James Edsel Burleson
Biographical Sketch On The Life Of Edsel Burleson
James Edsel Burleson was born in Marion County, Alabama, February 14, 1927. He was baptized into Christ in 1939 by W.A. Holley. He attended Freed-Hardeman University when it was a two year college, receiving his A.A. degree. Years later he attended Heritage University (then International Bible College). Edsel married the former Barbara Jane Wilson on June 28, 1947. They had five daughters. Their eldest, Jane, is Mrs. Mitch Lollar. Their second daughter was Ann, Mrs. Larry Tacker. Their third was Ruth. Their fourth child was Lynn, Mrs. Ralph Caudle. And, the youngest was Kay who is Mrs.Tim McMullins.
Edsel preached the gospel forty-six years. He began preaching near his home at the South Haleyville Church of Christ. He was there from 1948-1949. Later he served the Hamiton, Alabama congregation two different occasions, from 1949-1953, and 1955-1961. He served the Childersburg, Alabama church from 1953-1955. In 1961 he moved to Muscle Shoals to work with the Highland Park church. He was there until 1966. He later returned to Highland Park from 1973-1976. From 1966-1973 he served the church in Fayette, Alabama. In 1976 he moved to Birmingham to served the old West End congregation in her final years of existence. When the West End Congregation merged with Central church of Christ to become the Palisades Church, he became the associate minister with Tom McClure. (McClure's report of Edsel's death is published below.)
Brother Burleson was a prolific writer. His illustrations and articles are still being seen all over the internet. For years he was a staff writer for the World Evangelist. He wrote under the section entitled, "Unto You Young Men," a section primarily for young church leaders. His articles also appeared under the "Home Sweet Home" section as well. He was a dear friend to the World Evangelist and other publications. His articles appeared in the Gospel Advocate and the Firm Foundation. He spoke on various lectureships, and was engaged in Gospel Meeting work.
He was a big man. He was not fat, but tall and bigger than life, especially when he was standing in the pulpit. With his white hair and commanding voice, he could keep any audience in the palm of his hand during the entire period of his sermons. He had a wonderful voice and could sing with the best of folks.
Edsel passed from this life July 28, 1992, after a brief illness in a Birmingham hospital. Be sure to read the excerpt below from Barbara's inspiring letter to Basil Overton about Edsel's last hours.
It was my honor to have known Edsel and Barbara Burleson personally. I knew of no two finer people in all the earth. The last time my Jenny and I were with the Burlesons was when we went to West End to discuss support for our work in New Zealand in 1989. It was an honor to preach at the great historical church at West End, and be able to eat supper after the evening services with the Burlesons. I shall never forget visiting in his office there at the church building after the services. I noticed something that I had never seen before in a preacher's study. Edsel had his own restroom! While looking at his great library, he said, "Scott, go in the bathroom and wash the the brethren off your hands before we go out to eat." I chuckled, and have repeated those words hundreds of times over the years, each time remembering my dear friend, Edsel.
Besides appreciating the help Edsel gave me as a young preacher, his family and mine go back through the years. He started preaching at my home congregation, South Haleyville where my grandfather, Ralph Harp and great-grandfather, S.W. Turner, served as elders. It is where my father, Richard Harp, began preaching, and where I preached for about four years in the early 1990's. Many were the times when we reflected on the great church at South Haleyville. In the 1970's while attending Freed-Hardeman I was in the Freed-Hardeman Chorus with Edsel and Barbara's daughter, Ruth. We became good friends, and made wonderful memories, especially when visiting in Birmingham on a chorus trip staying in the Burleson's home.
Edsel and Barbara loved people. They loved young people. They loved Christian education. They loved students from Freed-Hardeman and International Bible College. They loved their dear friends in all the churches in which they served. They left many dear friends behind when they went home to be with the Lord. When Barbara's health was giving way, it was my joy to visit with her for some time while she was in the hospital in Birmingham. It was so sad to see her struggle. It was not long before she passed and went to be with the Lord in 2002.
Last year it was my joy to visit the grave of Edsel and Barbara Burleson. They touched my life, and helped to make me the person I am today.
Edsel Burleson Is Gone!
As I write this July 30, we have received news of the death of our beloved brother Edsel Burleson of Birmingham, AL. His funeral is to be tomorrow, July 31. For many years I have published in the Unto You Young Men column articles by Edsel which I have taken from the church bulletin he published. In a later issue of The World Evangelist there will be a story about this good man. I had already selected the article below and had the type set before he died. Edsel and I were friends since our days together at Freed-Hardeman College over 40 years ago. -- The Editor
-The World Evangelist, August, 1992 p.3
Farewell To Edsel Burleson: Partner, Brother, Friend
Sunday, July 5, began for my family in routine fashion: shower, dress, eat and make the drive to Shades Valley High School. The day was special because it marked the end of an era -- goodbye to Shades Valley and hello Palisades! The excitement of the occasion could be heard in the voices of those who greeted me at the school building -- people who had worked, sacrificed and lived for this wonderful day. Then the news began to circulate: Edsel and Barbara had left the premises. Edsel was suffering chest pains. They had gone to Lloyd Noland . . . no, they had gone to University Hospital. Was it his heart again? If not, would he feel well enough to preach tonight? Edsel had appeared to be gaining strength following his first attack. What was this all about?
Four weeks later all these questions have been answered in ways that a month ago we dared not expect. A malfunctioning heart valve and a build-up of fluid have conspired to end the physical life of a sweet and gentle man. In a day when we expect life spans to lengthen, his was over at age 65. I am inclined to ask the question "Why" and I will hazard to guess the answers and to share my thoughts with you.
Consider his genetic history. Edsel's father passed away at 61 years, having died of congestive heart failure. Of course medical authorities tell us that genetic factors can sometimes be moderated by lifestyle habits. What about those?
Consider his profession. The May issue of a popular magazine labels the ministry as one of the "toughest" jobs in America. The article's author describes the shift in mood in American society over the past 25 years from more "spiritual" to more "secular" and from a "work ethic" to a "consumer ethic." In other words, more and more people enter the church asking, "What can you do for me?" rather than "What can I do for the Lord?" That shift has taken its toll on ministers.
Consider his pulpit. For years it rested at the West End building. Today it stands at Palisades. The effort and struggle involved in facing the variety of challenges to attending the project to move that pulpit have been difficult for church members, church leaders and church staff alike. Edsel backed that project wholeheartedly, but the victories have not come easily.
Consider his library. As a minister Edsel devoted his life to speaking and writing about the Lord. We all know that good speakers must first be good listeners and good writers must first be good readers. Edsel's encouraging sermons and personable bulletin articles were the end product of numerous hours of reading, reflection and meditation -- deferring care for the body for the sake of engaging the mind.
Consider his mileage record. Over the course of a year Edsel logged thousands of miles in paying visits to hospitals, cemeteries, retirement homes, singings and individual's homes. As many of you know, travel can wear a body down. Consider his social life. I met Edsel several years ago at a dinner. He loved people and he thoroughly enjoyed table fellowship because it placed him in company with people.
By our best calculations the apostle Paul must have died around age 65. He died at that time as a result of his long term commitment to Christ and his involvement with the people whom he so dearly loved. I would apply the same explanation to brother Burleson's situation. (Perhaps he and Paul have discussed the matter already!) It is clear to me that Edsel's passion was to live the Christian life. It is -- to borrow his words, "The only life worth living, and the only death one would dare to die."
-- Tom McLure, Minister, Palisades Church of Christ Birmingham, AL (Editor's note:Tom McLure was the preacher for the Central Church of Christ in Birmingham when that congregation merged with West End Church of Christ. He and Edsel Burleson worked together at Palisades congregation.)
-World Evangelist, September 1992, page 5
Part Of A Letter From Edsel
Wednesday, August 12,1992
Dear Basil and Margie:
A great man is gone! We had 45 wonderful years together though. I feel that you and Edsel have been such good friends for so many years because you had such similar personalities -- always wanting to help someone else.
We have such wonderful memories of his last day on earth -- two weeks ago yesterday. After the nurse told us that morning he would not live much longer, we all (myself, our five daughters, their husbands, and the three granddaughters, and my brother John Wilson) circled his bed. They all took turns kissing him and telling him they loved him and he returned the kiss and said, "I love you too." Then we began singing, "Sing And Be Happy," "Heaven's Jubilee," "Paradise Valley," "He'll Pilot Me," etc. Then he began leading, "What A Friend We Have In Jesus," and we all joined in. He kept saying over and over, "In Jesus' name, Amen." Then he asked my brother to lead a prayer. Then, we all quoted the 23rd Psalm. Edsel said over and over, "Hallelujah." It was a "Precious Memories" day. We sang several other times in the CC Unit. I felt we touched lives even under such adverse circumstances. His doctor told him one day that he was a great man and that he loved him and he wished he was a member of our family. Very "out of character" for a doctor at most anytime, but especially one that had never seen him until we got to the emergency room, July 5. No matter what painful thing they did to him, he never failed to thank all the nurses and doctors or anyone else.
Please don't give it a second thought about not being able to come to the funeral. The building was full and overflowing. I had expressed regret that Edsel didn't get to walk into the new building and preach a single sermon but had to be carried in and one of my sons-in-law said, "But, he will be the first one to fill the building with his funeral being there. And, it was full."
Please feel free to publish any articles of Edsel's which you have. That way he will live on and on. Sometime ago, J. C. Choate asked him about publishing some of his articles in Telegu and English to be taken to India. Edsel gave him permission and we received several copies of the book. As I have mentioned it to others they would like to have a copy.
The girls and I taped singing to be played at his funeral. Tim Rice, Youth Minister at Adamsville read John 14 and told of our wonderful day on Tuesday. (I forgot to tell you that Edsel went into a coma about 5:00 P.M. and died at 11:30 P.M. July 28, 1992.) The blanket of flowers on the casket consisted of two white orchids for myself and Edsel; there were nine pink roses for the daughters and sons-in-law; three darker pink roses for the three granddaughters; and 45 American Beauty roses for our 45 years together. Quite meaningful! My brother, John Wilson, of Dresden, Tennessee led the prayer and Jack Wilhelm did the rest of the service. Tom McLure held the graveside service and it was beautiful too. He said a few words and then had everyone repeat Psalm 23. It was very moving. Edsel is buried at Jefferson Memorial Gardens-South in a beautiful cemetery.
We miss him
greatly but look forward to seeing him again. Several have said to me, "If Edsel
didn't make it to heaven, then there's no use in our even trying." He was a
kind, sweet, gentle man and everyone loved him. Thanks for writing me -- the
letter was so inspiring. Give my love to Margie and I hope to see you one of
Directions To The Grave Of Edsel Burleson
From the North: Edsel Burleson is buried in Birmingham, Alabama. Head south of Birmingham on I-65. Then go west on I-459. Take the first exit you come to, Exit 13, Hwy. 31/3. Head south until you come to Hwy. 150/John Hawkins Parkway, and turn right. Go about two miles and the Jefferson Memorial Gardens will be on right. Head up the hill into the cemetery. The burial plot can be seen on the little map below.
N33º 21.681' x W86º 49.870'
Grave Facing Southeast
2701 John Hawkins Pkwy
Accuracy to 13ft.
Section 6, Lot 18
Looking Back Toward The Northwest
Looking Back Toward Highway and Funeral Home