Beloved Presbyterian minister lives well, loves well, and leaves well

Presbyterian Rev Ellis Lee Graves sets off for Brazil in 1941In March, 1941, Kentucky born and bred Ellis Lee Graves needed a year of experience before the Mission Board would send him to Brazil. He spent that year at Hamptonburgh Presbyterian Church in Campbell Hall, NY. On his way to Brazil, he stopped in Ludlow, KY, to say goodbye to his mother and to give a sermon in the church where he grew up.

In the choir that Sunday morning, pretty 24-year-old Faith Storm, wearing a pink suit, gazed at the handsome young minister. She heard a voice say, “This is the man you’re going to marry.” She was sure the voice came from God.

It was Palm Sunday, the final Sunday before Easter. Faith was one of the last to leave church that day. On her way out, she introduced herself to the new minister. And she lingered. He asked her to lunch and spent the time peppering her with questions. Did she play the piano? Had she attended college. Could she type? Have children?

And after lunch, the big one: “Would you be the mother of my children?”

Faith said, “I will go home and pray about it.”

God voted: Yes.

That July Faith and Ellis were married. They sailed to Brazil in December, arriving on Pearl Harbor Day. In Brazil they served as missionaries for 20 years. They returned to the U.S. when Faith, at 45, contracted breast cancer and underwent a radical mastectomy. The surgery was clearly successful. Faith is now 98. She and Ellis were married for 64 years. Back in the States, Ellis became a minister at Trinity Church in Clearwater, FL.

Daughter Phyllis, a golfing pal of mine, adored her father. At 63, he’d been given a year to live. He died at 94. His daughter says her father lived so much longer than predicted that she considered him a super hero: “The Amazing Immortal Ellis.”

But her dad wasn’t immortal after all. The 3 weeks he spent in the hospital before he died were “rough,” Phyllis says. Her father spent them reminding his family how much he loved them and thanking his wife for empowering him to live his dreams.

Phyllis says her dad’s funeral in Clearwater was “perfect.” Rev. Graves outlined his own funeral years before, so his family knew what he wanted. There was just one problem. His instructions named who he wanted to participate in the service. He outlived them all. Phyllis, her brother Bob Graves, and sister Arlene Jullie all spoke.

In memorializing her father, Phyllis talked about how he had memorized the names of all 1700 members of his congregation. About how he raved about every meal she’d ever cooked for him. “For a while, I thought my scrambled eggs were something extraordinary.” About how his favorite sentence was “Phyllis, how many times have I told you I love you?” She concluded her remarks by looking up. “I wish Heaven could have waited just a little longer so I could tell you one more time how much your little girl loves you.”

Later that day Phyllis went for a walk on the Ringling bridge in Sarasota where she lives. Several occurrences convinced her her father’s spirit was still with her. Her dad loved the bridge, she says. Then a helicopter flew overhead, followed by a sailboat below. A yellow Lamborghini zoomed past. Her dad was a pilot, always had a boat, and loved fast cars.

“I was so feeling Dad,” she says.

Phyllis Keyser holding the disk she foundAnd then she spotted something on the ground. She stopped, bent down, and picked it up. Her jaw dropped. In her hand was a metal disk the size of a quarter. It was, indeed, a quarter. Only this was no ordinary quarter. Someone had blackened the front and etched it with numbers identifying the famous Bible verse: John 3:16.

As Phyllis told me the story at lunch, she drew the coin from a small plastic box in her handbag. Showing it to me, she repeated the Bible verse: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Wow, Phyllis. Thanks for giving us all goosebumps.

Closeup of the disk Phyllis found

(And thanks to my good friend Terri Kowalski for first mentioning the story to me.)

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9 thoughts on “Beloved Presbyterian minister lives well, loves well, and leaves well

  1. Will and Willi Volkmer

    We were members of Trinity Presbyterian Church in the early sixties, and loved our new minister and his wife. Although we left Florida after five years, we continued to return through the years and our friendship with Ellis and Faith deepened…the two of them have had a tremendous effect on our lives…very special people of God. We have loved them both. Will and Willi Volkmer

    1. Suzy Farbman Post author

      So glad you enjoyed. Thanks for the lovely comment. In the next couple of weeks, I will run a column about another fantastic Presbyterian minister, Andre Trocme of Le Chambon in France. Hope you enjoy that as well.

  2. FRANCENE KAPLAN

    Of all the wonderful stories you have written this may be my favorite. What a gift you have to love people and find their stories.

    1. Suzy Farbman Post author

      Thanks for the delightful comment. I’ve been blessed to have wonderful people share wonderful stories. Glad you enjoyed.

    1. Suzy Farbman Post author

      Thanks, Barb. I thought it was a really special one. (But then again, I think they all are!) Appreciate your taking the time to comment.

  3. Suzy Farbman

    Thanks, Rodney and Linda, for the nice comments. And I agree, Rodney–Faith Storm’s name is classic.

  4. Linda Milne

    Another great story, Suzy! You continue to let us know about some pretty amazing people in this world. Very uplifting! Thanks!

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