One of my closest friends in San Francisco was Frank Haas, and he was in a local “TEC” group. “TEC” is the acronym for the international business consulting company, “The Executive Committee.” Each group consists of twelve CEO’s or Company Presidents that acts as a business roundtable to help each other and is led by a “TEC Chairman” who is the facilitator, coach, and advisor.
Don Cope was the TEC Chairman of Frank’s group for many many years. Frank had been open about his faith, but they had never spoken about it in depth. One day Don called Frank and asked for a private meeting in which he told him that his doctor had given him some bad news. He had stage four cancer that had metastasized all over his body, and he was unlikely to live more than a few months. He did not have a spiritual background, but the reason he called Frank was to talk with him about Jesus. Frank explained the gospel to Don, and he was eager to embrace it. So that day they prayed together, and Don put his faith in Jesus.
That same afternoon Frank called me to tell me that Don was our new brother in Christ and asked if I would meet with him. I had met Don only once but enjoyed our time together, so I quickly agreed. Frank said I knew you would say yes so I already told him you will be calling.
When I called Don the first time, he was so warm and friendly that we chatted for over an hour. On our first face-to-face meeting, he said that Frank told him I could help him get ready to meet Jesus. Don said, I know practically nothing about the Bible, and I don’t want to be embarrassed when I meet Jesus. He was very sincere about this and asked, “Can you help me be the best disciple I can be in the time I have left”? I did not feel led to fill his head with doctrine but simply fed the hunger he had for a more intimate heart connection with Jesus. Of course, we covered lots a Scripture, but it was always in response to what I sensed God was doing in his heart.
Only a month after we started to meet Don became bedridden. Even though his mind remained sharp, I watched him quickly lose weight and muscle tone. It was the very definition of bittersweet; painful to watch his body failing while rejoicing as he was getting stronger spiritually. He loved the Scriptures, and his prayers were both simple and sweet but as profound as any I ever heard. I was there to encourage him, but I was the one that was being deeply encouraged.
A month before he died Don said to me, I don’t know any pastors so would you speak at my memorial. He said he would like it to be at “Trader Vic’s,” his favorite waterfront restaurant on the San Francisco Bay. He loved having lunch or sunset dinners there while watching the windsurfers. He was a very organized man and had written instructions about his desires for his memorial. His plans included what he wanted me to say because most of the attendees would be non-believers. He wanted me to give them the details of his conversion and he said, don’t make it the short version. He said make it as if I was telling them myself because I know these folks and they need to hear about Jesus.
We met at 2:30 in the afternoon, and as Don had hoped, the windsurfers were out in good numbers. Many people loved Don, but he only invited his closest friends. We still had two hundred people attending with some flying in from Europe and Asia. Don had asked a few others to say a few words and most of them spoke of how much they had learned from him. One person was quite humorous and told some very funny stories about him while he was in college. It was a solemn time but at the same time joyous and a real celebration of Don’s life.
I honored Don’s request and told them the intimate story of his belated love of Jesus. He wanted you to know that he died with peace in his heart because he was certain that he would spend eternity with Jesus in heaven. I gave them some first-person statements from Don like, “I know this will come as a shock that I have become a Jesus person, but it is so real and meaningful to me that I wanted Glenn to tell you about it.”
Several people wanted to talk to me after the service, so we chatted for a few minutes, but I sensed a hunger for a deeper dialogue, so we arranged to have lunch. One of the men was the Dean of Admissions at a well-known university in the Bay Area. He had a multitude of questions about God, but he was so moved by Don’s testimony that a month after our first lunch he gave his life to Jesus. I asked him if he knew of other believers at the University and he did, so we formed a small weekly fellowship group in his office.
A second man at that memorial service was Don’s longtime friend and a real estate investor. He owned real estate all over the Bay Area and even had several properties in my hometown of Grass Valley. We spent many hours together discussing why he hated the church so much. We finally discovered the seat of his bitterness, and after he surrendered his life to Jesus, he was able to move past it. He was Armenian, and as a child had suffered sexual abuse by a priest in his Orthodox church. Since he was a friend of the man at the university, he joined the fellowship group that meets in his office.
There were other connections made during that time, but I just wanted to relate my conversations with a man that came to faith late in his life. His was so much more than a deathbed conversion; the Holy Spirit caused him to fall in love with Jesus. I wish more believers had the genuineness and joy of his faith. He also left a tremendous legacy for his friends. Two of them became followers of Jesus that we know about, but only God knows how the others responded to Don’s testimony.
As I reflect on those days, I consider it a wonderful gift that the Lord allowed me to spend time with Don during the last four months of his life. God was definitely glorified by the life of Don Cope.