As I pen these words, I am en route home to Utah from Raleigh, N.C., after attending the funeral and burial of my former, and first, bishop and key father figure, Kermit Bolton Nichols.
In fulfillment of a promise I made to Kermit years ago, I spoke at his funeral service. It was at the Raleigh North Carolina Stake Center building of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints where I first met Kermit on Aug. 24, 1980. It was my first time attending a LDS building and services after inviting a pair of Mormon missionaries into my apartment while a student at North Carolina State University.
As I walked into the chapel where sacrament meeting was being held, I remember seeing a “bear of a man” sitting on the stand. Elder Keven Burton, the senior of the two missionaries who were teaching me, told me the large man was “Bishop Nichols” and now that I was attending church the final thing I needed to do before getting baptized — as scheduled after the church meetings — was to talk with him. Because Kermit appeared to be such an intimidating figure, I remember thinking that would be the hardest part of my two-week journey I had been on, leading into the waters of baptism. I was wrong.
Bishop Nichols interviewed me and a few hours later, following my baptism and confirmation, he welcomed me into the LDS Church and the Raleigh Third Ward. Our interactions that day were the start of an eternal friendship. Bishop Nichols has been an important part of my life ever since.
He was the person, in conspiracy with Rex Lee and Reese Hansen of BYU’s J. Reuben Clark Law School, who asked me to serve a Mormon mission 10½ months later, delaying my matriculation into law school. Following my graduation, I temporarily lived with him and his wife, Lois, and it was at his home where I received and opened my mission call to Puerto Rico. He was the person who conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood upon me and ordained me an elder. He was my escort when I received my endowment at the Washington, D.C., Temple, and he was the person who, 366 days after I met him, drove me to the airport as I left Raleigh and North Carolina to report to the Missionary Training Center in Provo. Since that day, I have never spent more than a week or so continuously in my homeland.
He was a mentor from whom I sought counsel me when I became a bishop nine years after I met him. He was a true friend who attended me through the darkest period of my life when I went through a divorce. He was visiting with me at my home in South Jordan when the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, occurred, which cancelled his flight home that day. He was a surrogate father to me, kind and generous with his love and means towards me and my family.
In his later years, Kermit suffered physically. Yet, whenever I spoke with him on the phone or visited with him in person, he was always upbeat and still giving me advice. Like me, he loved the North Carolina State and Brigham Young University athletic teams, and over the years we shared the highs and lows which accompanied being fans of those teams.
Kermit and I had a true father-son relationship with the ups and downs involved with such a relationship. But we loved each other deeply. And so, I travelled the miles to Raleigh to spend about 20 of the last 24 hours on a plane or in airports to devote three hours attending his funeral and burial services, and to honor him and his family with a 10-minute talk, and to look into his face one last time.
God’s course is one eternal round, and if we follow it, ours will be too. That truth was reconfirmed to me as I as pondered the funeral events and now reminisce of all that has occurred in my life since I first walked into the Raleigh North Carolina Stake Center years ago. I experienced a mighty rebirth of life in its baptismal pool on Aug. 24, 1980. On Aug. 26, 2013, 33 years and two days thereafter, Kermit passed on to the next life, and on Sept. 3, we were physically in one another’s presence for the last time in mortality at the place where it all began for us together.
Because of the atoning sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, I know that Kermit and I will once again be together and resurrected in both body and spirit. Likely before that great day, I will join him in the world of spirits as part of the army of messengers “clothed with power and authority, and commissioned ... to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that (are) in darkness, even to all the spirits of men ... to declare the acceptable day of the Lord and proclaim liberty to the captives who (are) bound ...” (see Doctrine and Covenants 138:30-31). I look forward to that reunion with Bishop Nichols.
In his first general epistle, written to "the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia,” the Apostle Peter, describing the Savior, wrote: “for ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25). Like unto Christ, Kermit Bolton Nichols was a great and loving shepherd and bishop unto me.
May God be with us until we meet again!
Attorney Keith N. Hamilton, an adjunct professor at BYU law school and former chair of the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole, served as an LDS bishop in San Francisco. He is author of "Last Laborer: Thoughts and Reflections of a Black Mormon."