Tears came easily to him. Mostly tears of joy and gratitude. He was often beaming while his eyes filled. Some folks wear their hearts on their sleeves, but Charlie Parsons’ heart was reflected in his eyes.
On Oct. 25, Charlie, 88, died unexpectedly. Spokane lost a renowned horticulturist and florist, teacher, civic leader and an incredibly gentle man.
For many years my family attended the same church as Charlie and his wife, Dorothy.
An avid newspaper reader, he had a sharp eye for a good story, and he’d often call me with ideas or tips. His messages on my answering machine always started like this, “Hi Cindy, this is your friend Charlie.”
I wish I’d saved one of those messages.
For 18 years he owned and operated Coldwell-Garland Florists. He taught horticulture at Spokane Community College for 15. I often drove by his Five Mile home and marveled at his gardens. Charlie, it seemed, could make anything grow.
That’s why I was surprised to learn of his involvement with Prison Fellowship Ministries. Why would a man who spent so much time outdoors nurturing beautiful award-winning gardens want to visit men in stark, barren jail cells?
I decided to find out. And that’s when I discovered that Charlie, though a savvy newspaper reader and sweet man, was a very difficult interview.
My 2006 story was supposed to be about his work with the prison ministry, but Charlie did not want to talk about Charlie. Instead, he spoke of the inmates he’d met – whom he referred to as his friends. He wanted to talk about other volunteers. He wanted to talk about the work of Gideon’s International (another ministry he loved). He spoke about the grace and love of Jesus Christ, but he was loath to say anything about himself.
When pressed about why he chose to spend his retirement years visiting the incarcerated he finally said, “I had a desire to help people, and I knew there was hope for those in prison.”
When Dorothy began to experience health problems, Charlie curtailed his jailhouse visits and Bible studies. But he didn’t stop caring for prisoners. He became involved with the After Care arm of Prison Fellowship Ministries, writing as many as 16 letters per month to inmates in several states.
He showed me a scrapbook filled with correspondence from current and former inmates. One young man incarcerated in California wrote, “You’re a wonderful role model for me. I want to one day be like you.”
Another inmate wrote, “You’ve given me hope and strength.”
During Charlie’s memorial service a video was shown of him explaining his lifelong philosophy. He said when he was a young soldier serving in World War II the popular song “Accentuate the Positive” captured his heart. The lyrics go like this, “You’ve got to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative. Latch on to the affirmative, but don’t mess with Mister Inbetween.”
“I took that as a personal challenge,” Charlie said.
It was a challenge that all who knew him would say he met with overwhelming success.
The world needs gentle men like Charlie. Men who aren’t afraid to cry, to encourage, to affirm.
I know there aren’t supposed to be any tears in heaven, but I can’t help but picture Charlie there, caring for a riot of roses, and watering the fragrant blooms with his happy tears.
Heaven’s gardens will be all the more beautiful now that Charlie’s there to tend them.