You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.

He also wrote, When you remember me, it means you have carried something of who I am with you, that I have left some mark of who I am on who you are. It means that you can summon me back to your mind even though countless years and miles may stand between us. It means that if we meet again, you will know me. It means that even after I die, you can still see my face and hear my voice and speak to me in your heart.

God blessed and affirmed the heart of Butch Cochran by giving him the blessing of Connie McDowell. She has offered him the gift of love again. You eased the loneliness and offered him the blessing of you grace.

I thought of the words of the psalmist in Psalm 23. It reminds us that life is not perfect, it is not always easy, it is often challenging and there are twists and turns along the way. The psalmist assures us, however that we never walk alone. The shepherding Lord is with us.

This was such an important assurance that the Lord Christ drew the disciples together to offer them words of hope and comfort that bless us today. He said, in John 14:1-3, Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am (John 14:1-3).

I thought of the words of Rogers and Hammerstein.

When you walk through a storm Hold your head up high And don’t be afraid of the dark At the end of the storm There’s a golden sky And the sweet silver song of the lark Walk on, through the wind Walk on, through the rain Though your dreams be tossed and blown Walk on, walk on, with hope in your heart And you’ll never walk alone You’ll never walk alone

In all my conversation with Butch Cochran, I had the profound sense that he understood that he did not walk alone. His own Gospel was clear that there was One who walked with him and that mattered to his life. We have already talked about Butch more than he would have thought appropriate. It is time to decide if we are really going to honor and remember him in a way that would mean something to him.

That would be through finding ways to take things from his life that inspire us to fulfill our place in God’s world, make a difference, make sure that everyone in our sphere of influence has a place at the table, use our gifts generously helping others, be a little bit of a cowboy in doing things our way, but in the end leaving the world a better place.

Indeed it is a better place. Butch Cochran understood what it meant to live a full and meaningful life. I am better, you are better, countless people are better because Butch Cochran lived life his way, according to how God instilled mission in his life.

Butch not only knew what a wonderful world God had created, but he had a hand in tending it well during his time on this earth. May God continue to use his life to inspire us to all we can be. May God bless you, his family, through these days. AMEN.


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