REO Pays Tribute: Leeman Underwood

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Editor’s Note: We believe it is good and right to honor the men and women who have inspired, encouraged, and challenged us throughout our lives. REO Pays Tribute will be our ongoing attempt to do just that. We hope that our meager words will honor those to whom honor is due.

 

Leeman Underwood by Steve Lytle

It was probably 1972, the year Judy and I married, when I met Leeman Underwood, but I had heard about him before then. His daughter Gail was his oldest child and she was Judy’s cousin and best friend growing up. She was a senior at Free Will Baptist Bible College (Welch) when we were freshmen.

Leeman was born in Flat River (Park Hills), Missouri, but grew up in Fredericktown, Missouri, the son of Vester and Edith Underwood. He came to know Christ as a young man, and grew up in Copper Mines Free Will Baptist Church. Born in 1923, he joined the army and fought in World War II. His sister Lillian, two years younger, finished his 12th grade work in 1942 so that he could graduate from high school with his class.

When he returned from the war, Leeman married Laura Bayless, from Knob Lick, MO. They settled down in Fredericktown, where Leeman was employed in the lead mines and where they had four children: Gail, Greg, Sue, and Pam. He was ordained as a deacon at the Copper Mines Church. He and Judy’s mom frequently sang specials at church; he had a beautiful tenor voice, and she sang a strong alto.

When the mines began to close in the late 1950s, Leeman moved his family to East St. Louis, Illinois for a year and worked there. When he heard of jobs in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, he and Laura decided to move the family there, though it was a long way from southeast Missouri. They went to Oak Ridge in 1959, and began working at one of the nuclear energy plants in Oak Ridge, and worked there until his retirement. They moved into their house on Lancaster in 1965, and he has lived there ever since.

Leeman, Laura, and the children attended the First Free Will Baptist Church in Oak Ridge, where he was elected as a deacon. They faithfully served there for over 50 years.

Leeman loved to travel. They frequently went back “home” to Missouri to visit his old home church, and his family and friends. He always enjoyed returning for his high school reunion. Some of his family went with him in 2016. He was one of two attending from the class of 1942.  Even closer to home in Oak Ridge, he  goes out on Saturdays with his daughter Sue for long drives to enjoy the beauty of the mountains. Cades Cove is still a favorite destination of his, to see the mountain vistas, and the wildlife there. On more than one occasion, Leeman and Laura woud travel to be with Judy and me for special missions services, and were faithful to support and pray for our ministry through the years.

Leeman was an extraordinary ordinary man. Quiet, mild mannered, kind, he loved his Lord and his church.  He loved his family; I don’t know if I’ve seen anyone else who loved his kids and grandchildren any more than Leeman did. There were pictures of them all over the house, and it seemed like every time we went to visit, some of the grandkids were always there. They loved hanging out with Grandma and Grandpa.

Judy and I visited the Underwoods numerous times over the years. We stayed in their home frequently when traveling for International Missions to visit churches in Missouri, North Carolina, and Tennessee.

The oldest daughter, Gail, married a preacher and became a pastor’s wife. She died of cancer in 1995 while just in her forties. We were in Panama and couldn’t come back for the funeral. Shortly afterwards, we came home for our stateside assignment and went to see Leeman and Laura. I remember spending time with them, talking about Gail, and watching some of the early Gaither Homecoming Videos, hearing songs about Heaven and our hope in Christ. We shed quite a few tears on those occasions, but they were tears of hope and joy. Gail’s death was very hard on Leeman and Laura, but God gave grace and life went on.

In recent years, time has brought many changes to Leeman and the Underwood family.  We were privileged to attend their 50th wedding anniversary in 1996. Aunt Laura passed away in 2011. Leeman still lives in his own house, but his youngest daughter, Pam and her husband Butch, live with him, and provide care and companionship.  He has chronic beryllium disease,  caused by exposure to beryllium while working as a machinist in the Oak Ridge factory for so many years, and taking the small particles into his lungs.  More recently, he began to experience kidney failure, and was actually on dialysis for eight months some years back, but miraculously was able to come off of this treatment for several years.  Now it seems to have come back.

On his good days, he sits in the living room watching old westerns on TV and enjoying his company – family, friends, and people from his church.

It is a blessing, and an honor for me to pay tribute to Leeman Underwood. A true man of God, and one of the kindest, most hospitable men I have ever known.

I have said that Leeman was a good singer.  Perhaps his best known song was “I Thirst,” by Beverly Lowry. I only know he sang it from the heart, as a testimony, and he sang it well.

One day I came to Him, I was so thirsty
I asked for water, my throat was so dry
He gave me water that I have never dreamed of
But for this water, my Lord had to die

He said, “I thirst, ” yet He made the rivers
He said, “I thirst, ” yet He made the sea
“I thirst, ” said the King of the Ages
In His great thirst, He brought water to me
Now there’s a river that flows as clear as crystal
It comes from God’s throne above
And like a river, it wells up inside me
Bringing mercy, and life-giving love

He said, “I thirst, ” yet He made the rivers
He said, “I thirst, ” yet He made the sea
“I thirst,” said the King of the Ages
In His great thirst, He brought water to me.1

 

Leeman Underwood holding his great-granddaughter.

  1.   I Thirst, by Bev Lowry, copyright 1993.

5 thoughts on “REO Pays Tribute: Leeman Underwood

  • February 15, 2017 at 4:30 pm
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    There is so much more we could say about my uncle. He is dearly loved by family and friends. Thanks Steve for thinking about writing this.

    Reply
  • February 15, 2017 at 4:48 pm
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    It is a wonderful tribute for a wonderful man of God.

    We will be doing more of these in the future.

    Reply
  • February 15, 2017 at 5:11 pm
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    Thank you for the kind words about Dad. He’s an amazing man and I love him so much.

    Reply
  • February 15, 2017 at 10:42 pm
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    I fondly remember Leeman Underwood and his family. Most of his kids were slightly older than I was when Dad pastored in Oak Ridge, so I of looked up to them — important for a firstborn! This is such a fitting tribute. God bless him and all his family.

    Reply
  • February 15, 2017 at 11:45 pm
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    As a youngster I enjoyed visiting my Aunt Sis and Uncle Leeman in Fredericktown. He was always smiling and joyful. He was and is a great example for all of us.

    Reply

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