Escorted by police and ushered on his final earthly journey with tears and admiration, Jim Nabors departed Alexander City for the final time Wednesday after being hailed as a man who gave of himself to leave the community better than when he willingly inherited its predicaments.
Nabors, 76, who was elected mayor in 2016, died suddenly early Monday morning from complications following emergency surgery to remove an intestinal blockage.
During a service at First Baptist Church in downtown Alexander City, Revs. Dr. Steve King and Dr. Gerald Hallmark said they were not officiating at a funeral but merely commemorating Nabors’ homegoing.
Next door, city hall remained open and the business of government continued uninterrupted even as Nabors, who was notoriously uneasy speaking in front of crowds, was eulogized before a couple hundred mourners.
The first seven rows on one side of the church were filled with city councilmembers, officials and employees, including new mayor Tommy Spraggins, and they heard Hallmark define Nabors as a sacrificial, gracious, generous gentleman who came out of retirement and devoted himself to rebuilding the city’s image and its guts following the massive loss of Russell Corp. jobs and internal strife.
“Jim was a good man and not just in terms of morality,” Hallmark said. “He had a heart and a personality. He was honest and real. We’ve lost a good man. But a person has already lived their funeral; what they’ve done in their life is already speaking. … As we leave this place today, we say thank you to Jim, thank you for showing us what a Godly, Christian man is. That was his funeral. He lived it every day.”
Hallmark stood before the closed coffin adorned with a folded American flag and spray of red and white roses — Nabors was a University of Alabama alumnus — and brought levity to the otherwise solemn occasion by observing the mayor was not in his accustomed place in the church.
“As his pastor for over 20 years, how many times have I stood in this pulpit and looked out and back in that corner was where Jim was,” Hallmark said while waving his hand toward the rear of the sanctuary. “We should probably move the casket back there so he will be more comfortable. He stayed back there so he could get in quick and get out quick. I made sure the offering plate was quicker than he was.”
In reality, nobody was quicker to give of himself in Alexander City than Nabors and that is because he was guided by Jesus Christ, Hallmark said.
“He was a generous man,” Hallmark said. “He gave of himself and I’m not talking about money. He gave himself to his family, friends and community. I remember with the school system we were having 1,001 problems and he became superintendent and almost overnight things began to settle down. People said, ‘This man can handle it.’ Then he made his run for mayor and everybody was thrilled. He won with 73 percent of the vote because the people knew he would give of himself. It was his generosity. Brother Jim was always there. He was going to make sure things were done decently and in order.”
Nabors brought his pristine reputation as a financial virtuoso developed during a lengthy career at the pinnacle of the Russell Corp. to decipher the city’s books and build rapprochement in a city hall many said had become divisive and dysfunctional.
“Jim was a gracious man,” Hallmark said. “He was positive and looked at the good side of things. He didn’t look at our city and just see that it lost a major employer, he saw our city as an investment. And he saw that things were done justly and right. He was honest and virtuous. Jim was also a gentleman and a gentle man. He didn’t use rough language or dictate to someone. I’ve looked at his resume, as you all have, and if you’re not a gentleman it doesn’t mean a thing.”
Hallmark said the congregants should take comfort in knowing Nabors earned eternal life through a lifetime of actions.
“We are not here to bemoan or grieve, we’re here to celebrate because as Christians we know where they are,” he said.
While Hallmark acknowledged the ache of losing Nabors will linger, he said God decided it was time for the mayor’s suffering from numerous health problems to end.
“He has no more stuff to worry about,” Hallmark said. “The thing that counted in his life was Jesus Christ. The other night Jim laid that stuff down. He stood before the Lord and He knew Jim had given Him his heart and the Lord said, ‘Welcome, enter in thy good and faithful servant.’ The moment Jim closed his eyes on this world, he saw the face of God. He heard the angels. He walked the streets of heaven. What would you bring him back for? Pain? Hurt? Disappointment?”
Certainly not to be separated any longer from his beloved wife Marie, of whom he spoke often and whose death four years ago permanently bruised his heart.
“I remember when Marie was sick and we didn’t think she’d make it,” Hallmark said. “We’d be in the hospital and praying for her and I would see the tears in his eyes. He was heartbroken. Then she’d get better and he’d perk up. Finally, she did pass away and four years later his heart was still broken. He loved her. He could never get over it. She used to joke in the hospital that Jim was going to bury her out in the woods somewhere. When she died and we took her to Mulberry Baptist Church, I was thinking she was right. But he will be next to her shortly.”
After the service, Nabors’ body was taken in a 60-mile procession to Maplesville, where he was buried next to his wife in the Mulberry Baptist Church cemetery after a private graveside ceremony. There, the Alexander City police honor guard accorded Nabors full tribute with a 21-gun salute and the playing of “Taps.”
“One thing undergirds our response to this moment and that is there is more than the here and now,” King said during the service in Alexander City. “When we stand before the grave, things that once mattered so much don’t matter anymore.
“Jesus promises there is life after the grave. Today we celebrate all the wonderful things about brother Jim Nabors’ life — he loved his family, he was a sincere man, a generous man, a great businessman, he sacrificed for others, he adored his wife, he was a stable figure in our city, he made tough decisions with compassion, he was a man of vision. But none of that is why brother Jim Nabors enjoys eternal life today. Jesus asked, ‘Do you believe?’ We celebrate that today for brother Jim Nabors because otherwise this would be a very sad occasion.”