Small children thought he was God.
He stood 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighed more than 300 pounds. His hands were like baseball mitts, his shoes size 16, triple E. His deep voice started somewhere below his sternum, and to 6-year-old boys, it shook the Earth.
And that’s when he wasn’t angry.
The Rev. Clifton E. Hamp, bishop, pastor and father figure to hundreds of children, died Monday. He had been sick since February when he suffered a burst blood vessel in his brain. He was 81.
Today he is mourned by the children who eventually realized Hamp wasn’t God, but was only showing them God’s love.
He is mourned by the congregation of the Spokane church he founded in 1960.
He is mourned by the thousands of strangers to whom he gave clothing, food, money and Thanksgiving dinners.
And he is mourned by his wife who just last week begged him to get better, to come home and “boss me around a little more.
“He needed to rest,” said Ruth Hamp, the minister’s wife of almost 17 years. “Nobody’ll miss him like I’ll miss him.”
Hamp was a porter for Burlington Railroad when he decided to join the ministry. He came to Spokane in the 1950s and worked as an assistant pastor. In 1960, he helped found the Full Gospel Mission Church for All Nations in a renovated house on East Pacific. He was pastor when the congregation built its permanent home at 1912 E. First.
The church’s mission was simple and dear to Hamp’s heart: to lend a hand to the needy, regardless of race, creed, color or denomination.
To that end, Hamp lived his life.
He gave money to the strangers who knocked on his door. He gave away thousands of turkey dinners over the years on Thanksgiving and Christmas. He invited poor children from all over the city to his summer camp.
He operated Hamp’s Camp on a shoestring, every year making a public plea for donations so more children could attend.
Jessie Marshall remembers going to the camp when it was at Newman Lake with her seven siblings throughout the ‘60s.
“There was this bull up there we would taunt,” she said. “We were bad.”
Marshall, who works for Hewlett-Packard, was driving by the parsonage Monday when she saw all the cars.
“I knew then he’d died,” she said. “After my father died, he was the only father I’d known.”
Unable to have children, Hamp and his first wife, Mary Pauline, adopted a son from a single mother who lived nearby.
Growing up, James Hamp said he was jealous of his father’s charity work. It was hard to understand how his father could buy coats, hats, gloves and boots as Christmas presents for a family of eight, when his own son only received a shirt.
“I was getting the greater gift, the gift of love,” he said.
Many of the 30-something and 40-something people who gathered at Hamp’s house Monday talked about his authoritarian manner.
“He would give you guidance with that rough hand of his,” said James Hamp, now an Army recruiter.
“He never even hit me and I was afraid of him,” Marshall said.
The Rev. Jerry Jones vividly recalled his first encounter with Hamp. Jones had been sliding down the banister at the church, despite his mother’s warnings not to.
Jones spotted “the giant” looming in a doorway, watching him. He lost his balance and fell. When he came to, Hamp was looming over him.
“You stay off that rail, do you hear me?” Hamp warned.
Jones, now head pastor at the church, is just as stern with the boys he catches sliding down that same banister.
Jones said he was proud to count himself among the dozens whom Hamp loved enough to spank. In the same breath, the young pastor rattled off the gifts Hamp gave him:
“I would have never learned to fish, to row a boat. I would have never recognized my call to God,” he said.
Linda Bixby, a board member of March for Jesus, an annual spring event in downtown Spokane, said the May 17 march will be a tribute to Hamp’s lifetime of dedication.
“He loved children and he had a special love for urban children,” she said. “He understood they need guidance and love and families. That was his heart.”
Viewing: Ball and Dodd South 6-7 p.m. Friday. Funeral: 11 a.m. Saturday, Full Gospel Mission Church for All Nations, 1912 E. First. Donations: Hamp’s Camp, P.O. Box 4041, Spokane WA 99202
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos
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