F. Bland Tucker

One of the persons named a Saint of Georgia by Bishop Henry Louttit in 1999 was this hymnwriter and long-time Rector of Christ Church Savannah. The most complete tribute we have for him is the artcile below taken from Columns newsletter of Christ Church, Savannah. Vol. VIII, No. 4. February 1984

Bland Tucker, Parish Priest Goes to Heavenly Rest: Age 88

Francis Bland Tucker, Rector Emeritus of Christ Church, beloved and esteemed throughout the country, entered Heavenly life on January 1, 1984. His death came five days before the Feast of The Epiphany which would have been his 89th birthday.

The funeral, at which the Rt. Rev. Paul Reeves Bishop of Georgia, and the Rev. George M. Maxwell, rector, officiated, was held on Wednesday, January 4, 1984, at the historic Mother Church of Georgia, which took Bland Tucker to its heart in 1945 when he became its rector and loved him to the end of his gentle, fruitful life.

Burial was at Bonaventure Cemetery. Honorary pallbearers, designated by Doctor Tucker, were Joseph E. Strobhert, Robert B. Miller III, Henry Stevens IV, Sam Espy Jr., Joseph Harrison Jr. and Franklin P. Brannen.

There were no mourners at Bland Tucker’s funeral. Rather the service of burial, for those who filled Chrish Church, was a celebration for a long life well lived. It brought forth an upswelling of joy that one who had earned his rest had “crossed the bar.”

There is very little that is not known about the remarkable ancestral and family life, the theological contributions, the poetic and hymnological work of this unique parish priest whose mission not only embraced Christ Church but the entire community of Savannah and the Episcopal Church. He knew plaudits in his long lifetime and accepted them with innate modesty and humility.

Bland Tucker enscrolled his own obituary, year after year as he served God with unswerving love through the Episcopal Church, as writer of hymn texts, as recognized theologian, as classical scholar, as poet—and as a rare human being.

As he walked with long stride about downtown Savannah, a familiar figure, he reminded all whom he encountered of the dignity of simplicity, humility and gentle humor. In his retirement, he indulged himself—to the limit of his financial ability—in foreign travel. There may be many people in “far away places’ who will recall this “beautiful American.”

Shortly after his 85th birthday, his portrait was hung in the Christ Church undercroft, a gift to the church from a group of devoted friends. The luminosity of this painting in a mysterious way caught and reflects the life that Francis Bland Tucker lived. On the walls of the vestibule of the chapel have been hung plaques of tribute to him as priest, poet, scholar and significant contributor to English hymnology.

Bland Tucker’s clerical life in Savannah could have been so brief as almost to be forgotten save in church annals, had it not been for his sense of mission and his lack of worldly ambition. He was called to the parish of the Mother Church of Georgia in 1945 after serving as rector of St. John’s Church in Georgetown, District of Columbia. A few months after his arrival in Savannah he was faced with a dilemma which, in its resolution, may have resulted in his finest hour. He was offered the bishopric of Western North Carolina. He declined the honor which would have put him in the chair occupied by his father and two brothers, one of whom, Henry St. George Tucker, became the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. He gave as his reason his commitment to Christ Church and the belief that his new mission was far from complete.

His mission at Christ Church continued for 22 years and when he retired in 1967 the Vestry bestowed upon him the title of Rector Emeritus and designated the rectory at 311 East York Street as his home for his lifetime.

In 1972, after the death of his beloved wife, Polly, some ladies of Savannah, who loved and esteemed him, formed what became known as “Doctor Tucker’s Go-Go Girls.” The idea was to assist him and his longtime housekeeper, Mrs. Louisiana Bland, to maintain properly the East York Street rectory and preserve his strength. Doctor Tucker was more saving than was necessary of the energies of this group, which included not only Christ Church friends but friends from other churches as well—and one of no professed faith—but when he sold his automobile and surrendered without self-pity his license to drive, his loyal “Go-Go Girls” found it much easier to gain his permission to drive him to Smith’s, M & M, Gottlieb’s and wherever his favorite coffee ice cream could be had.

It is a remarkable coda to the statement that Bland Tucker was Savannah’s parish priest that the publications of “Poems—Polly and Bland Tucker” was made possible originally by a communicant of another Episcopal Church.

Doctor Tucker instituted intinction at Christ Church, ending the traditional use of the chalice only. He did this because he feared that he may have become a victim of “consumption” and did not wish to risk infecting any communicant who would drink from the chalice after him. The weakness of his chest area had a subsequence which he called a miracle and his account of which was published later by his friends in a small volume, “More Than Conquerers.”

As the background of this remarkable and familiar happening unfolds, Bland Tucker was told by his Savannah physician that there was a possibility he had lung cancer but was advised to seek further medical opinion at Emory University Hospital clinic in Atlanta. At Emory, the diagnosis of possible lung cancer was made positive and the gentle, God-fearing priest of Savannah was scheduled for radical surgery. The prognosis was not promising. Doctor Tucker’s traumatic night before the scheduled surgery was spent in prayer and was followed, in a burst of heavenly sunshine, by the immediate pre-operative x-rays that showed no evidence at all of cancer. Miracle? Bland Tucker thought so. He returned to Savannah without surgery and lived many more years in the confidence that His Lord had miraculously given him a reprieve to continue his service here. There may be a few copies extant of “More Than Conquerors” but it is virtually out of print.

In remarks at Doctor Tucker’s obsequies, Bishop Reeves—granting himself the privilege of brief remarks—brought laughter from the assemblage when he said he thought that “already” Bland Tucker in his Heavenly home was engaged in animate discussions relating to the theology, the meter and the appropriateness of a certain hymn. Bishop Reeves could have added that the heavenly discussions could be going on in classical Greek, for Bland Tucker was a scholar in that language and a number of his hymns were translations from the Greek. Earlier, Bishop Reeves observed to the newspapers that the death of Francis Bland Tucker was “the passing of an era.”

On the Sunday following Bland Tucker’s funeral, the Most Rev. John Allin, Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church, was guest preacher and celebret at Christ Church. He digressed from his sermon to make warm and affectionate remarks about the late Rector Emeritus of Christ Church. Bishop Allin recalled to the congregation which filled the church the familiar humorous riposte Doctor Tucker made when asked if he were related to St. George Tucker, then the Presiding Bishop. Doctor Tucker’s remark was, “Yes, distantly. He is the eldest of a family of thirteen children. I am the youngest.”

Bishop Allin also recalled a “breaker-upper” anecdote Doctor Tucker related at the banquet following a 1970’s Diocesan Convention at St. John’s Church. According to Bishop Allin, Doctor Tucker took the microphone and told of an occasion when the sermon of the day was on foreign missions. The usher, passing the plate, came to a communicant who stated firmly, “I don’t believe in foreign missions,” with the plate bearer replying, “Then take something out of the plate. It’s for heathens.”

Bland Tucker never permitted himself to be drawn into controversy. Controversy was foreign to his nature. In the Savannah racial unrest in the 1960’s there were reports of “kneel-ins,” when all white churches reportedly were having ushers pass out cards at the entrances which read, in effect, “We believe you have not come to worship, but to agitate,” while denying the visitor entrance to sanctuaries. Doctor Tucker would have no part of this. He was quoted as saying, “I would not presume to speculate as to why my own parishioners come to church, much less someone I do not know.” The doors of Christ Church were open to any who wished to enter, then as now.

In the days before the official adoption of the revised Book of Common Prayer in 1979, Bland Tucker likewise declined to be drawn into the prevailing controversy. In a sermon at Christ Church at the height of the controversy, he reminded the congregation that in 1928 a similar controversy relative to prayer book revision had occurred. He added that he did not support the revision of the Book of Common Prayer in 1928, “preferring the 1896 prayer book.” His listeners were amused at his frankness. He added that his own father, then a bishop, had also not approved of earlier prayer book changes but when they were sanctioned in official action, he acquiesced stating, “The church has spoken.”

When Polly Tucker died, a lovely young wife and mother, then living away from Savannah, who had been baptized, confirmed and married at Christ Church thought that it was Doctor Tucker who had died. She wrote a letter addressed to “Polly” expressing in beautiful terms her love and admiration for Doctor Tucker. Doctor Tucker showed the letter on a few occasions, with his gentle humor, remarking, “It’s nice to find out what somebody thinks of you—before you die.”

Faith, love, humor, gentleness, humility—that was the essence of the remarkable Bland Tucker, simple parish priest.

At his funeral, his friends sang one of the hymns that he wrote in his late life and which will be included in the revised edition of the Hymnal of the Episcopal Church, soon to be distributed. Its title: “The Lord My God My Shepherd Is.”

The fifth and last verse of this hymn is solid gold Bland Tucker. Its words:

Then surely I can trust Thy love
For all the years to come.
So let me tell their praise and dwell
Forever in Thy home.

Editor’s Note: Memorial gifts sent to Christ Church, 18 Abercorn Street, 31401, will be equally divided between a music fund for Christ Church and the Virginia Theological Seminary.