We Lose a Friend in TJ Liggett

Rev. Dr. Thomas Jackson Liggett, 1919 - March 27, 2012
Rev. Dr. Thomas Jackson Liggett, 1919 - March 27, 2012

To learn about Rev. Dr. T.J. Liggett’s distinguished service of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and his contributions to world peace and Christianity’s ecumenical movement , go to

http://www.disciples.org/DisciplesNewsService/tabid/58/itemId/1190/Updated-Disciple-leader-Rev-Dr-TJ-Liggett-die.aspx

After being introduced to him by my father on a subway in New York City in the mid – 1960’s, I didn’t see TJ again until the Liggetts’ move to California in the late 1980’s.  He enthusiastically greeted me after a church gathering as the son of a colleague (Dad was Executive for Asia) with whom he had shared much.   Liggett was fond of telling me about his first meeting with Dad on a snowy day in New Haven.  They were participating in a Yale sponsored gathering on Communism and Christianity and Dad revealed that TJ would soon be asked to join the world mission staff of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) as executive for Latin America.

When my father died in January of last year, I called TJ before leaving for the memorial service in Virginia.  For the first time, Liggett characterized for me what his relationship with Dad had meant to him.  “I never had a brother”, TJ noted, “but there have been a few people in my life who I knew I could go to for advice when I needed it.  I knew when I went to Joe I would always get a thoughtful response.”

TJ was an uncommonly kind man – and a profoundly loving one as well.  Undoubtedly the deepest, most lasting impression he has left on me comes from modeling of what it means to be a devoted spouse.  After choosing Pilgrim Place in Claremont for its excellent reputation for professional care, he made his personal care of Virginia his priority for years.  His devotion to her set an example my wife and I joked about never being able to emulate.

On my visits to their home in Claremont, Virginia sat at the window facing the busy Harrison Avenue and would first ask about my daughters.  While I learned about her grandchildren, TJ would be busy preparing tea and a plate of cookies.   No matter who the guest, I am certain there was never any question as to who was at the center of home life in the Liggett household.

On one of the few evenings when TJ took time away from Virginia, he spoke on a rainy night in Long Beach at the annual Disciples’ Regional Martin Luther King event.  In a memorable tribute, Liggett recalled learning of Dr. King’s assassination when he was at the Mindolo Ecumenical Institute in Zambia.  Without delay, the Institute staff had called the community together for prayer and testimony. In addition to this evidence of Dr. King’s impact worldwide, TJ wanted to us to know that for these African Christians King stood out as a man who declared that none of us are free until we are all free.

Along with many pictures of his family, Liggett displayed in his home the cane from Congo as a prized gift from his life of service of the world Church. The first President of the Church of Christ of Congo, the Disciple Bishop Bokeleale had presented TJ the ivory inlaid, ironwood cane on one of his trips to the U.S.  Another gift, this one from his years of Latin America service, was a rock paperweight on his desk.  The rock bore a quote from the Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno, one of Dr. Liggett’s intellectual mentors, “May we know if not the peace of God then let us know the glory of God”.  Through TJ Liggett I believe many of us, in the U.S., in Latin America and worldwide, came to know better the glory of God.

Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936):  “Think about the emotional and feel the intellectual”.
Miguel de Unamuno (1864-1936): “Think about the emotional and feel the intellectual”.
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