Other than in the pages of Spectrum, I first met Roy Branson back about 1983. He was reporting on that year’s Annual Council for Spectrum, and I was doing so for the Adventist Review. Our paths crossed on several occasions during the meetings, and we commented to each other briefly about various aspects of what was going on.
Roy was always friendly and relaxed. But I didn’t have time to be too friendly, and certainly not relaxed. I’d promised my editor, William G. Johnsson, that I would cover the event more comprehensively and with greater journalistic objectivity than Spectrum would. Moreover, the Adventist Review was a weekly; Spectrum was a quarterly. So our readers would get my report far earlier than Roy’s readers would get his. I was trying to render Spectrum redundant! (The fact that we as an Adventist Review staff were so determined to do better than Roy gives some insight into the impact Spectrum was making in the hallowed halls of the General Conference and the reputation Spectrum had for being the only place where you could get the news the church wasn’t willing to share.)
If memory serves me correctly, it was only a few months after my having soundly thrashed Roy in the “Annual Council Journalism Contest” (it didn’t really happen that way—I’m just indulging my inner Donald Trump!) that Roy stopped by my office to discuss an article about Adventists and the military that I’d submitted to Spectrum two or three years earlier, where it had lain in the files, and he had just rediscovered it. I updated it, he printed it, and I quickly learned that some of those who occupied the hallowed halls of administration definitely felt it ill-advised for an assistant editor of the Adventist Review to have his byline in a publication such as Spectrum—particularly when his article wasn’t fully parroting the party line. (By the way, Bill Johnsson wasn’t among those who complained.)
Over the years, my path and Roy’s crossed on numerous occasions, most of them having to do with Spectrum or Adventist Forum events. He was always a delight to be around, and I always felt my mind had been stretched because of our interaction. One of the things I noticed was that Roy’s social participation always included a good dose of just listening and observing. His approach reminds me of a sign I once saw on a Quaker meeting house: “You make a lot more friends with your ears than with your mouth.” Roy understood that—though he certainly wasn’t afraid to speak.
About ten years ago, when I was serving as pastor of Markham Woods Church in Orlando, Florida, I received a phone call one day from Roy. He enthusiastically described a new venture he was undertaking with pre-law students at Columbia Union College—mock-trial competitions. Although Sabbath conflicts precluded the Adventist students’ participation on the actual collegiate competition circuit, he had arranged for the CUC team to participate in some exhibition matches that were scheduled for Sundays. One of them was slated for Orlando, and he was wanting to find a congregation where the CUC students would be welcome on Sabbath and receive some affirmation for what they were doing. So not only did the students visit our congregation with him, where they told about the competition, but one evening we took them to a local restaurant, where the church not only fed them but invited local Adventist lawyers to join us so they could talk to the students about the ins and outs, ups and downs of being an Adventist in the legal profession. This was repeated for three years running, if I remember correctly.
The reason I’m telling this is to describe the rapport Roy had with his students. It was impressive to see. Here he was, past retirement age, starting a new labor- and time-intensive venture so young people in the Adventist Church could honor the Sabbath but not miss out on the educational experience and sheer excitement of participating in mock-trial competitions. It was clear to any observer that the students loved and respected him greatly—as the August 8 memorial service in his honor reinforced so beautifully.
To many of those in the hallowed halls of administration, Roy was an Adventist fringe dweller. He was suspect. Not to be trusted. A danger and a threat. What those with such an attitude will probably never understand is that Roy was invested in the very heart of Adventism in ways very few people have ever been. He simply cared enough to not be willing to turn a blind eye to the church’s foibles, shortfalls and blindspots, be they theological or administrative. But his heart was totally there. And with his passing, the Adventist Church has lost a great blessing that the majority didn’t even realize they had. Tragically, that blessing will be understood even less—by the ones who most need to understand it—as the church takes decided steps to once again sweep under the carpet the range of issues that Roy was so adept at bringing to the fore.
Indeed, he will truly be missed.