Brother Richards has joined his Savior in heaven. Please pray for the family and friends as they grieve this great loss. To honor his memory, I’m posting a recent article from One Magazine that includes a great interview with brother Richards.
A Hundred (and Two) Years of Wisdom
An interview with Rev. Walter H. Richards
“With the 100th issue of ONE Magazine approaching, I thought it would be interesting to hear from a centenarian, so I traveled to Texas to interview Walter H. Richards, likely the oldest living Free Will Baptist preacher. Throughout his life, he pastored exclusively in Texas, and all were small churches.
With Mr. Richards quickly approaching 102 years of age (January 14), I didn’t know what to expect. But the sparkly senior quickly set me straight: “I don’t hear so good anymore, and I don’t see so good. I might get a little confused about what I had for breakfast, but if you get me started in the right direction, I still talk well about the past.”
True to his word, Mr. Richards did talk well. Once he heard my questions (sometimes a challenge), his answers were quick, direct, and full of good humor. Enjoy the following excerpts from our conversation.
—Eric Thomsen, Managing Editor, ONE Magazine
How long have you been a Free Will Baptist?
Since 1946—75 years. I pastored 65 of those years. Preached ‘til I was 99. But I’m retired now. Someone once asked me, “If you weren’t Free Will Baptist, what would you be?” I told him, “I’d be ashamed.”
The denomination has really helped me and stood by me. I’m so grateful to be a Free Will Baptist.
I understand you attended Free Will Baptist Bible College [now Welch College]. What do you remember about those days?
I graduated from the college in 1949. I was a little older than most of them. I only started pastoring after I got out of the Navy. The Lord called me to preach, and, pretty quick, I saw that if I was going to preach, I needed some help. I was a sixth-grade dropout, and college was hard! But I stuck it out.
I remember Charley Thigpen* especially. He was so influential. He came during my second year there. He was a great friend. I remember going to the train station to pick him up when he arrived.
You mentioned the Navy. When did you serve?
I’m one of the few living WWII veterans. Served in the Pacific.
Do you remember the first sermon you preached?
The first sermon? Sure do. It was the old First Church in Bryan, Texas. The pastor had his tonsils removed and couldn’t preach. Asked me to preach for him on Sunday night. I went to my older brother and got some pointers. I preached for a whole five minutes before I ran out of things to say. I told the Lord if He saw fit to give me the opportunity, I’d sure like another try. And He let me keep trying for the next 65 years.
I remember my last sermon, too. I was 99. I preached on how to know God: get in the Word and visit with Him often. I even preached one time at the National Convention. Brother Carl Cheshier asked me to preach the “moderator’s message” for him in Atlanta.** That was one of my greatest honors.
While I don’t pastor today, I still attend church faithfully, pay my tithes, and try to help in any way I can. I have a very active prayer list. I pray more now than I’ve ever prayed, from an hour to an hour-and-a-half every day. I pray for people specifically, by name. I pray for our churches; I pray for our pastors. I have one son, and he’s a pastor too. I’m so proud of him.
I may not be a pastor, but I am still faithful to tell people about the Lord. I get regular visits from Home Health. Not one of them comes through my door without hearing, “Do you know the Lord? Are you a Christian?”
What was your favorite book of the Bible to preach from?
John. No question, it was John. I admire John above the other disciples. And he shared so many good, practical things in his writing. Not just spiritual, but practical. How to live!
What advice would you give a young preacher?
Get in the Word! Stay in the Word! Preach the Word! Oh, and keep better records than I did. I can’t tell you how many weddings and funerals I did, but after 65 years of preaching, it was a whole bunch. I just wish I could remember them all.
How has church changed since you began preaching?
Oh, my! It has changed tremendously. People are so busy and sometimes too busy for the important things. Too busy for church. Too busy for each other. That concerns me.
What would you say to today’s Free Will Baptists?
It’s pretty simple. Get in the Word. Pray honestly for everything. Jesus will meet every need in our lives when we just turn our lives over to Him. Let Him lead, and you will have the greatest adventure you can imagine.
What are your thoughts as you look back on your long life?
My wife [Margaret] and I were married 73 years and eight days. I miss her. She was a good wife. Always made me smile to hear the kids at church call her “Mrs. Preacher.” I have two great children: my son Walter and my daughter Marilu. It has been a good life.
I’m ready to go whenever the Lord wants, but I turned my life over to Jesus a long time ago, and I don’t think he’s quite done with me yet. But when I go, I’ll go happy for every experience He gave me. Anything and everything good that I accomplished, Jesus helped me. Anything and everything good in my life, Jesus did it!
*Dr. Charles (Charley) Thigpen became the dean and later the president of Welch College from 1979-1989. He also served as the denomination’s moderator from 1954 to 1960, the youngest man ever to serve in that role. He died in late 2020 at age 94.
**Carl Cheshier served seven years as the moderator of the National Association and nine years as the assistant moderator. He honored Rev. Richards by asking him to deliver the opening message (the moderator’s message) of the convention business session at the 1999 meeting in Atlanta, Georgia.”
About the Author: Eric K. Thomsen is managing editor of ONE Magazine. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.