‘He lived his faith’

Published 8:12 am Wednesday, April 29, 2009

FRANKLIN—If there’s one thing people will remember most about the Rev. Ira D. “Tuck” Hudgins, it will be his love of people.

Second to that will be his love of Franklin.

Hudgins, who led one of Franklin’s most prominent congregations for more than three decades, died Tuesday morning after a long illness. He was 91.

A private service for family will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday in Poplar Spring. A memorial service will follow at 11 a.m. at Franklin Baptist, where Hudgins pastored for more than three decades.

“He had a knack with people,” said his wife of almost 61 years, Janet Hudgins. “He could get along with just about anybody.”

Hudgins leaves behind a legacy of caring that spans five decades in Franklin.

Fifty-eight years ago, Franklin Baptist called Hudgins — then a minister and graduate student in Pennsylvania — to be its pastor. He and Janet moved to Franklin in 1951 — and never left. Hudgins led Franklin Baptist until his retirement from full-time ministry in 1983, after which he remained active in the community, including longtime service in the Franklin Rotary Club.

“I can’t imagine Franklin without Tuck Hudgins,” said Eliza Rainey, longtime parishioner and friend. “He was just such a good, good man. He was involved in the community. And he cared about the people. I think he lived his faith.”

Hudgins was deeply rooted in Franklin.

“The key thing about my father was his dedication to Franklin,” said son David Hudgins. “He loved this town and its people, not only in his church but in the city and the county, too. Our community was a better place for his presence in it. He’s going to be sorely missed.”

Rainey said she knew Hudgins was a special man from the moment she met him.

“When we moved to town, he was one of the first people who came to welcome us to the community,” she said.

Dr. Robert T. “Bob” Edwards, a retired dentist and longtime member of Franklin Baptist, also was taken with Hudgins after hearing him preach.

“I came to Franklin in 1953,” he recalled. “My wife was a Methodist and I was a Baptist, so we decided we would visit both churches and decide which we would like to belong to. Dr. Hudgins was so impressive that we stayed. We are just elated that our three children grew up in that church. He was one of the finest people I have ever known, and my family loves him dearly.”

Edwards called Hudgins, who organized the local Alcoholics Anonymous chapter and was active in the Boy Scouts, a “pillar of the community.”

“All of us fell in love with him,” Edwards said. “It was amazing how many people loved that man. He helped people in any way they needed it.”

Edwards recalled that when his mother-in-law died, Hudgins drove two hours to Mathews to preach at her funeral.

“That’s how much we thought of him and how much he thought of us, and we have never forgotten it,” Edwards said.

John M. “Jack” Camp Jr., another longtime friend and parishioner who splits his time between Franklin and Wilmington, N.C., said he kept in touch with Hudgins during phone calls every few weeks.

“He was funny and quick-witted and delightful right to the very end,” Camp said. “He loved people, and he loved his work. He was a very warm person.”

Lois Minetree, a neighbor and member of Franklin Baptist, said she will remember her friend as kind, outgoing and intellectual.

“He was very thorough in his theology and a good teacher, a good example to follow,” she said. “We were so close; he was just like family. He was a wonderful friend to us and we loved him dearly.”

Hudgins is survived by his wife, who would have celebrated 61 years of marriage with him in June, and four sons, David and wife, Ann, Jonathan and wife Robin, Carter and wife Donna and Stephen and wife Susan, as well as nine grandchildren.

Though they were sad to hear of Hudgins’ passing, many acknowledged that the godly man led a full and happy life — one that would not go unnoticed anywhere.

“I’m distressed that Tuck has gone to meet his maker,” said Camp, “but I am sure it will be a happy time for the both of them.”