I’ve got Uncle Tom on my mind | Guest column

I like the name Augustus. It has a regal sound to it.

With this column, I begin my 16th year as the faith and values columnist for the Mercer Island Reporter. I love the month of August. It’s when summer days truly live up to their name.

Have you ever wondered where the name August comes from? Would you believe the eighth month of the year is in honor of Caesar Augustus? According to St. Luke’s Gospel, Augustus was emperor of the Roman Empire when Jesus was born. (And just for the record, July is named for Julius Caesar, the general and Roman statesman who lived just prior to Augustus).

I like the name Augustus. It has a regal sound to it. It means majestic or venerable. Curiously, it’s a family name. My paternal grandmother’s older brother was Thomas Augustus Turley.

I met my Uncle Tom when I was 12 years old. This grocer-turned-farmer and his wife (Miss Mae) traveled from their home in Wytheville, Virginia, to Spaulding, Idaho, for a visit with my grandmother.

I was impressed with my great-uncle. He was kind. He was debonair. And I loved his Southern drawl. Even though he was a rather short man, there was much about him to love. Like his middle name implied, Uncle Tom was a noble respectable Southern gentleman.

I learned that Thomas Augustus Turley served in World War 1. He lived through the Spanish Flu epidemic. He married his boss’s daughter, raised five children and lost one in a tragic car accident. In spite of that indescribable sorrow, Uncle Tom trusted God and became a leader in community of Wytheville, Virginia.

While doing some research on my uncle after his death, I realized that at the time I was receiving my college diploma in 1974, Tom was being presented a 40 perfect attendance award from his Rotary Club.

I would not join the Mercer Island Rotary Club until 30 years later. But now, as a member, I recognize what that major accomplishment represents. It stands for determination and persistence in service above self. It stands for commitment to the Rotary four-way test that affirms honesty, integrity and the welfare of others.

My uncle lived up to his name. He was an august leader who led by serving. Sadly, I only met this remarkable man one time. He died 35 years ago.

I’m grateful, however, that I had the opportunity to get to know a few of Uncle Tom’s adult children including his namesake Thomas Augustus Turley Jr.

Cousin “T. A.,” as we called him, lived and worked in Oakridge, Tennessee. He was a patriotic citizen, a faithful husband and a loving dad. I could see in my uncle’s son the reflection of his father’s admirable character.

This August, I’ve got Augustus on my mind. I’m wanting to live up to what that name represents in my family. I’m wanting to live up to the name Rotarian and the virtues it suggests. And as a follower of Christ, I want to define the meaning of the name “Christian” (little Christ) by the way I live rather than letting the term Christian be simply defined by popular culture or social media.

Sadly, in these days in which we find ourselves fighting a coronavirus as well as the virus of racism, referring to an Uncle Tom can easily be misinterpreted. Nonetheless, I am grateful I can take pride in referring to my Uncle Tomas Augustus Turley.

I, for one, want to continue to learn from his life and example.

Greg Asimakoupoulos is Chaplain at Covenant Living at the Shores in Mercer Island.

I’ve got Uncle Tom on my mind | Guest column