Dr. F. Bland Tucker
Francis Bland Tucker (1895-1984) was the thirty-seventh Rector of Christ Church. A Virginian by birth, he was the youngest of thirteen children. His father was an Episcopal priest, several members of his family became priests or missionaries, and his eldest brother was 19th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. His mother was a collateral descendant of George Washington. Life in the Tucker home was much like that of any large family whose life was centered around the church. The children memorized hymns by singing them as they did their daily chores. He went on to study at the University of Virginia and Virginia Theological Seminary. His seminary studies were interrupted by World War I, during which time he taught English in Kyoto, Japan and served with the American Expeditionary Forces in Verdun, France. Following his ordination to the priesthood, he served as rector of St. John’s, Georgetown (Washington, D.C) before his appointment to Christ Church in 1945. He retired in 1967, but remained in Savannah until his death on New Year’s Day, 1984.
Among the many descriptive accounts of Dr. Tucker’s ministry, Roger K. Warlick (1930-1998) wrote in his beautiful As Grain Once Scattered (1987), “He had a unique way of cutting through the smoke and haze that so often surrounded issues and moving directly to the point….if this appealing diversity had a secret additive that made all work together for good, surely it was his sense of humor. Not only did he use it to help others maintain their perspective on life, he did the same for himself. Thus, while he approached his calling and its labors very responsibly, he never took himself too seriously.” In 1948, Dr. Tucker was offered the appointment of Bishop of the Diocese of Western North Carolina, but he declined the honor because he felt there was still ‘much to do in his work here.’” He served Christ Church during a time of racial tension and struggle for civil rights. In his gentle and unassuming way, he worked tirelessly to end segregation in the church and in the community.
Among his many noteworthy achievements, Bland Tucker served on the Revision Committees for both the Hymnal 1940 and the Hymnal 1982, contributing six hymns to the 1940 and twenty-six to the 1982, among them translations from Latin and Greek, paraphrases of psalms and original texts. There are many stories of the committee meetings in Dr. Tucker’s living room in the old rectory on York Street. (The 1982 Hymnal Revision Committee felt so strongly about his input that they convened in Savannah, due to his declining health.) One afternoon, as the committee was struggling with a particular hymn’s inclusion, and as Dr. Tucker was napping in the corner, they woke him up to ask if he could write an added stanza, which he did, and which we now sing. I’m not making this up! Herein lies the reason for this writing. When we sing hymns like, “Father, we thank thee who hast planted” or “Songs of thankfulness and praise” or “The Lord my God my Shepherd is,” which we often do, do we realize these texts were penned by a former rector of our own church? When I served Wesley Monumental Church (1991-2011), we often sang the hymn, “All praise to thee, for thou, O King divine.” One Sunday after service, a member of the congregation asked me, “Did you know that the author of that text was Bland Tucker, former Rector at Christ Church?!!” Dr. Tucker’s immense contribution to American hymnody reaches far beyond the Episcopal Hymnal and across our borders. How many Bland Tucker hymns do you know?
Each and every time I have asked anyone who grew up under his leadership to “tell me a Dr. Tucker story,” I have observed a beatific smile forming, often times with an added tear, and then the dearest recollections pour forth. Laura Lawton remembered with great affection, “He was usually seen walking around town, from his house to the church or parish house. He was tall and had a big stride, and I can remember walking through the squares with him, taking two steps quickly to keep up with his long stride. Everyone knew he didn’t drink, and tomato juice was always available at the bar where everyone else drank plenty of Scotch and bourbon. His eldest brother, Henry St. George Tucker, was Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. [Remember, Bland was the youngest of thirteen children.] When asked if he was related to the Bishop, he responded, ‘distantly.’ After his wife, Polly, died, Dr. Tucker continued to live in the rectory on York Street. I can remember some of the ladies formed the ‘Tucker Team’ each member having a day to call and ask if he needed anything, or to pick him up and take him to the grocery store, if he wanted to go.”
Mollie Stone shared a brief story from her late mother, Clemmie Wheeler. “When the women of the church were disgruntled about something and prone to publicly display their disapproval, Dr. Tucker would say, “Don’t watch. Just pray.”
A former parishioner who was confirmed by Dr. Tucker recounted, “When he placed his big hands on my head at confirmation, I could feel the power of the Holy Spirit radiating through them.”
I’ll never forget Nancy Mercer Keith Gerard’s description of Dr. Tucker. She said, “He wept with us. He rejoiced with us.”
A few years back, as I stood at a reception table following a memorial service, I had a delightfully serendipitous conversation with a woman who had been a personal friend of Dr. Tucker’s. She relayed, “He was passionate about texts! While vacationing in Europe, he once found a text in Greek, copied it onto a paper napkin, came home and translated it, and now it is in our hymnal. He knew all the hymns, since he and his siblings sang them whilst doing all their chores. He never had to open a hymn book!”
The writing of this article took me on a little excursion to Bonaventure Cemetery, in search of Bland Tucker’s grave. I just felt like I needed to visit it, spend a few moments and say a prayer of thanks. After a brief walk, I found it in section A110, in the lower left hand corner of the Corbin plot, a simple, flat stone bearing the words, “I thank God through Jesus Christ Our Lord” and “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” Let’s keep the memory of Dr. Tucker alive in stories, photographs and his hymns, which I pray will be sung for generations to come.
Timothy L. Hall
Organist and Choirmaster