I always knew Dallas DJ, Ron Chapman, as Uncle Ralph. He was my dad’s younger brother. So, if I ricochet between the two names, you’ll understand.
I remember my dad telling me that he had preached a sermon featuring his brother as the centerpiece. In fact, he stated that Uncle Ralph was a model for understanding God. I know, right? That verges on heresy!
So what prompted a sermon that exulted his kid brother in such a way? Ron and his lovely wife, Nance, invited my parents, Jim and Katie Chapman, to join him for a cruise. This is not the sort of cruise most of us take–where thousands of people are crammed into small cabins sharing tainted, recirculated air. While most of us would welcome that sort of vacation but Ron had a different excursion in mind! He chartered a ship that came with a staff, including a private chef. He also invited his sister and her husband, Florence and Fred Littauer. The six of them were the sole passengers. With a crew ready to meet their every need, they headed out into aqua waters where they had days to connect with each other. Since all three siblings were public speakers, I can only imagine the volume and constancy of their conversation!
So how does this turn Uncle Ralph into a model example for God? Ron had a gift for creating significant moments. He knew who he was inviting into any particular experience. He knew their gifts and shaped the experience to more than satisfy their needs and desires. He was a gracious host and expected nothing in return. My dad stated that, if his brother invited him to join in on an adventure, he would drop everything, pack a bag, and run to meet him. He could completely trust that his little brother, Ralphie, would know what suited him best and have a great experience in store. My dad preached that this gives us an understanding of our God. The One who created us is trustworthy. God knows us intimately and directs our lives so that our needs are more than met. God grants us the deepest desires of our hearts. When we encounter God, we are imprinted with memories that transform us. In this way, dad appreciated the way his brother reflected an image of the divine. That’s a pretty high compliment to give the brother who slept on the bunk beneath you!
As they disembarked from the ship, my dad stood before his brother and said he was unable to adequately express his gratitude for such a tremendous gift. He described his brother’s response to his words of thanks. As my father fawned all over him, Ralph simply smiled modestly and said,
IT’S SOMETHING I CAN DO.
No fanfare. No egotistical posturing. No consideration of what my dad owed him because of his extravagance. Simply joy that he could provide for his siblings this fantastic time of respite from the daily grind.
ITS SOMETHING I CAN DO.
One brother for another, the younger treating the older to a memorable vacation.
ITS SOMETHING I CAN DO.
These are the brothers who shared a bunk bed in the same room as their dad. He was older than most dads so he got the twin bed. His wife, my grandmother, shared a daybed with her daughter. Every morning it was folded away to make a little more space in their tiny communal area. Running a general store for their town, they lived in three small rooms behind that store. One was the bedroom that became the men’s quarters. One was a small communal space that had room only for a table with four chairs. (That’s right, there were five of them.) The daybed that my grandmother and aunt slept on served as a couch during daylight hours. The third room was a small bathroom that had a sink and toilet. No bathtub or shower. Water was heated for a bath each Saturday. Four of the family members vacated the living space so that one of them could bathe. One after another was given privacy to clean up for the week.
Ralphie was the youngest of three. His two older siblings followed the rules and excelled at school. Ralph had different gifts. From an early age he was aware of his family’s meager circumstances. Of course, most families were living with financial limitation because of the depression. But the living conditions of the Chapmans of Haverhill, Massachusetts seemed a bit more austere than they did for many. My father was four years ahead of Ron and Florence was eight years older. So Ron continually felt that he lagged behind them. He was aware of the mountain he needed to climb to measure up to their sizable accomplishments. With a steely resolve, Ralph’s mantra was born:
I’LL SHOW ‘EM!”
It’s evident to me that Ron Chapman’s genius as a DJ and his caring nature was forged in that store. The family lived their private life in the public eye. The only place that had ample room to seat five around a table was in the store. So, as they sat down to eat their dinner, they knew it was entirely possible that Mrs. Miller would stop by to purchase laundry soap during their dinner hour. When she did, she would interact with the whole family as they ate their baked beans and spam supper. Then one of them would step away from the table to ring her up. From a young age the three Chapman siblings were taught to ask, “May I help you? Is there something I can help you find?”
In spite of their meager finances, it was a home where there was plenty of laughter with enough love to go around. They claimed joy amidst poverty. And the youngest child developed a tenacity to persevere, to see it through, and to help folks out.
All of these attributes prepared Ron for a very public life. He lit up a room. He was the life of the party without seeking attention. He was driven to prove that the youngest would not just succeed but thrive! In fact, he once jumped out of an airplane to show that he could SOAR! Neither of his accomplished siblings dared to undertake such a feat!
Just as his parents continually welcomed people into their home, Ron invited his listeners to greet each new day with him. There was always room for more at Ron’s “morning show” party. For a city of Dallas moms, time spent with Ron while getting the kids off to school wasn’t tedious. It became FUN! He called out the best in people. He affirmed their gifts. He prepared them for each day with weather and traffic reports. Ron relayed the news of the world to his people. Even as he covered stories from across the globe, he knew what mattered most: the places we call home. He never took for granted that he was invited into so many people’s lives. As they sat at table drinking their coffee or fought traffic while driving to work, Ron was a trusted companion for the journey.
I remember my father smiling as he said to me in the last stage of cancer, “I can’t imagine the world without Jim Chapman.” I was privileged to spend the weekend in Dallas with family members, remembering the impressive life of my uncle. We agreed that we can’t imagine the world without Ron Chapman, even though we’ve been living that reality for several days. His larger-than-life personality is noticeably absent. I suspect many of us remember moments when he did something kind for us. We still marvel at a generous gesture. So I give God thanks for a man who could say with a shrug, after treating someone to an extraordinary moment, “It’s something I can do.”
Ron was modest in thinking ahead to his death. He suggested that those who cared for him could remember him by going to their favorite bar and raising a glass to him. So I raise a glass to remember Ron, a man who magnificently combined humility with generosity, who laced the ho-hum morning news with an element of humor.
I toast a man who cherished the intimacy of his own family while keeping good company with thousands of listeners who welcomed him into the privacy of their homes.
I offer a toast to celebrate Ron Chapman who exceeded his childhood resolve because
HE SHOWED ‘EM, DIDN’T HE?!
We are impressed! But, more significantly, we are blessed.
Rest in glorious peace, Uncle Ralph.