I met him first when he was aged 78 or 79. He was one of the gang of three retired priests who worship and serve at All Angels by the Sea Church on Longboat Key, Sarasota.
He was handsome and very tall, with an elegant upright posture. Sometimes he would sit with his lovely wife, at other times he would read the gospel and assist with the administration of the Holy Communion.
His handshake was firmer than firm, and bond crushingly strong. He would greet people with a huge smile and with corny wisecracks. It was clear that he was finding it hard to recall names - so parishioners would hear him greet them as “Grandpa” or “Grandma”.
He began to fail very quickly, stricken with brain cancer. I visited him three times in a Rehabilitation Centre, and it was clear that he did not know me. Ne’er mind - he was still so pleased to see me! On my last visit he found it almost impossible to communicate. There were four other folks with him – I soon discovered that they were all Episcopalians. I decided to prayer before leaving, and I began to recite the old “General Thanksgiving” from our services of Morning and Evening Prayer. There was an older time in which almost every Episcopalian knew that prayer by heart. On that day at the Rehabilitation Centre it came rushing back into Ken’s mind, and he prayed it alongside us!
Ken died on August 5th. His “Requiem Eucharist” was yesterday. Ken’s wife Ruth had arranged for a biographical sketch to be included in the service booklet.
As I read it I began to wish that I had met Ken long before 2007. I hadn’t a clue about his hard and rich life.
He was a Saxophonist, and had a passion for Jazz.
I discovered that he, and a Jewish roommate, had endured racial/religious bigotry at Yale University. They were actively and deliberately turned away when they attempted to join a fraternity. Rather than focus on what could not be, the roommates created the College’s first Athletic Booster Club.
He had been a baseball player in College – a pitcher. One of his pitched balls went awry and hit another player – who later became known to the whole world as President George Herbert Walker Bush.
On March 21st 1965 Ken marched with the Revd. Dr. Martin Luther King in Montgomery, Alabama.
He was an early advocate for the ordination of women and mentored and guided three women and two men in their journeys to Priesthood.
He became the first Director General of the Ibru Centre at Agbarha-Otor, a village in the Nigerian Delta. This was a place which attracted both Christians and Muslims for training.
As his family left the Church yesterday afternoon I was moved to see the tears coursing down the faces of his adult children and grandchildren.
You know -- the reason that I knew so little about the Revd. Kenneth Higginbotham until yesterday is because I never asked. I wish that I had been more curious about this striking man. I am making a note to myself to ask older folks about their lives so that I will learn to appreciate them in life as well as in death.